Monday, January 2, 2017

PM directs ministers, secretaries to expedite development spending

Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal today directed the government officials and ministers to expedite development spending and prepare criteria for qualifying projects as national pride projects.
Addressing the ministers and secretaries of various ministries during the meeting of National Development Action Committee (NDAC) – the prime minister-led mechanism that looks after the development projects – Dahal asked them to spend at least 80 per cent of the development budget citing there has been no significant progress when compared to the previous fiscal year, which had retarded the economic growth of the country.
Accepting the government’s apathy toward development work, he also directed the ministers and secretaries to prepare unified development plans and implement them accordingly to show the outcomes.
"As we have envisioned moving towards higher growth trajectory to upgrade our status to a middle-income country by 2030, we have to fully implement the budget to achieve the desired results," he said also instructing them to conduct regular monitoring of top priority projects – P1 projects – and introduce ‘carrot and stick’ policy targeting the project chiefs.
Asking them to prepare criteria for qualifying projects as national pride projects, Dahal also directed them to come out with a concrete plan, to complete the national pride projects, within a month.
Prime minister expressed concerns over dismal progress of critical projects including Kathmandu-Tarai fast track, Budhigandaki Hydroelectric Project, Second International Airport in Nijgadh, West Seti Hydro Project and Postal Highway.
The concept of national pride project was first introduced in 2012 in a bid to expedite the construction of schemes considered to be crucial for the country’s sustained development. However, there is no standard process based on which a project is described as ‘national pride’.
Currently, 21 projects have been identified as national pride projects. They include four irrigation projects, three hydropower projects, three international airports, six road projects, an electric railway project, a drinking water project, two projects aimed at promoting the holy sites of Pashupati and Lumbini and an environment conservation project.
The completion of these projects, according to experts, can change the face of Nepal and put it on a high growth trajectory. However, more than half of these projects failed to meet 50 per cent of their performance target in the first four months of the current fiscal year, according to the latest report of the National Planning Commission (NPC).
The Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track Project, for instance, met only 0.1 per cent each of the physical and financial targets, making it the worst performer in the first four months of this fiscal year.
Likewise, the 1,200-MW Budhi Gandaki Hydroelectric Project has met only 1.1 per cent each of the physical and financial targets. Another worst performing project is the Lumbini Area Development Trust, which has achieved 7 per cent of the physical target and 10 per cent of the financial target.
Some of the common problems faced by these projects are delays in land acquisition, disputes between project officials and locals over the compensation amount offered by the government, unclear relocation and resettlement strategy, lack of coordination among officials and protests launched by their staff.
“Many projects also face problems while conducting Initial Environment Examination (IEE) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA),” said NPC vice chair Min Bahadur Shrestha, on the occasion. “We will list all the problems faced by these projects and try to address them by providing them certain benefits as directed by the prime minister," he added.
“If the bureaucracy continues to follow its traditional approach toward development works, we are not going to get any outcome,” the Prime Minister said, asking to change their working culture. "We have to think unconventionally to ramp up the capital expenditure."
Speaking at the meeting, the secretaries of various ministries updated PM Dahal on the progress of development projects being implemented under them.
Earlier in September too, PM Dahal had said that he would personally monitor the implementation status of national pride projects. Addressing the NDAC meeting, Dahal had said that he would prepare the schedule for implementation of concerned projects and monitor their progress.
His instructions, however, failed to speed up development spending. The government has, according to the Financial Comptroller General’s Office (FCGO), been able to spend only 8.89 per cent of the total capital budget by yesterday.
The first half of fiscal year is ending in mid-January. And of the total development budget of Rs 311.94 billion, the government has been able to spend only Rs 27.71 billion by January 1, according to the FCGO. Of the total budget of Rs 1048.92 billion, the government has managed spend only Rs 232.85 billion till yesterday.
The government had tabled the budget – for the current fiscal year 2016-17 – one-and-a-half months before the start of fiscal year calendar to break the trend of slow capital expenditure. However, the situation in the current fiscal year is no better than the last fiscal year.
While the government has not been able to spend, revenue mobilisation has been exceeding the target. As a result, the government treasury is ballooning. The government is sitting on a cash pile which is neither being productive, nor contributing to the economy. Had the government been able to spend, the private sector would have felt encouraged to spend, resulting in capital formation. However, the bulging treasury caused by the government’s inefficiency will hurt the economic growth and slow down capital formation in the coming fiscal years too.

Railway department extends deadline of Ktm-Birgunj railway global tender

The Department of Railways (DoR) has extended the deadline of the global tender to study feasibility study of the Kathmandu-Birgunj Railway Line by a week.
“We have extended the deadline till January 9,” said a senior divisional engineer with the department Prakash Upadhyaya.
The consultant will get six months to conduct feasibility study, prepare preliminary cost estimate, and recommend the best technical, financial and economical routes from the six months of the selection. It will also have to propose three routes for the railway line and recommend the best one.
According to the department, it started the process to conduct feasibility study of Kathmandu-Birgunj railway line as the service will be cheaper, environment-friendly and consumes less time. Birgunj is a major trading point for Nepal as over 70 per cent of its international trade is done through this customs point.
Upadhyay also said that the railway line would be important to connect Birgunj and Rasuwagadhi with the rail networks. “The department is taking forward the construction of north-south rail networks as the work for preparing a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for Mechi-Mahakali Railway has already begun,” he added.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Merged NCC Bank starts operation

Nepal Credit and Commerce (NCC) Bank and four development banks – Infrastructure Development Bank, International Development Bank, Apex Development Bank and Supreme Development Bank – formally merged and started operations as NCC Bank from today.
Inaugurating the merged entity the central bank Governor Dr Chiranjibi Nepal advised bankers to be disciplined while mobilising people’s deposits. He urged the bankers and the board members to be remember as they are only the custodians of the public’s money and it is their duty to mobilise that money honestly and wisely. "The shareholders of the bank are also equally responsible for the betterment of the bank," he said, expecting that the bank will nowonwards perform better.
Addressing the function, the chief executive of merged NCC Bank Ramesh Raj Aryal said the bank had been under the helm of Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) for the last three years after being deemed to have bad corporate governance, but had since improved its financial status and merged with the four development banks.
NCC Bank now has a paid-up capital of Rs 4.67 billion, Aryal said, adding that the bank had around Rs 55 billion in deposit and around Rs 48 billion in loans and advances. “The bank has Rs 980 million in reserve after the merger,” he said.
Aryal further said that after adding what it had in reserve, paid-up capital would cross Rs 5 billion. “We are committed to reaching the mandatory paid-up capital requirement of Rs 8 billion set by NRB before its mid-July 2017 deadline.”
NCC now has a network of 96 branch network.
He also pledged to make the bank among the top five commercial banks within a year.
On the occasion, executive director of the central bank Laxmi Prapanna Niraula, who had taken over the bank’s management three years ago, also spoke of his association and achievements during the period.
Niraula and his team will leave the NCC Bank from tomorrow, handing over the management to an ad-hoc board. The ad-hoc board, chaired by Upendra Keshari Neupane, includes Iman Singh Lama, Madhav Prasad Bhatta, Bishnu Prasad Dhital, Chandra Prasad Bastola, MP Mohan Basnet, Kailash Patindra Amatya and Krishna Shrestha as members. A professional board member will be appointed soon, the bank said.
Prior to the merger, NCC Bank had a paid-up capital of Rs 2.03 billion, while Infrastructure Development Bank, International Development Bank, Apex Development Bank and Supreme Development Bank had paid-up capitals of around Rs 910 million, Rs 770 million, Rs 670 million and 870 million, respectively, according to NCC Bank.
All the five financial institutions had signed memorandum of understanding for merger on November 27, 2015, and had sought approval from the central bank. The final approval from the central bank and the Office of Company Registrar was issued on December 5 and December 29, respectively.

Nepal Telecom rolls out 4G service

Nepal Telecom (NT) has rolled out fourth generation (4G) mobile network services for the first time in country today.
Minister for Information and Communications Surendra Kumar Karki inaugurated the service at a special function in Kathmandu.
Inaugurating the service, Minister Karki said that Nepal has not been able to connect information and communications technology (ICT) to the country’s development process though linkage between them is a must to achieve development goals. "The 4G service does not only aim to facilitate NT’s subscribers but also for the development of other sectors and the country’s overall development process,” Karki said.
Similarly, managing director of NT Kamini Rajbhandari, on the occasion, said that NT is committed to bring the latest internet technology in Nepal. “Launching 4G service is a part of enhancing Nepal Telecom’s consumer satisfaction," she said, adding that the launch of 4G will not only strengthen the position of NT in the market but will also help increase revenue for the government.
According to the telecom service provider, 4G services are available in most parts of Kathmandu and Pokhara, although it will initially be available only for post-paid phone service subscribers. "The service will benefit almost 350,000 NT post-paid subscribers in Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara," it added. "Post-paid users can activate the service by dialing *444#,” the NT said, adding that pre-paid service subscribers have to wait until February 4.
In a bid to facilitate its customers with smooth 4G service, NT has enabled the service at its 308 base transceiver stations (BTS) GSM towers in Kathmandu Valley and 25 BTS GSM towers in Pokhara. However, the 4G service in Pokhara will be available for GSM post-paid users based in New Road and Lakeside only.
NT has said that subscribers can enjoy 4G service at the same rate of one rupee per Mb data being applied for 3G.
To subscribe to 4G service, a customer’s mobile device should first be 4G compatible (Band-3 1800Mhz). Similarly, in case the post-paid SIM is of an older version, the SIM needs to be replaced with newer 4G-enabled SIM (Universal or U-SIM), the NT said, adding that some versions of iPhone will not support 4G for the time being.
Compared to 3G services currently in use, 4G services will have double the speed for internet services, the service provider said adding, “Under a 4GB Promotional Package, Nepal Telecom has offered 1GB data free for four days.”
4G is the fourth generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology, succeeding the 3G currently in use in Nepal.
The 4G is the latest wireless internet service succeeding 3G and allows higher internet speed as compared to 3G. NT has claimed that users can enjoy 32.4 Mbps per second download speed using 4G.
The first-release of the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard – a 4G candidate system – is commercially deployed in Oslo, Norway, and Stockholm, Sweden since 2009.
3G technology created the first networks fast enough to make smartphones practical.
Before that, they were too slow to allow subscribers to do all the things that make smartphones ‘smart’ like streaming videos, quickly surfing the web and downloading music. But 4G really allows technologies in smartphones to spread their wings. That is because they a lot faster than 3G. So when a subscriber wants to download an app or stream a TV show in HD, it can be done without buffering and lag.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

NTB to promote Nepal in Europe

As a rehearsal of ‘Visit Nepal Year 2018’, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) today launched a programme to promote Nepal in Europe in 2017 during an event organised to mark its 18th anniversary. The board also said it made the announcement as part of promoting Nepal as a tourism destination and with the aim of bringing a maximum number of tourists from European countries.
The ‘Visit Nepal-Europe campaign 2017’ campaign aims at increasing the number of tourists from European countries by 30 per cent to 40 per cent compared to 2016.
The NTB has said that the campaign will also develop necessary groundwork for promoting the country’s tourism all over the world in the year 2018 as part of ‘Visit Nepal Year 2018’ that the government had announced recently.
“To make the ‘Visit Nepal-Europe 2017’ campaign a success, NTB will collaborate with Nepali missions in Europe, Nepali diaspora and travel and tour operators in Europe,” said the chief executive of the board Deepak Raj Joshi. "We chose Europe because tourists from the 28-nation bloc have significantly contributed to Nepal’s tourism industry and we hope the inflow will further gather momentum through this campaign," he added.
Joshi also explained that virtual campaigns such as #NepalNOW and Facebook posts had significantly helped the Nepali tourism industry to rebound faster than the national economy after the Gorkha earthquake.
The coordinator of the campaign Deepesh Man Shakya, who is also NTB’s honorary public relations representative for Ireland, on the occasion said that a tourism promotion programme has already been planned for Ireland, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Denmark.
Nepal Tourism Board, through its ‘Honorary Public Relations Representatives’ in different countries in Europe, will work in collaboration with Nepali diplomatic missions and the Nepali diaspora there, and with local friends of Nepal in Europe to make the “Visit Nepal - Europe 2017” campaign successful.
NTB has been planning to officially launch the campaign in London in March next year.
According to the tourism board, it has designed some programmes under the campaign like photo exhibition, talk on mountaineering, ‘Send a friend to Nepal’ campaign, tourism promotion through Nepali restaurants in Europe, Buddha Jayanti and Everest Day celebration in Europe, FAM trips for travel tour operators and media, and training for Nepali diaspora to promote Nepal’s tourism, among others.
Speaking as the chief guest at the anniversary function, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jeeban Bahadur Shahi pledged his cooperation in the campaign.
Likewise, hotel entrepreneur Karna Sakya on the occasion said that directly or indirectly, the Nepali diaspora has significant potential to help Nepal’s tourism industry, and stakeholders should bring them on board.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Vegetable export potential largely unexploited

Nepal’s potential for vegetable exports remain largely unexploited, also due to proper coordination and harmonisation of standards between the Nepali and Indian SPS and technical standards, according to findings of field survey and wider consultations held with various stakeholders.
Presenting the findings, former commerce secretary and a senior consultant at South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) – that conducted the research – Purushottam Ojha pointed out the problems faced by Nepali traders at border crossings with India, including the produce not being able to meet the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standards set by India.
“There isn’t proper coordination and harmonisation of standards between the Nepali and Indian SPS and technical standards," he said, at an event held during the launch of the finds held today. "Lack of integrated laboratories for quality certifications and the absence of mutual recognition of accreditation between Nepal and India have left the fate of Nepal’s fresh produce exports at the mercy of Indian customs offices," Ojha added.
He further added that non-tariff measures which discourage trade through the customs points have given rise to high incidence of informal trade. The research found that a huge amount of fresh vegetables were transported informally through the custom points.
Ojha also insisted on the importance of having proper measures related to Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) to make Nepali vegetables suitable for export not only to India but to third countries as well.
The study suggested measures needed to develop a concerted-action agenda that would need to be followed in order to address the problems related to exporting vegetables and establishing an effective linkage with export markets.
On the occasion, the experts discussed the export potential of fresh vegetables to India and other countries and the barriers to trade. The discussion was based on a research study carried out by SAWTEE with support from SAMARTH-NMDP at custom points in Bhairahawa, Birgunj, Biratnagar, Jhapa, Dhangadi, Mahendranagar and Nepalgunj.
Vegetable export was analyzed from the perspective of supply, demand and issues related to the market.
Similarly, program coordinator at SAWTEE Neelu Thapa, on the occasion, said off-season vegetables like bitter gourd, pointed gourd, sponge gourd, and mustard leaf, among others were preferred by Indian consumers for their better quality and could be sold at higher price in India. She further added that Bangladesh could emerge as a lucrative market for Nepali fresh vegetables but a high tariff rate of 25 per cent was a discouraging factor. At the same time, potential for exporting vegetables to countries in the Middle East was also encouraging, provided that Nepali suppliers were able to meet their strict sanitary and technical standards, she added.
Commerce Secretary Naindra Prasad Upadhyay, on the occasion, said that Nepal’s inability to meet technical and food quality standard hampered its fresh produce export potential. "Investment should be made to increase the productive capacity of vegetable producers and to improve infrastructure in terms of storage facilities and collection centers," he added.
SAWTEE chairman Posh Raj Pandey urged stakeholders to develop mechanisms so that Nepali products could comply with the technical standards set by importers.
Likewise, agriculture portfolio manager at SAMARTH-NMDP Srijana Rana highlighted the importance of vegetables in effective poverty minimization efforts in Nepal.
Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s Agro Enterprise Centre chief executive officer Pradip Maharjan, Ministry of Commerce joint secretary Rabi Sainju, Post-harvest Management Directorate of the Department of Agriculture Programme director Shabnam Shivakoti and agriculture expert and various experts brainstormed on the occasion to improve the access of Nepali vegetables to cross border trade.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Government seeks clarification from NRA CEO

The government today sought a clarification from National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) chief executive Sushil Gyewali over the delays in carrying out post-earthquake rebuilding works.
Alleging that the authority failed to expedite the overall reconstruction and rehabilitation works as per the expectation of the earthquake victims, the cabinet today has decided to seek clarification from Gyewali over the delay. It has also asked him to furnish a explanation within seven days.
According to minister for Information and Communications Surendra Kumar Karki, who is also the government’s spokesperson, the government has raised four issues in the letter – Gyewali’s failure to coordinate with the government agencies for effective reconstruction works, his inability to mobilise staff efficiently, lack of implementation of the instructions given by the NRA directive committee, and the delay in issuing housing grants to the homeless families.
Even after more than one-and-half-year of the devastating earthquake that floored some 800,000 individual houses part from hundreds of heritage sites, government buildings, health posts, schools and police posts, the authority has been unable to provide the people the proper guidelines and grant to reconstruct their houses, and the people have already spent two winters in the open spaces under the sky.
Sources near to Prime Minister said the move is intended to 'sack' Gyewali as the Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been expressing dissatisfaction at his works. The premier has been showing his dissatisfaction openly many a times over the way reconstruction works are going on.
Minister Karki said that the government decided to formally seek clarification from Gyewali also because he did not follow the government’s decisions despite repeated instructions by the prime minister.
“The government will first listen to Gyewali’s clarification and then the prime minister will discuss the issue with political parties and we will take initiatives to replace him, if needed,” minister for Law and Justice Ajay Shankar Nayak said. "The government had no other option than to seek clarification as he didn’t cooperate with the government," he said, adding that Gyewali would say one thing in public and do something else.
The PM’s core team is learnt also to have the perception that Gyewali has subtly defied the government’s instructions on the pretext of legal hurdles and donor sensitivity. The Prime Minister's Office has also find Gyewali’s working style incompatible with the requirement of a huge undertaking such as post-disaster reconstruction.
Prime Minister Dahal – who is also the chairman of the NRA steering committee – had earlier called Gyewali to his official residence at Baluwatar and vented his anger at Gyewali for failing to expedite the reconstruction and rehabilitation work. And the PM had earlier too ordered Gyewali to explain in writing as to what has been preventing the NRA from expediting the reconstruction work. But Gyewali reportedly had not been able to furnish satisfactory clarification to him.
Relations between the Dahal government and Gyewali also remained frosty as the latter was seen as 'close' to the CPN-UML. The erstwhile Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had hand-picked Gyewali in December, 2015 despite the controversy over his 'qualification', according to the NRA Act.
The cabinet move follows a long discussion between PM’s administrative adviser Narayan Dahal and Gyewali yesterday and the day before over the activities of the authority. Advisor Dahal has conveyed to Gyewali that the premier was particularly concerned over his failure to address the expectations of the earthquake survivors. Only last week, hundreds of reconstruction engineers submitted their resignation en masse because they find their salary not enough to work under the sever condition in rural Nepal.
According to the minister for Poverty and Cooperatives Hridaya Ram Thani, the issue of seeking clarification from Gyewali was discussed in previous cabinet meetings too.
According to the law, the government can relieve the chief executive of his responsibilities giving him an opportunity to clarify. Clause 4 of Article 11 of an Act to Provide for Reconstruction of the Earthquake Affected Structures 2072 noted, “Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (3), the Government of Nepal may at any time remove the chief executive officer from his or her office if his or her performance is not satisfactory. Provided that, prior to such removal from office, he or she shall be provided with an opportunity to defend himself or herself.”
Meanwhile, immediately reacting – with issuing a statement – after receiving the clarification letter from government, Gyewali said the activities of the NRA done within a year of its establishment were transparent. He would clarify to the government the activities, challenges and problems related to reconstruction within the time. "As the NRA has been carrying out reconstruction and rehabilitation related activities in a planned and organised way, it has started to yield results," the statement reads, adding, "In this context, I believe that the opportunity to submit clarification to the government about the progress made so far by the NRA and its line agencies and also inform about challenges and other problems that have hindered the reconstruction activities will only help us in giving further momentum to our activities."