Provinces say federal government is in bid to control provincial security operations
Police adjustment bill, passed by a House committee, is yet another attempt to centralise power, provincial ministers say.
- TIKA R PRADHAN
KATHMANDU : The bill on adjustment of police in the provinces, which has been finalised by a parliamentary committee and is expected to be endorsed by the federal parliament soon, has invited criticism from provincial governments. Registered at the House of Representatives on March 13, the bill on adjusting Nepal Police and Provincial Police was endorsed by the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance on Sunday. As it was endorsed unanimously by the committee, the bill is set to pass both Houses of federal parliament without any hindrance. But provincial ministers have expressed serious concerns over the provisions that allow the federal government to mobilise provincial police chief—Deputy Inspector General. Besides, Senior Superintendent of Police and Superintendent of Police will also be under the federal government until a provincial police official appointed by the provincial government is promoted to the post of Senior Superintendent of Police. The provinces have also been objecting to the federal government’s plan to give continuation to Chief District Officers as the federal government’s contact persons. Provincial ministers believe the federal government is bent on keeping CDOs as the Home Ministry’s liaison officials. “Who will mobilise the DIGs, SPs and SSPs? The federal government?” said Shalikram Jamarkattel, internal affairs and law minister of Province 3. “This is nothing but a ploy to keep the CDOs in districts and empower them, thereby robbing the provinces of their right.” Province 2 earlier warned that it would appoint its own CDOs in eight districts. Janakpur has even prepared a bill provisioning the province’s own “district administrators”—a position parallel to CDOs, in a move that could further escalate its conflict with the federal government. “We have already registered the bill at the provincial assembly. It will be endorsed as soon as the ongoing discussion on the budget is over,” Gyanendra Yadav, internal affairs and law minister of Province 2, told the Post. The provinces have claimed that the lawmakers failed to understand the intention of the federal government. “It looks like lawmakers [of the federal parliament] did not understand what the federal government was trying to do through this police adjustment bill,” Jamarkattel told the Post. “Earlier, during discussions with us, they had said they would lobby to address the demands of provincial governments.” According to Jamarkattel, lawmakers were not aware that the federal government, through the adjustment bill, was trying to pave the way to keep chief district officers intact so that it could directly mobilise senior superintendent of police and superintendent of police through them.
Provincial governments have also maintained that there must not be a dual chain of command and the whole security arrangements of the provinces must be awarded to them as per the constitutional provision. The constitution has enlisted ‘peace and security’ as provincial governments’ explicit authority. “I don’t know what the federal parliament is preparing. All I know is that the police administration of provinces must be under the provincial governments,” said Yadav. “The federal government must act according to the constitution.” With the issue becoming more complicated, the provinces are considering challenging the federal government in court. The internal affairs and law ministers of the seven provinces, according to Jamarkattel, are considering moving the court to challenge the federal government’s attempt to impose its control through legal frameworks. “We will hold a discussion among internal affairs ministers of all the provinces before deciding to seek a legal remedy,” Jamarkattel told the Post. Internal affairs and law minister of Province 2 Yadav said they would have no option than to seek legal measures. “Province 2 will challenge the federal government in court,” he said. “The federal government cannot draft laws contradictory to the constitutional provisions.”However, lawmakers representing the parliamentary committee said the adjustment bill does not talk about the CDOs. “We will try to find ways to address the concerns of the provinces regarding chief district officers while discussing another bill on police mobilisation bill, which is also currently in Parliament,” said Rekha Sharma, a lawmaker representing the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in the parliamentary committee. “We made a lot of corrections to strengthen the provinces as per their demands, but all of their concerns could not be addressed.” Internal affairs and law minister of Karnali Province Naresh Bhandari said the dual chain of command for any force won’t be effective—it would rather weaken the entire security apparatus. “Peace and security related issues in provinces fall under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. And we have been fighting to ensure this constitutional right,” said Bhandari.Yadav agreed. “If there is a dual chain of command,” he said, “it could hugely disrupt law and order in the provinces.”
House meeting postponed after dispute arises over who should speak first
Though analysts are divided over who should go first, they agree that Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara has failed in his mediatory role.
- BINOD GHIMIRE
KATHMANDU : As the country continues to reel from floods and landslides that have left at least 70 dead, the House of Representatives meeting has been postponed by nine days following a dispute over who should address the House first. The opposition parties, who registered a motion of public importance seeking a discussion on devastation triggered by a recent torrential downpour, demanded that they be allowed to table the motion first. The ruling party, however, asked that Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa be allowed to first inform the House about the ongoing crisis before initiating a discussion on the motion. A meeting of chief whips and whips, called by Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, remained log-jammed as both sides refused to yield, leading to the postponement of the Lower House till July 24. The Speaker chose a later date to allow time for lawmakers to visit their constituencies and support rescue and relief efforts, according to a parliamentary notice announcing the postponement. The Speaker believed that postponing the meeting was a better option than inviting yet another House obstruction, said Dilli Malla, press advisor to Mahara. “The Speaker wanted the parties to come together and discuss the disaster. Postponement was his last resort,” Malla told the Post. With the next meeting postponed by more than a week, both sides were quick to assign blame on the other. Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba said that he was amazed to see that the Nepal Communist Party did not want to discuss the suffering of the people. “A large number of people have suffered due to floods and landslides. This must have been discussed in Parliament,” Deuba said after the meeting. “We condemn the act of postponing the House meet.” The ruling party leaders, however, said that the opposition is looking for opportunities to obstruct House proceedings. “We could’ve dedicated the entire House meeting to discuss the disaster and the people’s suffering after the Home Minister’s briefing,” Dev Gurung, chief whip for the ruling party, told the Post. “It is the opposition’s unnecessary stance that led to the meeting’s postponement.” Monday’s obstruction was the second time in a month where a dispute over who should address the House first led to its postponement. A Lower House meeting on June 18 was postponed as Deuba wanted to address the House before Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The prime minister, who was already at the rostrum, had to return without speaking after the opposition surrounded the well.
But political analysts believe that this incident, like the one in June, reflected poorly on the Speaker. “It is the duty of the Speaker to make sure the House isn’t held hostage to the party interest,” said Surya Kiran Gurung, former general secretary of the Parliament Secretariat. As the House primarily belongs to the opposition, Mahara must have allowed the opposition to put its views first and then provide time for the government to respond, said Gurung. “It appears that the Speaker has failed to understand the spirit of separation of powers and has been working at the behest of the government,” he said. However, Bipin Adhikari, former dean of the Kathmandu University School of Law, disagrees that the opposition should’ve been allowed to speak first. The opposition was wrong in June and it is wrong now, he said. “There is no doubt that the government must listen to the opposition and it should get ample time to put forth its views. This, however, doesn’t mean that the opposition has to speak before the government’s representatives,” Adhikari told the Post. Adhikari, a constitutional affairs analyst, said that it is the responsibility of the government to inform the people through their representatives about issues of public importance. The opposition is then allowed to raise questions. Adhikari, however, agreed with Gurung’s assessment of the Speaker. “The effectiveness of a speaker can be judged by how well he manages the ruling party and the opposition,” said Adhikari. “Sadly, Mahara has failed on that front.”
After diplomatic fiasco over Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro’s son visits Nepal
Invited by ruling party’s sister wing, Nicolasito is here to discuss politics and bilateral ties.
- ANIL GIRI
Nicolás Ernesto Maduro Guerra
KATHMANDU : Six months after ruling party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s controversial statement on Venezuela, a team of Venezuelan youths, led by Nicolás Ernesto Maduro Guerra, the son of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, has met with senior political leaders and parliamentarians from the ruling Nepal Communist Party. The Venezuelans, who arrived on Saturday at the invitation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), met with a number of party leaders on Sunday and Monday to discuss the political situation of both the countries and the advancement of bilateral ties. Guerra and his team met with Dahal at his residence on Monday morning and held talks with a dozen ruling party lawmakers. The 15-member team consists of Guerra, Venezuelan non-resident ambassador to Nepal Coromoto Godoy Calderon, and three Cabinet ministers, among others. Balram Baskota, a leader who was involved in inviting the youth delegation to Nepal, told the Post that Nepali leaders and parliamentarians expressed support to the Venezuelan people but refrained from explicitly supporting Maduro. In January, Dahal’s statement had supported both the people of Venezuela and the Maduro government while denouncing the United States and its allies’ “intervention in the internal affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with the intention of increasing violence by dividing the people and challenging democracy, sovereignty and peace.” The American Embassy in Kathmandu had demanded a clarification from the Foreign Ministry, asking whether Dahal’s statement reflected the position of the Nepal government. The Foreign Ministry had distanced itself from Dahal’s statement. The US government has since targeted Guerra, known as Nicolasito, with crippling sanctions. On Sunday, Nicolasito’s team met with senior communist party leaders, including Jhala Nath Khanal, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, and Bamdev Gautam. On Monday, they held discussions with parliamentarians where they spoke about Venezuela’s internal politics. According to NCP Spokesperson Shrestha, the Venezuelans said they desired no interference from external forces in their internal affairs. “We have been working in favour of the Venezuelan people and have been sustaining ourselves by selling oil. Meanwhile, the United States of America has imposed sanctions against us and has also stopped repayment of oil that it had imported from us, causing massive inflation. But we are not beggars,” said the Venezuelans, according to Shrestha. The Venezuelan youth leaders, while explaining the internal political situation of Venezuela, also indirectly sought Nepal’s support against the US move and blockade. At Monday’s meeting, Dinanath Sharma, an NCP lawmaker from the Upper House, briefed the Venezuelans on Nepal’s politics while Shanta Chaudhary, another lawmaker, spoke about the state of inclusiveness in Nepal. There were also discussions over the opening of a Venezuelan embassy in Nepal.
The Venezuelans are here to meet with the Yuva Sangh Nepal, the communist party’s youth wing. Baskota is believed to have close relations with Venezuelan leaders, as he has visited them in Caracas several times. He is widely believed to have been behind Dahal’s January statement on Venezuela. “Some youths from Venezuela are currently in Nepal,” said Baskota, refraining from confirming whether Nicolasito was part of the team. “At the invitation of Yuva Sangh Nepal, a team of Venezuelan youths is here to discuss and understand Nepal’s political and economic aspects, and how to advance relations between the two countries. We want to establish brotherly relations between the two parties,” he said. When asked if they are here to seek Nepal’s support against its ongoing struggle against the US, Baskota said that Venezuela does not need Nepal’s support. “The government under Maduro is an elected government and several countries in the world are supporting them. Only a small pro-American lobby is against Maduro’s regime,” said Baskota.Brinda Pandey, another lawmaker who met with the Venezuelans, confirmed Baskota’s position. “We told them that the people’s mandate is important as we are here with a broad mandate from the Nepali people. So we urged them to follow the popular mandate,” said Pandey. While most party leaders refrained from expressing support for Maduro’s regime, party Spokesperson Shrestha said that they might have expected that Nepal should stand in their favour as Nepal is also a “socialist” country. “We have not forgotten the recent bitter diplomatic episode so there is no question of supporting them or distancing ourselves from them,” said one communist party leader on condition of anonymity. “As our official position, we made it clear that the Nepal Communist Party stands against any kind of external interference anywhere in the world and we respect the people’s mandate. This is our principled position and we reiterated the same to the Venezuelans.”
Climate scientists gather in Kathmandu as country reels from floods and landslides
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli stresses that Nepal is already experiencing the effects of climate change—despite its nominal role in the global crisis.
- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL
A rain-swollen stream damages a road section in Kaldhunga, Kavre, disrupting vehicular movement.Post Photo: angad dhakal
KATHMANDU : At a time when the country is battered by torrential rainfall, which is being linked with effects of climate change, more than 260 climate scientists gathered in Nepal, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, to discuss climate change’s impact and assess vulnerability and adaptation measures. The climate scientists and bureau members of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from more than 60 countries are in Kathmandu for the Second Lead Authors Meeting of IPCC Working Group (II) for deliberations as part of their preparation for the Sixth Assessment Report which is scheduled to be out in 2022. Policymakers and climate scientists hope that the timing of the gathering in Nepal is perfect for drawing global attention to Nepal and the whole region which is highly vulnerable and already witnessing adverse impacts of climate change. In the most recent instance of extreme weather events, incessant heavy rainfalls, floods landslides claimed more than five dozen lives in various parts of the country. “Meeting here in Kathmandu reminds us—in a very direct way—of the strong interdependence of human and natural systems, and how both are threatened by climate change,” said Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts. Nepal is considered one of the most vulnerable countries in the world for climate change effects. The latest landmark study in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, which covers 3,500 kilometres across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, has projected an alarming future for poor and geographically challenged countries like Nepal. The study by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has concluded that the region would lose one-third of the region’s glaciers by the end of the century. “The purpose of our report is to provide options for adaptation action that will enable cities like Kathmandu and ecosystems such as the high mountains to thrive and contribute towards improved well-being and sustainable development. Key aspects of our report and reasons to act on climate change are very evident here,” said Roberts. According to David Molden, Director General of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the co-host of the event, the region which is a critical resource for Asia is undergoing climatic changes which need both special attention and collective response. “This year on Asadh 15—the day for paddy plantation in Nepal—there was almost no rain. But when the rain arrived two weeks later, it rained so much that various parts of the country, including Kathmandu, witnessed floods. All of this highlights extreme weather events. The climate is becoming unpredictable in the region,” said Molden. “For many reasons your [the delegation’s] visit to Nepal sends a signal that this mountain region and people are getting the attention it deserves in respect to climate change.” As an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, the IPCC provides scientific evidence of climate change; its impact on various sectors as well as possibilities dedicated to providing the world with an objective; scientific view of climate change, its natural, political and economic impacts and risks; and possible adaptation and mitigation solutions. “The new scientific findings to be provided in the upcoming assessment report will particularly include projected risk, different levels of warming, including their impacts, and the need for transformation,” Thelma Krug, vice-chair for the IPCC said.Before the Sixth Assessment Report, the IPCC will release two other similar reports—Climate Change and Land and Ocean and Cryosphere in Changing Climate—this year. Inaugurating the four-day event, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said Nepal is already experiencing the effects of climate change despite its nominal role in the global crisis. “The country is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change although our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is negligible,” Oli said. “Rising temperature, retreating glaciers and erratic rainfall extreme weather events are causing damages to our people and economy.” “The climate is becoming more vulnerable and unpredictable. We received a delayed monsoon. We also had first tornado in our recorded history,” said Oli. “As a result of rapid industrialisation, the adverse impact of climate change is also increasing. Agriculture is most affected by aggravated floods and other disasters.” At the meet, Oli also emphasised how climate change has unequal impacts. “Some countries are well prepared to deal with them, but countries like Nepal are most vulnerable,” said Oli. “I urge scientists to consider small mountainous and small-island nations while preparing the report.”
Teachers and officials of prison schools call for better study environment
- Arjun Poudel
KATHMANDU : A prison is not quite a convenient place for study. And almost all the prisons in Nepal are overcrowded, lack basic amenities like clean water, sanitation, food and health care services. The Central Jail is no exception. Still, at least 13 people doing time in the Sundhara prison managed to cope with the difficulties and take out ample time to study. All 13 who sat for the Secondary Education Examination held in May have passed with good grades. According to the Central Jail administration, the 13 prisoners have scored A+, A, B+ and B in the exam. “They worked hard in the prison school,” said Bed Nidhi Adhikari, jailer at the Central Jail. The Central Jail is divided into three jails: Central Jail, Bhadra Jail and Women Jail. All three have their own schools which are attended by around 500 students. The Central Prison’s school, Jagannath Higher Secondary School, provides classes from grade one to twelve, while Bhadra Jail’s school, Bandi Bikas Adharbhut Bidhyalaya, runs classes up to grade eight. The Women Jail school, Mahila Bandi Bikas Adharbhut Bidhyalaya, runs classes for first to fifth graders. All three jails, which can accommodate a maximum of 1,500 prisoners, have 2,970 inmates in total. “Those who attend classes sleep in the school rooms due to lack of space,” said Kul Prasad Regmi, an account official at the jail.The teachers at these schools are also those who are serving sentences for various crimes.According to Abhishek Kumar Tiwari, principal of the Jagannath Higher Secondary School, there are 300 students from 18 to 60 years of age. “It’s definitely tough in the jail,” said Tiwari, who has been doing time for a decade. “A lot of prisoners want to pursue higher studies, but the environment is not encouraging.”At least 60 inmates are doing their Plus Two in the Jagannath Higher Secondary School. Some prisoners are pursuing their Bachelor’s and Master’s from the jail. The Kathmandu District Education Office provides books to the students of prison schools and the jail administration provides stationery for those who cannot afford them. “After all, prisoners are also citizens of the country,” said Parajuli. “It would have been good if the government provided some additional support to those who want to study.”Parajuli also expressed concern about those students who want to pursue higher studies. Under the semester system, students must attend classes, but those in jail cannot do so.
Kantipur Television marks 16th anniversary
- POST REPORT
KMG Chairman Kailash Sirohiya (left) with KTV directors Upendra Mahato, Jiba Lamichhane and Ganesh Agrawal.Post courtesy: ktv
KATHMANDU : Kantipur Television, one of Nepal’s first private television stations, has completed 16 years of operation. Addressing a programme organised to mark the occasion on Monday, Kantipur Media Group Chairman and Managing Director Kailash Sirohiya said that the media house is ready to take on every challenge in order to disseminate information based on facts and truth. “We should not put down our pens in the quest to deliver news based on facts even as the government continues to attack the media through various means,” said Chairman Sirohiya. “And since Kantipur Television was also a part during the fight for democracy, we will not backtrack from our responsibility of delivering correct information.” During his address, Chairman Sirohiya made a remark on the Media Council Bill, introduced by the government, saying that its draconian provisions aim to curtail press freedom. At the event, director at Kantipur Television, Jiba Lamichhane, said that failing to move ahead with time would put television behind. Director Ganesh Agrawal also stressed the need to take television to new heights in the coming days. Seven Kantipur Television employees were awarded at the ceremony. Yubaraj Acharya from the news department and district correspondent J Pandey were awarded with the Best Journalist Award. Similarly, Chiranjivi Poudel from the news production department, cameraman Binod Koju, and Rajan Tamang from the engineering department were also awarded during the ceremony. Likewise, Ganesh Karki from the administration department and Pratima Sharma from the marketing department were also awarded.
After widespread criticism, smart parking fees revised in New Road
The new charge for two-wheelers is Rs 15 for up to 30 minutes, and Rs 25 for an hour; for four-wheelers, it is Rs 50 for 30 minutes and Rs 80 for an hour.
- ANUP OJHA
KATHMANDU : After widespread criticism, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has revised its fees for ‘smart parking’ in New Road. The fifth Municipal Assembly meeting held on Monday to table the budget of fiscal year 2019-20 decided to revise the parking fees. The city, in collaboration with a private company, Wheels Truly Yours, had launched ‘smart parking’ in New Road on June 6 where anyone could book a parking space using the mobile app Park KTM with an android phone. Though the implementation of ‘smart parking’ in New Road was well appreciated, users had complained about the amount of fees they had to pay. The parking fee was set at Rs 25 per hour, but the Post during its survey found that those using smart parking had to pay the same amount even if they parked their two-wheelers for three minutes. As per the revision, the Metropolitan City will now charge Rs 15 for two-wheelers for up to 30 minutes and Rs 25 for an hour. Regarding four-wheelers, the new parking charge has been set at Rs 50 for 30 minutes and Rs 80 for an hour. Earlier, four-wheelers had to pay Rs 80 per hour. Locals business persons had shifted their parking lot to the inner areas of New Road and Mahaboudha to avoid having to pay such a huge amount for parking.Many of them were compelled to pay Rs 200 a day for parking their motorcycles in the areas designated for smart parking. Now, the KMC has announced free parking lots for business owners in New Road. “I was not comfortable with the parking charge taken from commoners. I had also raised the issue in the assembly, ” said Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi. “We won’t let anyone make such faulty decision in the coming days.” Ishwor Man Dangol, the spokesperson for the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, said the earlier fee was set as a trial phase. “After we realised the inconvenience faced by the general public, we decided to revise the fee.” “We are also going to extend this service to other parts of the city, where the general public has been facing parking problem,” said Dangol. The ‘smart parking’ system is being run under a public-private partnership model, where the private company takes 80 percent of the money raised through parking fees, with the rest going to the metropolitan city. ‘Smart parking’ in New Road is being operated at five different places in New Road.
72 local units failed to present budget in time and half of them are from Province 2
Erring sub-national governments may get reduced budget in the following fiscal year which could affect development projects.
- PRITHVI MAN SHRESTHA
KATHMANDU : Having been late in presenting the budget for the current fiscal year ending on Tuesday, Kalikamai Rural Municipality, Parsa, has once again failed to present its financial plan for the next fiscal year 2019-20 on time. As per the Intergovernmental Fiscal Arrangement Act, local level budget for the upcoming fiscal year should have been presented by June 25. Chairman the rural municipality Nathuni Prasad, who was elected from little known Nepal Sanghiya Samajbadi Party, had faced difficulty garnering support from the representatives of major parties to present the budget on time for the fiscal year (2018-19).Prasad, however, is hopeful of their support to present the budget for the next fiscal at the earliest. “We have not received the programmes from two wards, which is causing the delay in budget presentation. I hope to present it in a week or two,” Prasad told the Post over the phone.The delay in presenting the budget has hit development plans of the rural municipality in the current fiscal year as it could spend just a third of the budget. Under the Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfer Act, the local executive can spend only a third of the planned budget until the budget is passed by the local assembly. “Most of the budget was spent on staff salaries and other administrative works. The development budget could be spent only after it was endorsed recently,” said Prasad. “We worked to spend the budget through direct purchases and consumer committees instead of issuing a tender to fast-track the procurement process,” he added. About a dozen local governments did not present their budget on time for the current fiscal year 2018-19. Three months on, the situation has not changed as more than 70 local governments missed the deadline for presenting their budget for the next fiscal year 2019-20. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, which had collected details about the budget presentation, revealed that 72 local governments have not presented the budget for the next fiscal as of Sunday morning. Half of those local governments are from Province 2, while 10 are from Province 3, six each from Provinces 1, 5 and Karnali, and four each from Province 1 and Sudurpaschim.Failure to present budget by June 25 is a violation of law, but there is no specific provision about a penalty if any local government flout that. Last year, federal government officials had warned of withholding the budget but no such step has been taken yet. Bhupal Baral, spokesperson for the Federal Affairs Ministry, said the central government has not taken any decision against the local governments for failing to present the budget on time. But there are few options available for the federal government to mount pressure on the local governments. The National Natural Resource and Fiscal Commission could recommend the allocation of reduced funds for such local governments. “Performance of local governments in spending the budget in a year is an important criterion for allocation of budget to the local governments the following year,” said Baikuntha Aryal, secretary at the commission. “The local governments which didn’t present the budget on time for the current fiscal year and failed to spend budget have received less budget for the next fiscal year compared to other governments doing well under this criterion,” he said.The appropriation bill passed by the federal parliament recently has authorised the federal government to suspend grant to local governments if they fail to report their expenditures. “The law has given us an option of halting grant. It was not the case until this fiscal year as there was no such legal provision,” said Harisharan Pudasaini, chief of budget division at the Finance Ministry.
Ex-vice chancellor of BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences among eight charged with corruption
- PRITHVI MAN SHRESTHA
KATHMANDU : The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority on Monday filed a case at the Special Court against eight individuals, including former vice-chancellor of BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, on charges of irregularities during procurement of various equipment for the university. Less than two weeks after a corruption case was filed against 10 Tribhuvan University officials on the charge of altering recruitment test scores to benefit their relatives, senior officials of another university have been charged of corruption— exposing anomalies in the country’s education sector. The defendants in the latest case are— Balbhadra Prasad Das, former vice-chancellor of the university; Arbindra Kumar Sinha, former director of the academy hospital; Nanda Kumar Thapa, former registrar; and Tul Bahadur Shrestha, current registrar. Dinesh Raj Dahal, account chief; Amit Shreevastav, deputy manager; Chetan Agrawal, proprietor of Proseason Medical Private Limited; and Umesh Agrawal, proprietor of Surgicame Distributor have also been charged.The anti-graft body said in a statement that irregularities were found while investigating the procurements made by the university on different dates. Former vice-chancellor Das has been charged of irregularities amounting to Rs40.8 million for not awarding contract to the lowest bidder without justification. Sinha, Thapa and Shrestha have been accused of misappropriating to Rs Rs37.53 million, Rs19.6 million and Rs5.67 respectively. The CIAA has sought a penalty for the accused under Section 8 (1) of Corruption Prevention Act-2002, which has the provision of maximum prison term of three years, confiscation of misappropriated amount and a fine equivalent to the embezzled sum. For the accused high level officials, the anti-graft body has also prescribed a penalty under Section 24 of the Act, which has the provision of additional three years of prison term for officials holding rank of special class and above. Dahal, account chief, and Shreevastav, deputy manager, have been accused of colluding with the senior officials while evaluating the bids and awarding the contracts. The duo, according to the CIAA, committed irregularities amounting to Rs23.48 million and Rs17.41 million. They have been charged under Section 8 (1) of the Act.The equipment suppliers, Chetan and Umesh, have been accused of irregularities amounting to Rs 10.4 million and Rs 6.03 million respectively. They have been charged under Section 8 (4) of the Act, which has the of prison sentence up to two years, confiscation of misappropriated amount and a fine equivalent to the embezzled sum.
Medicinal herbs gain ground in Gorkha
Forest office aims to turn the area into a sustainable farming zone.
- HARIRAM UPRETY
GORKHA : The Division Forest Office in Gorkha has expanded medicinal herbs farming in four rural municipalities. Forest officials said that the office has plans to develop Barpak, Sulikot, Ajirkot, Dharche and Arughat Rural Municipalities as pocket zones of medicinal herbs with an aim to engage local farmers into herb farming because the work is expected to benefit the local economy in the long run. “Catering to the demands of the local farmers, we have distributed saplings of Tejpat (Cinnamomum tamala) , Chiraito (Swertia chirayita), Satuwa (Paris Polyphylla), Setak Chini (Moringa Oleifera), among other medicinal herbs,” said Hom Bahadur Balchhaudi, assistant forest officer. Jit Bahadur Gurung, a local from Laprak, said that he has cultivated 35 kinds of medicinal herbs in around five ropanis of land. “We have started to plant medicinal herbs found in the forest because there’s always good demand for herbs in the market,” said Gurung, adding that they have formed seven community groups in Laprak to streamline herb farming in the area. Forest officials said that farmers have planted 8,075 saplings of Loth Salla (Taxus wallichiana) in some 78 ropanies of land, and more than 100,000 saplings of Chiraito among other herbs in those rural municipalities. “We want to expand farming of medicinal herbs so that we can aim for production of herbs in huge quantities,” said Balchhaudi. “This will change the economic landscape of the region.” Officials said that Kharibot of Ajirkot, Laprak, Uhiya, and Gumda of Dharche have favourable climate for Lauth Salla farming. Satuwa farming has been expanded in Laprak, Gumda, Hansapur and Karibot area, whereas Simjung, Hansapur, Kharibot, and Lapu Saurpani are good for Tejpat production. All of these areas lie around 2,000 metres above sea level. Meanwhile, Toyanath Paudel, district forest officer, said that the other reason herb farming is being promoted and encouraged is to support sustainable farming in the area. “We have done extensive studies on the possibilities of medicinal herbs farming here and have found that it supports sustainable farming which is good for the land and the people,” said Paudel, expressing their interest to develop pockets, blocks and zones specifically designed for medicinal herbs farming.
Chitwan National Park builds and restores ponds for rhinos
Park officials believe the move will limit the number of fights among the rhinos.
- RAMESH KUMAR PAUDEL
Forty-three rhinos were found dead in the sanctuary and its buffer zone areas last year.Post Photo: RAMESH KUMAR PAUDEL
CHITWAN : The Chitwan National Park and its bufferzone areas house 605 one-horned rhinos concentrated in an area of 932 square kilometres, according to official data. In the last fiscal year, 43 rhinos were found dead inside the park and its buffer zone areas. All of them were found to have died a natural death with seven believed to have died from wounds inflicted from fights. “We suspect that most of the rhinos died fighting one another,” said Bed Kumak Dhakal, chief conservation officer of the CNP. Rhinos confront each other when they find themselves in a constricted space, such as small ponds or water pits. Many rhinos in the park get injured in these fights. The ones on the losing side find themselves searching for water pits to rest and recuperate in. “After a fight, the winner rhino chases away the defeated one. The latter leaves in search of a pond but since it can’t find any close by, it dies of dehydration and infected wounds,” said Dhakal. The CNP has around 200 natural ponds for its rhinos, but most are in a dilapidated state for lack of maintenance and repair. The scarcity of such water pits—natural and manmade—leads to frequent confrontations, subsequent fights and death of the rhinos at the park. To limit the number of such fights, the CNP officials have started to restore old ponds in the park. “We have built new ponds specifically for the defeated rhinos. We have also restored old ponds and cleared out the wetlands at the park so that the rhinos have enough space to play around,” said Dhakal. “And even if they do get into a fight, they can go to nearby water pits and recover.” According to CNP officials, the park has upgraded 71 ponds at a cost of around Rs 13.65 million. On January 28, a male rhino received serious injuries in a fight with another rhino in the park. “It had sustained serious injuries on its body. We could not save him,” said Purusottam Pandey, a veterinarian. “If there were enough ponds to accommodate all the rhinos in the park, the rhinos would not fight among themselves.” Park officials said that some baby rhinos at the park have also died from tiger and rhino attacks, while a few have died from falling off a cliff. “We are conducting field studies to know more about the causes of rhino death and the prevention measures to avoid them,” Dhakal said. However, Madhukar Malla, chairman of the CNP Buffer Zone Management Committee, said that the concerned authorities should intensify their research to find the reasons behind the increasing number of rhino deaths. “The park officials cannot clearly tell us the exact reason behind these deaths. They must furnish us with proper answers,” Malla said. According to a 2015 count, Nepal is home to 645 rhinos-605 in Chitwan, 29 in Bardia National Park, eight in Shuklaphanta National Park, and three in Parsa National Park.
Consumer committees gain local units’ trust
- Ganesh Chaudhary
TIKAPUR : Local units in Kailali have granted more development projects to contractors than to consumer committees, locals complain. Even though the Consumer Protection Act, 1988 dictates that any project valued up to Rs10 million is to be granted to consumer committees, most of the local units in Kailali have been doing otherwise. In the first year of the election of local representatives, the municipal executive office decided that it would grant contracts of up to Rs10 million to consumer committees. But in the current fiscal year, the municipality changed its decision, this time reducing the bar to Rs 1 million. Officials at the municipality say the decision was changed owing to the subpar quality of work by consumer committees. But again for the upcoming fiscal year, the municipality changed its decision-this time granting a project of up to Rs 2.5 million to consumer committees. “At first we thought that private contractors would compete against themselves and do the same amount of work quicker and for a smaller budget,” said Ramlal Dagaura, chief of Tikapur Municipality-7. “But the contractors didn’t fare any better than the consumer committees.” Dirgha Thakulla, spokesperson for the municipality, said, “The work allotted to contractors has exceeded its deadline and the quality of their work is lacking,”
Baitadi women await health camps to seek treatment for reproductive health-related ailments
Women hesitate to open up about ailments even after living with such diseases for years.
- TRIPTI SHAHI
Women seek service at a free health camp on reproductive health organised at Siddheshwore Health Post on Sunday.Post Photo: TRIPTI SHAHI
BAITADI : Saru Bhat has been suffering from a range of ailments related to reproductive health for nearly a decade. But she has never visited a hospital. “I have been enduring this pain for a long time. I get severe cramps, and sometimes it feels like my uterus will give way,” said the resident of Patan Municipality in Baitadi district. Jayamati Mahara, also a resident of Patan, has a similar story to share. Like Bhat, she too has been suffering from reproductive health-related problems and not seen a doctor. The stigma associated with diseases related to reproductive health has kept many women in Baitadi from visiting a hospital. The only time they see medical workers is when free health camps on reproductive health are organised at local health posts. But such camps are infrequent and usually take place for a short period of time. The latest health camp on reproductive health was held at Siddheshwore Health Post on Sunday. One hundred and fifty women, including Bhat and Mahara, visited the health post by the droves to seek medical help.Most of the women the Post talked to at the camp said that they felt uncomfortable visiting hospitals with their conditions. Others said they could not afford to travel to urban areas for treatment.The stigma attached to reproductive health-related problems is widespread mainly in rural areas of Baitadi. “Many women in the camp say they feel uncomfortable visiting hospitals in the city,” said Rosna Chhukang, a doctor serving at the camp. “They would rather suffer in silence than have a stranger probe them. That is one of the reasons why women come in droves when we organise such camps.” Poverty is another reason why many women suffering from reproductive health problems do not seek medical help. As the health facilities in Baitadi do not have proper obstetrics and gynaecology services, women suffering from reproductive diseases can only receive treatment outside the district, which means visiting nearby cities. And not all women can afford treatment in cities. “We don’t have enough money to seek treatment outside the district,” Bhat said. For many women, reproductive health camps are their only option of receiving treatment. “We had to invite specialist doctors from other districts for the camp. We understand the importance of conducting these camps, so we are planning to do this more often,” said Dilli Raman Acharya, family planning supervisor at the District Health Office.
Minister donates to flood victims
- Post Report
RAJBIRAJ: Shailendra Prasad Sah, Province 2 minister for Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperatives, donated Rs 100,000 to the flood victims of Tilathi Koiladi Rural Municipality in Saptari.
Landless people get plots
- Post Report
DOLAKHA: Tamakoshi Rural Municipality in Dolakha has distributed land ownership certificates to 11 landless families. Ishwor Chandra Pokharel, chief of the rural municipality, said each land plot is worth Rs 150,000.
Engineer caught with bribe
- Post Report
BHOJPUR: A team from the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority caught Mohanbabu Yadav, chief engineer at the Irrigation Development Office in Bhojpur, with a bribe of Rs1.8 lakhs on Monday.
- Post Report
MYAGDI: Transportation along the Dana-Ghasa stretch of the Beni-Jomsom road resumed after four days on Monday. Vehicular movement was obstructed after the road caved in on Friday.
Planning body vice-chair resigns
- Post Report
MAKWANPUR: Khimlal Devkota, the vice-chairman of Policy and Planning Commission of Province 3, has tendered his resignation from the post. Devkota submitted his resignation letter to Chief Minister Dormani Poudel on July 10.
UN calls for ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual harassment in Afghan workplace
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
KABUL : A senior UN official in Afghanistan has called on government offices to adopt policies of “zero tolerance” toward sexual harassment, amid a swirling scandal that has seen women allege routine misconduct in the corridors of power. The controversy erupted in May when General Habibullah Ahmadzai, a former security advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, alleged that some members of Ghani’s administration were trading government positions for sexual favours. The attorney general’s office is investigating the matter, and Ghani’s spokesman has rejected Ahmadzai’s claims as “completely false and baseless”. But several women have spoken out in the media with their own allegations, and stories of inappropriate behaviour by male officials are commonplace in Kabul. Women’s rights have made some significant steps since the fall of the Taliban nearly two decades ago: out of 320 parliamentary seats, roughly a quarter are held by women.But despite these gains, harassment, abuse and violence remain commonplace.Richard Bennett, the head of human rights for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, on Sunday addressed a conference in Kabul that included a discussion about a potential law aimed at ending violence against women. “The issue of harassment in the workplace is of huge concern to Afghan women, primarily because it can eventually lead to a sexual assault,” Bennett said, according to prepared remarks provided Monday.“This should be a concern for everyone: police, prosecutors, judicial officials and civil society.”Bennett said he was strongly encouraging the attorney general’s office and other bodies to develop and implement a comprehensive “zero tolerance” policy regarding the harassment of women in the workplace. “It will send the signal that harassment of women and girls will not be tolerated and will be punished,” he said.Sarwar Danish, Afghanistan’s second vice president, called on prosecutors to “seriously investigate” the reports at a press conference on Sunday.“If the allegations are proved, after the investigation these people should be exposed. Such crimes are not acceptable to the Afghan government.
Britain sees ‘small window’ to salvage nuclear deal, Iran urges Europe to act
BRUSSELS : Britain said on Monday there was a “small window” of time to save the Iran nuclear deal, as Tehran signalled it would ramp up its nuclear programme—seen by the West as a cover for making atomic bombs—if Europe failed to do more to salvage the pact. US-Iranian tensions have worsened since US President Donald Trump decided last year to abandon the nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to curtail its atomic programme in return for relief from economic sanctions crippling its economy. “Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb. There is still some closing, but small window to keep the deal alive,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters on arrival for a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.The Brussels gathering will seek to flesh out how to convince Iran and the United States to reduce tensions and start a dialogue amid fears that the 2015 deal is close to collapse. In reaction to the re-imposition of tough US sanctions, which have notably targeted Iran’s main oil revenue stream, Tehran has cut some of its nuclear commitments under the deal, leading the European parties to the pact, France, Britain and Germany, to warn it about not fully complying with the terms.When asked whether European powers would seek to penalise Iran for breaking parts of its nuclear commitments, Hunt said they would seek a meeting of the parties to deal with it. “We will and there’s something called a joint commission, which is the mechanism set up in the deal which is what happens when one side thinks the other side has breached it, that will happen very soon,” he said.Iran denies ever having sought a nuclear weapon. In Tehran, Iran’s nuclear agency said Iran would return to the situation before the nuclear deal unless European countries fulfilled their obligations. “These actions are not taken out of stubbornness but to give diplomacy a chance so the other side comes on its own and fulfils its duties,” agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. “And if the Europeans and America don’t want to fulfil their commitments we will create a balance in this deal by reducing commitments and return the situation to four years ago.”Iran says the European countries must do more to guarantee it the economic benefits it was meant to receive in return for curbs to its nuclear programme under the deal.France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Europe had to stay united in trying to save the deal, and Tehran should reverse its decision not to comply with parts of it. “For us it’s important now to remain in dialogue and to contribute to de-escalation,” Germany’s Europe Minister Michael Roth said echoing Le Drian. France, Germany and Britain have sought to defuse the tensions, which culminated in a plan for US air strikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute.French President Emmanuel Macron dispatched his top diplomat to Tehran last week to offer suggestions on how to freeze the current status quo to gain some time.The Europeans are trying to set up their Instex mechanism, a conduit for barter-based trade with Iran, but an equivalent Iranian system has yet to start. Should the mechanism go ahead it would initially only deal in products such as pharmaceuticals and foods, which are not subject to US sanctions.Diplomats have that in any case they fear US blowback, while Iran has repeatedly said Instex must include oil sales or provide substantial credit facilities for it to be beneficial.
14 killed in building collapse as monsoon batters South Asia
Floods and landslides caused by the annual deluge have wreaked deadly havoc from the Himalayan foothills to low-lying camps housing Rohingya refugees.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Bangladeshi drivers make their way through heavy rainfall at a water-logged street during the monsoon season in Dhaka.AFP/RSS
NEW DELHI : Fourteen people were killed when a building collapsed in northern India following heavy monsoon rain which has left more than 100 dead across South Asia, officials said Monday. Floods and landslides caused by the annual deluge have wreaked deadly havoc from the Himalayan foothills to low-lying camps housing Rohingya refugees, with officials warning tolls could rise as they scramble to reach affected communities. In Bangladesh, at least 29 people have died in the last week, including 18 who were hit by lightning and seven who drowned after their boat capsized in choppy waters in the Bay of Bengal. Another 10 have died in overcrowded Rohingya refugee camps in the southeast of the country and thousands of shanty homes have been destroyed. In the latest monsoon-related tragedy in India, a four-storey building on a hillside in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh collapsed, trapping those who had gathered for a party inside. The structure—located near popular tourist destination Shimla—came down on Sunday following days of heavy downpours. Rescue workers used heavy machinery to remove heaps of mangled steel and wires from the muddied debris, pulling 28 survivors from the rubble. A statement from the state Chief Minister’s office said 14 people had died, all but one of whom were soldiers. One soldier—who was pulled out alive from the rubble—said they had gathered for a party in the building’s restaurant, “but suddenly the building shook and collapsed”. Such incidents are common across the region during the monsoon because of dilapidated structures that buckle under the weight of continuous rain.In neighbouring Nepal, police said at least 67 have been killed in floods and landslides, while 30 more are missing.The June to September monsoon causes widespread death and destruction across South Asia each year.In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officials said at least 18 people were killed after heavy rain triggered flash floods and damaged more than 50 houses.Floods have also devastated much of the northeastern Indian state of Assam where four people died on Sunday after being swept away by sudden torrents. The state’s Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO-recognised reserve and home to two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, has also been seriously affected by the weather.In the eastern state of Bihar, five rivers were flowing over the danger levels with more rain forecast over the next few days.The downpours have eased in Nepal but authorities still fear the death toll could rise, said police spokesman Bishwaraj Pokharel, who gave the latest number of dead and missing from floods and landslides. “There are the challenges of resettlement of the displaced as many houses... have been swept away. We are also cautious about the risk of epidemics due to polluted water,” Pokharel told AFP.In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officials also warned the death toll could increase as rescuers struggle to reach affected areas, and with the floods badly damaging communications.
Aussie kids take stolen car on 1,000-kilometre road trip
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Queensland police said the car was spotted early on Sunday morning in the outback town of Banana.AFP/RSS
SYDNEY : Four children took a stolen four-wheel drive on a 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) road trip across the Australian outback before being nabbed by police, officials said Monday. A 14-year-old boy, two 13-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl began their epic journey on Saturday when they took cash and packed fishing rods in a vehicle belonging to one of their families in the coastal Queensland town of Rockhampton, police said. One of the children left a note for his family telling them of his plans. Queensland police said the car was spotted early on Sunday morning in the outback town of Banana, where the kids allegedly stole petrol, before travelling south. The car was found on Sunday night near Grafton, in the neighbouring state of New South Wales, about 11 hours’ drive from Rockhampton. New South Wales police said officers had to force their way into the vehicle after the children refused to get out. “They have locked themselves in the car and police have had to use a baton to get in to arrest them,” Coffs-Clarence district acting inspector Darren Williams told reporters.It was not clear which of the children had been behind the wheel, but Williams said it was likely they had shared the driving. “It is a long way, in excess of 1,000 (km) from Rockhampton down to Grafton,” he said.“I couldn’t imagine one person driving that way in two days.” Police are investigating several alleged offences committed during the road trip, Williams said.The children, who were found unharmed, have been taken into care.Williams said it was unclear what prompted the children to take the trip, but one of the boys was originally from Grafton.
India scrubs Moon mission launch one hour before liftoff
SRIHARIKOTA (India): India on Monday postponed the launch of a lunar probe less than an hour before blast-off because of a technical problem, delaying its bid to become only the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the Moon. The Chandrayaan-2—or Moon Chariot 2—mission is part of India’s ambitious space programme, and its success would have propelled the South Asian nation into rarefied company: Russia, the United States and China are the only countries to have landed craft on the lunar surface. The spacecraft looked set for launch atop a Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III—India’s most powerful rocket—from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, but countdown was halted 56 minutes and 24 seconds before the planned liftoff at 2:51 am (2121 GMT Sunday). “A technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system at one hour before the launch,” the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said. “As a measure of abundant precaution Chandrayaan-2 launch has been called off for today. Revised launch date will be announced later.” The agency did not say when it would attempt the launch again, and did not share any details about the technical issue. The spacecraft’s Moon landing had originally been scheduled for September 6. Scores of enthusiasts, including schoolchildren, had gathered to witness the launch. “We do not know what happened... We are disappointed. I hope they rectify whatever the issue is,” one of the spectators was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency. India has spent about $140 million on Chandrayaan-2—designing and building almost all of its components domestically—and hailed the mission as one of the cheapest ever.
DR Congo urges calm after Ebola case in key city
KINSHASA: Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have appealed for calm after a preacher fell ill with Ebola in the eastern city of Goma, the first recorded case of the disease in the region’s urban hub in a nearly year-old epidemic. Goma, which has a population of around one million, is the capital of North Kivu province, the epicentre of an outbreak that has claimed more than 1,600 lives—the second highest toll in Ebola’s history. In a statement, North Kivu Governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita stressed the new case “not only was detected at an early stage but also was isolated immediately, avoiding any further contamination.” “I call on the population of the city of Goma and its outskirts to keep calm... (and) cooperate with response teams by observing hygiene and prevention measures and notifying any suspected case of Ebola,” he added. According to the latest health ministry figures, issued on Saturday, 1,655 people have died from the notorious haemorrhagic virus since August 1 last year, when the disease broke out in North Kivu and spread to neighbouring Ituri.Nearly 700 people have been cured, and more than 160,000 been vaccinated.The Goma patient is a Christian pastor who had preached at a church in another town, Butembo, where he would have touched worshippers “including the sick”, the health ministry said Sunday.His symptoms first surfaced last Tuesday. The preacher on Friday took a bus from Butembo, one of the towns hardest hit by the outbreak, and arrived two days later in Goma where “the results of the laboratory test confirmed that he was positive for Ebola”, the ministry said. “Given that the patient was quickly identified, as well as all the passengers on the bus from Butembo, the risk of the disease spreading in the city of Goma is low,” it added.The pastor was swiftly taken back to Butembo, about 300 kilometres (180 miles) from Goma, the governor added.
Thai police seize over a ton of crystal meth in raids
BANGKOK: Police in Thailand said they have seized more than a ton of crystal meth and over 10 million methamphetamine tablets in a series of drug raids this month, amid increased production and use of the drugs in Southeast Asia. Thai authorities often make several large seizures a year of methamphetamine and other drugs, usually arresting low-level traffickers and drivers. Police said in statements Sunday and Monday that they arrested eight people for trafficking over 5 million methamphetamine pills, 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds) of crystal meth, 15.4 kilograms (34 pounds) of heroin and 51 kilograms (112 pounds) of ketamine. The drugs were discovered Friday in a pickup truck hidden under fruit baskets and at a trafficker’s home. Police said they seized 459 kilograms (1,012 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine last week that they suspect originated from neighboring Myanmar. The drugs were found in the back of a pickup truck covered under a large green canvas. In Chiang Mai province, 563 kilometers (350 miles) north of Bangkok, police said a firefight between officers and drug traffickers broke out last Wednesday night while officers were tracking the traffickers in a forest.
Trump’s congresswomen tweets ‘completely unacceptable’: UK’s May
LONDON: Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday condemned US President Donald Trump’s tweets telling progressive Democrat congresswomen to “go back” where they came from as “completely unacceptable”. “Her view is that the language which was used to refer to the women was completely unacceptable,” May’s spokesman told reporters. Trump and May have endured a rocky relationship, which took a turn for the worse last week following the leak of diplomatic British cables highly critical of his presidency. Angered by May’s support for her ambassador, Trump assailed the prime minister over her handling of fraught Brexit negotiations, and welcomed her impending departure from office. “What a mess she and her representatives have created,” Trump fumed in a series of tweets. “I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way.” “The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new Prime Minister,” he wrote.Boris Johnson is the heavy favourite to replace May as prime minister, and has spoken out in support of the US president, with both men enthusiastic backers of Brexit. (Agencies)
Close the loopholes
The central bank should be lauded for its decision to enforce stricter controls
Nepal Rastra Bank has been prominent in the news cycle in recent times. The central bank has yet to announce its monetary policy for 2019-20. Latest reports cite that the policies won’t be announced until the second day of the new fiscal year, which has put the stock market in a fluster in recent days. Meanwhile, it has been featured for its non-monetary policy regulatory announcements. First came the announcement of plans to pressure banks to merge in order to create a lesser pool of more stable financial institutions in the country. This move has been controversial. Bankers and stakeholders agree that mergers and acquisitions are required, but they want Nepal Rastra Bank to focus on providing incentives to merge and to provide efficient monetary policy directives, rather than attempting to use tactics that go against open market principles. However, the central bank should be commended for its most recent announcement to finally enforce stricter controls so that bank directors do not have conflicts of interest.
The idea to enforce stricter regulations on bank promoters and directors came around six years ago, when Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada was governor of Nepal Rastra Bank. Back then, due to a rising tendency of banks consciously providing sub-prime loans and loans to individuals and businesses known to bank directors, Khatiwada had announced stricter controls in the banking management system. In fact, Khatiwada had promised to implement new regulations within three years. Now, three years since the end of the self-imposed deadline, the current governor is bringing the topic back into discussion. While it is not a monetary policy instrument, such a move is within the central bank’s ambit, as it is also the regulatory agency charged with keeping the banking sector healthy and fair.
For years, the financial sector has been riddled with bad practices that have allowed directors and influential promoters from the banking sector to siphon depositors’ money into funding loans for businesses that they also control. Other cases of conflicts of interest, such as Gurkha Development Bank attempting to buy land owned by one of its own promoters, have also been prevalent. Nepal Rastra Bank’s attempts to curb such behaviour is, therefore, laudable. However, it remains to be seen whether the regulations will actually pan out, given how it took six years just to be brought back into the conversation.
Moreover, little is known of what these regulations will entail. Currently, there are provisions in place that do not allow promoters—thereby directors as well—to take loans from their own institutions. However, this has obviously not worked in eradicating these unethical practices, as promoters and directors have found loopholes to circumvent regulations. One idea being floated is to disallow business persons with a certain percentage, yet unknown, of controlling shares in a business from simultaneously holding directorial positions in banks. While this is a step in the right direction, the central bank must make sure to close the loopholes that may still be exploited. Bank directors may transfer conflicting business shares to their immediate and pliable family members, for instance. Nepal Rastra Bank must thoughtfully apply effective regulations while allowing democratic and free-market principles to thrive unencumbered.
A changing world order
It is important to look at how Nepal will plan its engagement with the world.
- SUJEEV SHAKYA
More than 350 speakers from over 40 countries had gathered in the beautiful city of Aix En Provence in Southeast France to share their views at the Les Recontres Economiques, a meeting of economists organised by the Circle of Economists (Le Cercle des économistes). Started in 2001 by a 30-member think tank of France’s leading economists, this 19th edition—with its theme being Renewing Trust—had more than 5,000 people attend events spread over seven venues in a university. It was a great opportunity to participate in a panel and listen to thought leaders from France and beyond looking at building trust—something that is in short supply given the growing pessimism. The topics of discussion ranged from the ensuing trust deficit in world politics to why the economists had failed to foresee the financial crisis of 2008. Some of them even indulged in predicting when a similar crisis would occur again. From migration to technology to questioning multilateralism, the discussions were free and honest. In times when global events have become more formal and people more careful about what they speak (owing to the fear of not getting visas or being persecuted by their own government) this platform dubbed as ‘mini-Davos’ provided a breath of fresh air. However, for me at a personal level, I continue to ponder upon what these discussions mean for Nepal. Here are three clear takeaways.
Shun complacency In a country where one cannot buy a data pack for beyond 28 days and the bank deposit rates are lower for long-term instruments than short-term instruments, it is very difficult to have visionary thinking. But that does not mean we have to remain complacent. By 2040, China and India will be the two largest economies in the world and Nepal is land-linked to these two countries. Just as when this geographical proximity helped in making Nepal prosperous, back when our neighbours were wealthy until the 17th century, we can design our thoughts now on better managing these linkages. What happens between these two countries will also chart Nepal’s destiny. And going by what is happening with the recent changes in geopolitics, the likelihood of more cooperation between China and India is the natural and the obvious route. Many people I interacted with who understand the world of developing economies had a single message for Nepal: if you cannot ride the tide of the growth of your neighbours, you will never be able to graduate to an equitable and prosperous position. They say that history repeats itself, and those who have a deep understanding of Europe compare the current desire for identity and politics shaped around nation-states. This is perhaps different than a hundred years ago. Collective leadership exists only if it has the support of the people. But at the same time, when collective leadership and democracy existed, dictators existed, too. This is because there were some people who believed in supreme authority; for them, political idealism did not really matter. Closer to home, and in recent times, in India, the defection of legislators in the states of Karnataka and Goa from the opposition to the ruling party offers pointers to the fact that ideology has always remained secondary; leaders come first.
A closed-off world A hundred years ago, when it came to checking another country’s desire and hunger for economic power, there were no mechanisms in place except for adopting a protectionist policy in trade. And it seems as if we are reverting back to those times. The ongoing trade tension between China and the United States serves as an example. Regrettably, we are back to square one where winning trust has become more vital than using multilateral tools such as opting to use the World Trade Organisation as a gateway to dispute settlements. The question also emerges as to what will happen to the Brenton Wood institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund—the key funding agencies for these institutions. Questions remain as to whether the new US Development Finance Corporation, that combines the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and USAID, will work in silo—cut off from other systems—or whether it will complement the existing institutions. China has already indicated its intention of using the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a tool to further its own Belt and Road Initiative. Similarly, what will be the role and functioning of the United Nations and its agencies, as more money will be channelled by countries on a bilateral basis rather than through such multilateral institutions? What the next decade is going to look like will more or less be determined once the elections in most of Europe and America take place by 2020. Nepal cannot shape global agenda as of now, so it will have to see how its own strategies dovetail into the changing world order. There have been more instances of challenges to speaking up against human rights abuses, with rampant corruption, with the erosion of governance practices, and with the attacks on freedom of speech. The new laws and policies proposed that curtail media freedom, promote the policing of social media and the resultant polarisation between sycophants and activists provide no comfort to an ordinary citizen. For Nepal, it will be important to keep the discourse going as we get more engaged in protectionism. It will be imperative for Nepal to engage bilaterally with countries that matter. Therefore, what the Foreign Minister proposed—of having Kathmandu Dialogues—becomes even more important, as it is not about who is right or who is wrong. This time, we need to rise above petty politics and try to be on the right side of history.
Shakya tweets at @sujeevshakya
Are we prepared for the monsoon disaster?
Local governments, being the first responders, do not yet have the training, financial support and technical know-how to manage such crises.
People observe as an electric pole is swept by floodwaters in Kalanki in the Capital during heavy rainfall on July 12, 2019.Post file Photo: SANJOG MANANDHAR
While the arrival of monsoon was a respite from the scorching heat, especially for the farmers whose agricultural yield depends on the rain, the incessant rainfall also caused floods and landslides in many parts of the country. As this is a perennial problem, making the optimum use of the rain for agriculture, water recharge and harvesting while preventing monsoon-induced disasters has to be the government’s priority. According to a National Planning Commission report, the floods in August 2017 alone caused damages worth $584 million. The Monsoon looks fiercer if we observe the death toll. According to the disaster database of the Ministry of Home Affairs, floods, landslides, heavy rainfall and thunderstorms during the monsoon season of 2016 claimed 293 lives. This toll was 269 in 2017 and 132 in 2018. The disaster data shows that such occurrences alone account for 15 percent of the annual death toll and 10 percent of the annual economic damage. Since disasters during the rainy season is a common feature, the government’s priority should lie in disaster-risk management and prevention. The government should thus remain proactive and identify vulnerable settlements and infrastructures that are likely to be impacted by the flood and landslides. It should also have a solid idea of whether the established early warning systems are installed in proper places and are functioning effectively. Further, the government needs to reflect on many other aspects related to disaster risk management. It needs to hold enough mock drills to get familiar with the potential facets of the crisis. The concerned agencies at various levels of government need to be well equipped and trained to respond during emergencies. Further, the government needs to ask itself: Are we capable of taking timely action if a colossal disaster hits the country again? Are we committed to managing risk to achieve zero loss of life and property in future monsoon seasons? The answer to these questions will reflect the government’s effort and seriousness toward disaster risk management. Learning lessons from the devastation and losses that have incurred in the past will be key for disaster risk management as it will help identify the loopholes and strengthen the weakness, particularly in the managerial front. Yet, the investigation and inquiry for identification of the lapses in disaster management are lacking. Whether it be the Gorkha earthquake or the Tarai flood of 2017, no independent research other than one conducted by the government authority were conducted. Because of this, the effectiveness of current practices and culpability of the government agencies accountable for disaster management is never disclosed. Independent investigations and recommendations made by them could be a home-made remedy to strengthen and empower the existing disaster management system to minimise risk and prepare for anticipated disaster. In the last three years, initiatives in mainstreaming the legal frameworks and disaster management policies to be in line with the country’s new federal structure have been commendable. But preparing for disaster doesn’t mean confining the plans and policies only in paper. The commitment should translate into action, too. It also means that the agencies and organisations entrusted with disaster management are in full shape and functioning smoothly. Unfortunately, when it comes to policy implementation there is much to be desired. The government is yet to appoint the head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) which is mandated to lead, support and coordinate with all agencies on disaster risk management. The most effective way of preparing for the havoc during monsoon and beyond is decentralisation of the disaster management efforts. Livelihood improvement also means reducing the underlying risk. Thus, opportunities exist to address disaster risk reduction and development simultaneously, especially in the current system where there are three tiers of government. Integration of disaster risk concerns into development policy, plans and initiatives at the local level would both strengthen community resilience and contribute to sustainable development. Being prepared for the disaster requires not only planned and coordinated efforts but also timely action. First, decentralisation of the authorities for disaster risk management as provisioned by the existing legal frameworks and full-fledged operation of these institutions at the provincial and local level should be done as soon as possible. Second, these institutions should be capacitated and equipped adequately to manage and reduce disaster risk as part of preparedness and to act effectively for rescue and relief during a disaster. Third, risk assessment and mitigation need to be given higher priority while pre-disaster preparations and enhancement of post-disaster coping should go together. Fourth, encouraging community leadership for risk mitigation and effective disaster response is vital, including in the initiatives such as early warning system establishment, operations and management. Local governments and communities are the first responders during a disaster. Yet, they do not have the training, adequate financial support and technical know-how in managing disaster and dealing with the crisis. Statistics show that local governments have allocated only about 5 percent of all local budgets for disaster risk and management activities. With proper mainstreaming of risk reduction in local level planning and implementation, allocating adequate resources, capacity building of local authorities entrusted for disaster risk mitigation and preparedness, and supporting communities to strengthen their own resilience will help to mitigate risk and at the same time prepare effectively for the anticipated disaster.
- RAJU CHAUHAN
Chauhan is the programme coordinator for Youth Alliance for Environment.
Making the most of the malaria vaccine
The first vaccine against malaria in young children is now being made available through routine immunisation programs in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Abuja—A new malaria vaccine now being piloted in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of malaria cases occur, could be a game changer in global health. But, if the new vaccine is to fulfill its potential, health ministries will need to make some important changes. Each year, malaria kills one million people worldwide, the majority of whom are children under five years of age. The economic costs of the disease in Africa—treatment expenses, absenteeism from work, foregone education, decreased productivity, and loss of investment and tourism—are estimated to reach $12 billion annually. The new RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline over 32 years at a cost of more than $700 million, could go a long way toward changing that. In clinical trials among children aged 5-17 months who received four doses, the vaccine prevented approximately four in ten (39%) cases of malaria over four years of follow-up, and about three in ten (29%) cases of severe malaria, with significant reductions in hospital admissions. The need for blood transfusions in severe cases was cut by 29%. The first vaccine shown to provide partial protection against malaria in young children, RTS,S is now being made available through routine immunization programs in selected areas in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. But while an estimated 360,000 children are expected to receive RTS,S each year, those programs—and the health systems in which they operate—have serious weaknesses. One weakness lies in the storage and delivery of vaccines. The potency of a vaccine dose depends on whether it has remained in a well-functioning “cold chain”—a system for storing and transporting vaccines at recommended temperatures—from the point of manufacture to the point of use. To fulfill the purpose of childhood vaccinations, the cold chains leading to children everywhere—including in remote areas—must be safeguarded and, where necessary, strengthened. This means investing in reliable equipment for vaccine storage and transport, adequate maintenance of that equipment, personnel to manage vaccine distribution, and effective monitoring of the whole system. It also means investing in infrastructure (such as roads) and, where conflict and insecurity drive up the costs of such investment, in innovative delivery mechanisms. Zipline, a Rwandan tech firm, has pioneered the use of drones to deliver blood, vaccines, medications, and other essential health-care goods. The company, which has so far given 13 million people access to urgent treatments, recently expanded its drone delivery services to Ghana. Another tech-based solution that should be considered is the use of mobile phones to manage vaccine stocks and prevent shortages at primary health-care facilities. Yet another imperative for countries across Asia and Africa is to reduce their dependence on Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for funding vaccination programs. Since 2001, Gavi has disbursed $893 million to Pakistan, $565 million to Nigeria, and $222 million to Afghanistan, to name three examples. Rather than continue to depend on external donors—and risk suffering the consequences of donor fatigue—countries need to take control of their vaccination programs. One way to do that is by introducing publicly funded universal health coverage. As it stands, millions of people in Asia and Africa lack access to adequate, affordable, and reliable health care. Many are forced to forego life-saving health interventions, simply because they cannot cover the astronomical out-of-pocket costs. In line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, countries should be working to change this, by ensuring health coverage—including financial-risk protection and access to essential health-care services, medicines, and vaccines—for all. Instead of perpetuating vertical health programs that focus on specific diseases, international partners should be supporting this process in the countries where they work. Of course, even if countries fulfill all of these imperatives, the RTS,S vaccine’s efficacy is only partial. Other proven methods for preventing malaria—such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLIN), intermittent preventive therapy for pregnant women, proper sanitation, and the application of residual insecticide—must be sustained and improved. For example, LLINs that are distributed to protect against malaria are often repurposed as fishing nets in Kenya, household curtains in Madagascar, and protection for plant seedlings in Nigeria. Immunization is one of the most cost-effective public-health interventions. The RTS,S vaccine is no different, especially because it can be deployed through existing immunization programs. But delivering them remains a challenge in some areas. If leaders fail to meet that challenge, millions more children may not make it to their fifth birthdays.
A healthy right-to-information regime is in everyone’s best interest
The use of RTI laws could be upscaled to focus more seriously on issues of accountability and transparency.
Funds stolen by political leaders. School supplies siphoned off by a contractor. Ghost workers created to claim benefits. Evidence of government-sanctioned torture. Trees that were meant to be planted but never were… these are just some of the stories unearthed by using Right to Information (RTI) or Freedom of Information (FOI) laws in some 130 countries. These laws oblige governments to disclose information they normally would not. The range of issues that citizens can tackle using RTI laws may surprise many readers. In our last column, we highlighted the efforts of a young man in Bangladesh who used the RTI Act 2009 to fight the filling-in of public ponds and water bodies owing to the massive urbanisation of Dhaka city. In India’s Jammu and Kashmir, an activist used the RTI act to visit a site where the state claimed trees were being planted to combat deforestation. It turned out that barely 10 percent of the trees were planted and the funds were being embezzled. The revelation led to public outcry and pressure from environmentalists for corrective measures. In an era where governments claim advances in public health, nearly 17,000 children died from malnutrition in 2015-2016 in the Indian state of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court was told based on data obtained through RTI queries. The court found the numbers “shocking and disturbing.” A journalist from an investigation team of Bloomberg News used the US FOI Act 1966 to obtain a report from the Federal Department of Agriculture, which revealed that a major Parmesan cheese brand contained no actual Parmesan cheese. The makers were mislabelling their products by filling them with a mixture of other cheeses and cellulose, a common anti-clumping agent made from wood. The president of the company faced a one-year prison term and a fine of USD 100,000. Another area where RTI laws have been used as a tool to uncover corruption is financial manipulation. An RTI request by a journalist from the Indian Express revealed that a Maharashtra minister had purchased land well below market value, just before it was due for acquisition by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation. The objective was to sell the land later at a higher price to the government. In Malawi, public officials controlling a public works programme connived to create 20 ghost beneficiaries in the hope of sharing the proceeds. The chairperson of a local Community Rights Club submitted an RTI request for a list of the beneficiaries, thereby exposing the fraud. In another Malawi case, requests for information about contracts to provide school supplies led to investigation that proved they were not delivered. Subsequently, the supplier was forced to reimburse all funds meant for the supplies. The Access to Information law of Mexico was successfully used to learn that some municipal workers of a particular municipality had two jobs and that a politician’s relatives benefitted from the construction of the municipal slaughterhouse and municipal sanitary sewer. Even high-level shenanigans can be brought into the light using these laws, enabling citizens to witness what goes on behind closed doors. The secrecy surrounding thepurchase of US Treasury bonds by Saudi Arabia was ended by a FOI request by Bloomberg News. The response revealed that as of March 2016, Saudi Arabia had stockpiled USD 116.8 billion of US Treasuries. The information had remained one of the biggest mysteries in global finance for four decades, unlike with most other major owners of US debt. This had to do with the sensitivity surrounding US-Saudi relationship. The response to the FOI request also revealed a number of other important information about US foreign debt. Serious human rights transgressions are not immune to investigation under RTI laws. In response to a FOI Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the US government was obliged to disclose new portions of transcripts from military hearings in 2007, in which “high-value” detainees described being tortured by the CIA at Guantanamo Bay. The importance of the information was described by an ACLU staff attorney as follows: “At a time when some politicians are proposing that the torture programme be resurrected, it’s crucial that the American public have access to these first-hand statements, and not only to the self-serving accounts offered by those who authorised the torture.” Even royalty is not spared from the purview of RTI laws. The Supreme Court of England’s ruling that Prince Charles’ letters to ministers fell within the ambit of the FOI Act of the UK extended the arm of the law to the most sensitive area of the relationship between the Royal Family and the British government. The ruling implied that “advocacy correspondence” from Prince Charles to ministers should be made public. It also represented a fundamental challenge to the use of ministerial veto to block the release of material that the government particularly felt the need to keep secret, after either the information commissioner or the Tribunal has ruled it should be published. The Court’s majority judgment stated that it is a fundamental principle that “a decision of a judicial body should be final and binding and should not be capable of being overturned by a member of the executive.” The ministers, therefore, cannot overrule a Tribunal decision that information should be released under FOI just because they disagree with it. Other factors need to be in play, such as the emergence of new considerations. There are also less serious and more innocuous use of the law.The BBC used the UK FOI law to obtain transcripts of conversations between British Prime Minister John Major and US President George HW Bush Sr. It showed that the two frequently commiserated with each other and had a close and bantering relationship. These examples demonstrate the wide range of topics on which RTI/FOI requests have been made throughout the world. In Bangladesh, while NGO efforts and those of a few die-hard RTI activists have kept the RTI ball rolling, its use has been limited and not as creative as it could be. We hope to stimulate the more educated and socially conscious sections of our society to understand the tremendous value and reach of the law, appreciate its importance for society and put it to proper use. As seen in the examples, not all RTI applications need to deal with corruption, malfeasance or misdeeds of public officials which many in Bangladesh believe to be the main objective of the law. In fact, the law has been used all over the world for obtaining information on larger issues of societal and national interest, which do not necessarily require pointing accusing fingers at anybody. Seeking such information should give no reason to public officials to be afraid of disclosure, which they are when faced with information requests of a sensitive or self-incriminatory nature. In fact, it is a good strategy for citizens to start their acquaintance with the law by seeking information of a general nature, which would benefit the society at large and at the same time create the practice among public officials to respond to RTI requests more dutifully, which, unfortunately, is not the case today. Once such a relationship is developed, the use of the law could be upscaled to focus more seriously on issues of accountability and transparency.
- Shamsul Bari & Ruhi Naz
This article was previously published in The Daily Star, a part of the Asia News Network.
The best wireless earbuds you can find in Nepal
A pair of great earphones regularly top lists of essential gadgets, but how do you find one that best suits you?
- Bivek Khatiwada
A few years back, wireless earphones were more of a gimmick. There were size constraints on the drivers, due to which such headphones used to fail at projecting punchy sound. Also, connectivity was a concern back then. So, frequent disconnection and distortion in audio quality were also quite evident. But that’s a thing of the past. Wireless earbuds and earphones have highly evolved in recent times. Modern wireless earbuds deliver sound that compares with their wired counterparts. And as wireless earbuds are inherently free from nested wire loops, they have become a preferred choice for many. Since there’s an ongoing trend of smartphone companies ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack, the popularity of wireless audio devices is on the rise. Here we have picked some of the best wireless earbuds and earphones that you can buy in Nepal.
Remax TWS 3 Wireless Earbuds
In the budget realm, Remax TWS 3 wireless earbuds are another good option. The major focus of these Bluetooth earbuds is power and portability. The earbuds are small and light and are very comfortable to wear. To deliver uninterrupted audio to the audiophiles, Remax has embedded a massive 2000mAh battery inside its charging case. The case can charge the earbuds for more than 20 times. So if you are an avid audiophile or a voracious multimedia consumer, these headphones have got you covered. These wireless headphones come with Bluetooth 5.0 connection, so connection is of top quality. The Remax TWS 3 also lets you connect two mobile phones at the same time. When it comes to quality, the headphones deliver crisp audio. Bass, however, seems to be missing. Mids and vocal part remain preserved and you won’t notice any major distortions while listening to the audio on louder volumes. You can get this earbud set for Rs 5,300.
Samsung Galaxy Buds
Galaxy Buds feature a sophisticated design, so the earbuds snuggly fit into the ears without causing any sort of discomfort. The contours of the buds don’t allow much background noise to enter the ears, so the buds passively cancel noise. But the in-ear headphones also come with an active noise cancellation feature. After turning the feature on, it completely separates the track you are listening to from any background noise. In terms of audio, the Galaxy Buds sound decent and reproduce audio fairly accurately. By default, the buds lack a bit of bass but Android users can boost it by using Samsung Wearable app. The same app can also be used to remap the touch-sensitive buttons, which exists on the back of each earbud. The battery life is also truly remarkable on the device. On a signal charge, the Galaxy buds can last up to 6-7 hours on playing continuous audio. When it comes to price, Samsung Galaxy Buds comes at Rs 14,490. You can purchase these earphones from various Samsung outlets and e-commerce websites, like SmartDoko.
Sony WF-SP700N Wireless headphones
Sony is one of the leading companies in the audio market--not just in the wired segment, but also in the wireless segment. And in the wireless segment, Sony WF-SP700N is one of the notable performers. Like most wireless earbuds out there, this too comes with a plastic body. They’re light and fits easily into the ears. The earbuds also come with projected fins due to which the buds don’t come off easily. As these earbuds are also IPX4 certified, sweat does not do any harm. This makes the device most suitable for athletes. The earbuds also do really well on cancelling background noises. In terms of sound quality, these headphones are really great, especially with their loud and crisp audio. You also get an amazing amount of bass, if the buds are tightly sealed into the ears. Sony WF-SP700N is available for purchase at Rs 23, 850. You can buy it offline from any Sony store. If you are into online shopping, you can also get it online from SastoDeal.
When Xiaomi launched the Redmi AirDots, the company claimed they to be the least expensive TWS (Truly Wireless Stereo) earbuds ever. Since the device was launched at just $15, that was believable as well. But don’t let the price fool you: it offers rich and loud audio, better than some of its wired counterparts that are available at similar prices. Bass is not as pronounced and deep bass seems non-existent. But for the price, it’s better than most (more expensive) alternatives in the market. The earbuds come inside a carrying case. The whole package is light and small, so it offers a maximum level of portability. Since an earbud just weighs 4.1 grams, it also rests comfortably in the ears even during prolonged use. The device also comes with a dedicated button to play/pause music and to trigger Google Assistant. the earphones also have an in-built mic, so you can make calls as well. So, along with the portability and decent audio quality, you get tons of other features too. MI Nepal hasn’t brought the device officially in Nepal but you can buy the device from various retail outlets for the price of Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000.
Apple AirPods 2
Apple products are usually expensive and so are AirPods 2. But when it comes to audio quality, AirPods 2 probably comes second to no one. The original AirPods were already a solid performer, but, with the new and improved H1 chip, AirPods 2 has gotten better. There are still a lot of cons if you nitpick. AirPods 2 technically are not water- or sweat-resistant and there’s no equaliser or ambient-listening mode. But with the audio quality they project, these things don’t matter. You get clear sound with a surprising level of detail. It doesn’t overdo the bass or brings fatiguing highs, which means the audio is full and balanced. However, the lack of seal or active noise cancellation feature is a bit frustrating since it doesn’t block background noise at all. The Apple AirPods 2 can be purchased from OlizStore for Rs 26,500.
- Khatiwada is an electrical engineer and an SEO expert, who often wanders into the realms of voltage and current.
As ransomware rages, debate heats up on response
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
City services in Baltimore, US were paralysed earlier this year when a ransomware attack locked up computer networks and made it impossible for residents to make property transactions or pay their municipal bills. Officials refused to meet hacker demands for a ransom of US$76,000 (RM312,000) to unlock the systems, but have been saddled with an estimated US$18mil (RM73.9mil) in costs of restoring and rebuilding the city’s computer networks. The dilemma in Baltimore and in a similar case in Atlanta a year earlier highlight tough choices faced by cities, hospitals and corporations hit by ransomware, which can shut down critical services for organisations with dated or vulnerable computer networks. Two Florida cities reportedly paid a total of US$1mil (RM4.1mil) in ransom this year, after which a new attack by the same group hit the state court system in Georgia. Globally, losses from ransomware rose by 60% last year to US$8bil (RM32.8bil), according to data compiled by the Internet Society’s Online Trust Alliance. “We’re seeing more attacks against cities because it’s clear cities are ill-prepared, and even if they know what’s going on they don’t have the funds to fix it,” said Gregory Falco, a researcher at Stanford University specialising in municipal network security.
Epidemic proportions Frank Cilluffo, head of Auburn University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, said the attacks have reached epidemic levels. “The scale and scope of the problem is striking, affecting everywhere from relatively robust states to major metropolitan areas to smaller cities and counties,” Cilluffo told a congressional hearing last month. “Targets include police and sheriff departments, schools and libraries, health agencies, transit systems, and courts ... no jurisdiction is too small or too large to go unaffected.” Ransomware has been a thorny cybersecurity issue for several years in the US and globally, marked by global ransomware attacks known as “WannaCry” and “NotPetya.” Health care institutions have been frequent victims, and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center revealed in 2016 it paid US$17,000 (RM69,800) to hackers to decrypt important data. The French Interior Ministry said in a recent report authorities responded to some 560 ransomware incidents in 2018 but also noted that most incidents are unreported. The same ministry report said hackers have shifted their strategy from attacking many systems with demands for small ransoms to more targeted attacks with higher potential payout.
Pay or resist? While the FBI and others warn against paying ransoms, some analysts say there is no clear answer for victims when critical data is locked. “You have to do what’s right for your organisation,” Falco said. “It’s not the FBI’s call. You might have criminal justice information, you could have decades of evidence. You have to weigh this for yourself.” Josh Zelonis at Forrester Research offered a similar view, saying in a blog post that victims need to consider paying the ransom as a valid option, alongside other recovery efforts. But Randy Marchany, chief information security officer for Virginia tech University, said the best answer is to take a hardline “don’t pay” attitude. “I don’t agree with any organisation or city paying the ransom,” Marchany said. “The victims will have to rebuild their infrastructure from scratch anyway. If you pay the ransom, the hackers give you the decryption key but you have no assurance the ransomware has been removed from all of your systems. So, you have to rebuild them anyway.”
Prevention is best Victims often fail to take preventive measures such as software updates and data backups that would limit the impact of ransomware. But victims may not always be aware of potential remedies that don’t involve paying up, said Brett Callow of Emsisoft, one of several security firms that offer free decryption tools. “If the encryption in ransomware is implemented properly, there is a zero chance of recovery unless you pay the ransom,” Callow said. “Often it isn’t implemented properly, and we find weaknesses in the encryption and undo it.” Callow also points to coordinated efforts of security firms including the No More Ransom Project, which partners with Europol, and ID Ransomware, which can identify some malware and sometimes unlock data. Analysts point out that ransomware attacks may be motivated by more than just money. Two Iranians were charged last year in the attack on Atlanta that prosecutors said was an attempt to disrupt US institutions. “Attackers which aren’t such big fans of the US might want to cause economic disruption,” Falco said. “Instead of trying to take down the whole electric grid, they may try to create chaos in a number of cities.”
CULTURE & ARTS
Princess Jasmine is the strong female lead we’ve been waiting for in Aladdin’s reboot
The biggest change was thought to be Will Smith’s Genie but Princess Jasmine got her chance to shine.
- RAHUL HASNAIN
I remember having mixed feelings about Aladdin’s live-action reboot when Disney announced it back in the day. Sure, most Disney fans were very excited; I just didn’t know what to expect. Would I just end up spending a sum of money in this crippling economy to have my Aladdin experience tainted? Or maybe, just maybe, I would actually get to watch a re-imagined tale that is more representative of changing times. As production houses become more sensitive to ideas related to representation, gender and race, I hoped Disney had also done some self-reflection. Have they sensitised their camera lens to the racial and gender prejudices that they have intentionally or unintentionally perpetuated? To some extent, it did. We all imagined that Will Smith will be the biggest change in the feature but the reboot of Aladdin was promising because Jasmine was reimagined as a powerful female lead and some other changes were made that warmed my heart as a Disney fanatic since childhood. We all knew that Aladdin’s main plot would be the same rags to riches story where Aladdin, a petty thief who steals to eat along with his monkey, Abu ends up with Genie’s lamp and the subsequent three wishes that he could choose from. He ends up marrying Jasmine without the wishes being relevant in the end though. However, the way the plot progresses has been tweaked by Disney. While the 1992 feature was based around Aladdin as the lead with Jasmine’s portrayal being limited to being Aladdin’s love interest, the reboot involved Jasmine having her own arc where she has ambitions to become the sultan rather than just finding a suitable match for her marriage. Her perspective on their (Aladdin and Jasmine’s) love story is also explored which was neglected previously and was limited to either the moments they shared onscreen or Aladdin’s perspective on how to become a suitable match for the love of his life. The reboot actually zooms in the camera on Jasmine’s point of view and we get to hear what’s going on in her head especially in scenes where she is interacting with Dalia, her handmaiden and confidante. Jasmine was also never given enough screen time so Disney fans wanted more of her strong character; the filmmaker never explored her character to its fullest depth in the animated feature. This changes in the reboot as we’re introduced to a Princess Jasmine with a real personality. Apart from having her character’s trajectory distinct and separate from the male lead, Jasmine also gets her own song finally. Yes, ‘Speechless’ really did leave me speechless! The song served as an ode against the patriarchal nature of the political order in Agrabah which has her restricted and bound and how she will have none of that. Aladdin is definitely secondary here because Jasmine pursued her will to become Sultan rather than having her sultan father change the marriage law to marry Aladdin. And I for one was more than happy with that. We loved Princess Jasmine when she made her way to the Disney roster back in 1992. She was no damsel in distress waiting for her Prince Charming. We loved her for her resilience and her ability to express herself so unabashedly. Let’s not forget her best dialogue: “I am not a prize to be won!” But that’s as far as Disney could go when it came to deviating from their conventional portrayal of female agency because in the end, ‘92’s Jasmine’s main conflict was being unable to marry whomever she wants to. While being able to pursue your romantic interest is something that women should be able to do, there is so much more about strong-headed female individuals that Disney failed to get right. Ironically, Jasmines love for Aladdin in the original led her down the path of being the damsel in distress more than her previous situation. Disney learned its lesson as Naomi Scott’s Jasmine is more of a strong-headed female character allowing Disney’s non-male audience members to relate to their princess more. Jasmine is portrayed to be politically ambitious where she moves far beyond just aiming to change the royal marriage law as she hopes to be Sultan one day. She expresses this impossible desire unabashedly numerous times in the movie especially in her interactions with her father, the Sultan. Interestingly, not only are her political aspirations a central feature of the plot, the motivations behind her dreams and ambitions are also carefully examined. She is shown to be an empathetic political ruler who cares about the suffering, and conditions of her subjects in Agrabah, and hopes to improve their socio-political conditions by becoming the Sultan one day. Even when Jafar becomes immensely powerful in the aftermath of getting his hands onto Genie’s lamp which serves as a gateway to his wish to become Sultan, Jasmine is still shown to be legitimately worried about her subjects under Jafar’s evil regime rather than worrying about how she will be able to pursue her love for Aladdin. While this clearly seems like an inaccurate depiction of how monarchies work, it still portrays women in a more realistic manner than the 1992 feature. Apart from the contrast in the depiction of Jasmine in both the movies, I also noticed more lively female presences in this one. Dalia is another strong female character that we come across in the new feature film. Dalia’s presence is alluring, refreshing and memorable as she confidently flirts with Genie (played by Will Smith) on screen. Dalia serves the purpose of letting us understand Jasmine more through their conversations. We were able to explore her motivations and goals and along the way we enjoyed a supportive friendship, something we also haven’t seen much of from Disney princesses—they usually lack female companions. We also see the presence of Jasmine’s deceased mother resurrected in Sultan and Jasmine’s memory. The deceased queen is remembered to be an impactful, empathetic and strong-willed political leader and can we just say kudos to Disney for imagining female characters outside the breadth of romance; they made sure that they actually reimagined the tale of Aladdin keeping in mind changing time and needs.
Disney did their homework Did you know that the original Aladdin’s design was based off Tom Cruise? Just remember the smile and you’ll know it to be true! Is that the recipe to an animated ethnic heartthrob? I don’t think so Disney. Perhaps that’s why it took so long for Guy Ritchie to find the right Aladdin for his reboot, they couldn’t find an Arab actor who looks like a white actor. Good thing Disney did get Egyptian actor Mena Massoud for the role. That’s one thing I really appreciated in Disney’s reboot of Aladdin apart from the representation of female characters. They cut down on casual racist commentary and propagation of harmful stereotypes that the 1992 animated feature failed to shy away from. Case in point: The infamous line from the original animated feature song, Arabian Nights, “where they cut off your hand if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric but hey, it’s home” was omitted and replaced with “it’s chaotic, but hey it’s home”. Owing to the efforts of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (AAADC), Walt Disney Company came under a lot of pressure for only depicting evil characters as more Arabic by giving them exaggerated physical features such as an overly long nose, and unrealistically thick lips compared to the protagonists who looked like white teenagers except for the fact that their skin was warmer (obviously). The AAADC argued that such unrealistic representation tends to perpetuate a very negative stereotype against people of Arab descent in the United States. But Disney fixed this as they kind of ended up making Jafar prettier than most characters onscreen. I’m glad that Disney has started to be responsible with its content because their audience mostly consists of impressionable children who were heavily socialised into casual racism. I’m looking at you, Peter Pan and Aristocats! I appreciate the efforts made in Maleficent to show that true love comes in all forms or the announcement about the upcoming Mulan reboot being more respectful to Chinese culture. Even then, we saw many different ethnicities being lumped in for the Aladdin reboot as inhabitants of Agrabah as Indian actors were cast as Arabic characters. Clearly, there’s a long way to go in terms of their representation of Arabic culture because it still seems more like a quagmire of Indian, Egyptian and Arabic culture. We’d love Disney more if they were able to tell us, and our material cultural traits apart. From the looks of it, we’re just glad they finally started on this path.
Comic-Con hits 50: from hotel basement to Hollywood hangout
- ADREW MARSZAL
A cosplayer poses for a picture at Comic Con in San Diego on July 20, 2018. AFP/RSS
From Peter Parker’s run-in with a radioactive spider to Superman fleeing an exploding Krypton: comic book fans love a good origin story. So when 135,000 geeks and nerds invade San Diego next week for the 50th edition of Comic-Con—the world’s largest celebration of pop culture—the event’s humble beginnings will be a hot topic of discussion. The sprawling convention today draws Hollywood A-listers like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrick Stewart and the cast of Game of Thrones to its frantically hyped panels, where billion-dollar franchises are launched. But the first iteration—the brainchild of an unemployed 36-year-old comic collector and his five teenage acolytes—drew just 100 people to a seedy hotel basement down the road in March 1970. The “Golden State Comic-Con” was first designed as a way for fans to connect with each other and meet their heroes—the comic book creators—at a time when the genre was a million miles away from the mainstream. “We never thought we’d be as big as we are. We never thought we’d be around in 50 years’ time,” David Glanzer, Comic-Con’s marketing chief, told AFP.
Star Wars to Tarantino “They were the first people who really viewed comic books as art,” added Glanzer. Comic-Con’s subsequent growth was gradual but inexorable. It increasingly looked beyond comics and catered to film and TV, as well as other genres such as sci-fi. Oscar-winning director Frank Capra was the first genuinely mainstream star to attend. But arguably the tipping point came in 1976 when Lucasfilm’s publicist sent a team bearing posters and slides to promote an upcoming “little film called Star Wars,” said Glanzer.The ploy to spread word of mouth about its ambitious space opera was “viral marketing before there was viral marketing,” he added. It evidently worked. Big-shot studio executives who had previously attended for fun on their weekends began coming for the whole week, arriving in their business suits to close major licensing deals at San Diego’s top restaurants. By the 90s, studios and networks were sending the “talent” itself—star-studded casts and directors—forcing the traditional media to pay attention. Francis Ford Coppola came to promote Dracula, while Quentin Tarantino went from wandering the halls as a fan to appearing front and center on stage. “Back in the day we used to give away two or three thousand tickets on the radio because we couldn’t get people through the door,” recalled Glanzer. “Now tickets sell out within an hour.”
Comic roots The recipe has been so successful that imitations and spin-offs have popped up around the world, from New York to Saudi Arabia. This year San Diego will host a series of retrospective panels celebrating Comic-Con’s storied past. But for some, the exponential growth has come at a cost. What was once an intimate event now sees thousands of bleary-eyed fans—dressed in pitch-perfect monster, alien and manga costumes—lining up long before dawn to squeeze into packed events. Comic retailers who maintained stalls at the event for decades have stopped coming, priced out by rising costs as Comic-Con has filled and spilled out from the 27-acre (11-hectare) San Diego Convention Center. And many bemoan the fact that, in a world of Hollywood blockbusters and video games, the comic books themselves have been relegated to the back pages. “Yeah we do get a lot of Hollywood people, but entertainment now is very different to how it was in 1970,” said Glanzer. “I think that’s just a healthy progression and acknowledgement of art in its various different forms. “As long as we maintain our roots in comics and other art forms, I hope we’ll be okay.”
ARIES (March 21-April 19) *** Keeping a tight lid on your emotions might be an effective way to achieve a cool and collected demeanour, but it’s also important to find time to feel your feelings. If you’re very happy or very upset with someone right now, you need to find a way to express.
TAURUS (April 20-May 20) *** A conversation that you fear will be difficult will actually be quite delightful today, when it turns out that someone isn’t quite as sensitive as you thought. It seems that a lot of your assumptions are going to be proved wrong today-to your benefit.
GEMINI (May 21-June 21) ** The intelligent way to handle conflict today is to focus on the relationship behind it, not on the problem itself. Don’t approach this difficult conversation in a short-sighted way—that is, too concerned about making a point or winning the argument.
CANCER (June 22-July 22) *** A nagging problem at home can wait a few more days-focusing on it too hard right now will only put more pressure on the situation. Step outside yourself, and find a way to explore what is going on in other people’s lives.
LEO (July 23-August 22) **** If you’re trying to move toward a goal but are starting to run out of energy, don’t despair. Tap into your supply of enthusiasm, and it will propel you forward! Let your passion drive you and consider getting a couple of friends involved in your quest.
VIRGO (August 23-September 22) ** You are feeling intellectually curious right now, and this could be one of the most enlightening periods of your life. If you have a lingering question about something, ask it. If you don’t understand something, you need to figure it out.
LIBRA (September 23-October 22) *** Don’t let any confusion you encounter today frustrate you. Instead, you should treat it as a valuable clue—it is pointing you toward changes you might need to make. If a certain situation is making confused, you need to get rid of emotional clutter.
SCORPIO (October 23-November 21) ***** Something you thought was dead and buried long ago is going to undergo a powerful regeneration today. Try to anticipate this rebirth and become a part of it before the rest of the crowd does. Exciting things could be coming back soon!
SAGITTARIUS (November 22-December 21) * Your quest for knowing all the answers all the time has led you to some rewarding experiences in the past, but right now it is leading you down a dead-end street. Obsessing about a certain mystery will only give that mystery too much power over you.
CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19) ** When an idealistic co-worker makes an offbeat suggestion to you today, take it seriously. Sometimes, a somewhat naive mindset is exactly what it takes to solve a complex problem. Taking a more simplistic and positive view of your life costs nothing.
AQUARIUS (January 20-February 18) *** Today you might start to feel yourself gravitate toward a quieter, more solitary existence. Don’t worry; this desire for more privacy in your life is a healthy step toward understanding what you truly need to make yourself feel more at ease.
PISCES (February 19-March 20) ***** If you’re feeling wishy-washy about what to do first today, stop forcing yourself to choose any one thing. Just go with the flow, and let people you trust dictate today’s events. You will be happy with whatever they say.
Wimbledon champion Djokovic vows to win fans’ love
The Serbian is by far the most consistent of the Big Three. Since 2015, he has won nine of the 19 majors played with Nadal winning four and Federer three.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic returns to Switzerland’s Roger Federer during their Wimbledon final in London on Sunday.AP/RSS
LONDON : Novak Djokovic has vowed to convince fans that he is not public enemy number one even if he surpasses people’s champion Roger Federer as the greatest Grand Slam title winner of all time. The world No 1 saved two match points to clinch a fifth Wimbledon title and 16th major on Sunday, shattering Federer’s bid to become the oldest Grand Slam champion in the longest final ever contested at the tournament. Despite being outplayed by the 37-year-old Swiss for large parts of the knife-edge encounter, the top seed emerged victorious 7-6 (7/5), 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 13-12 (7/3). At four hours and 57 minutes, it was the longest Wimbledon final and the first to be settled by a final set tiebreak. Djokovic is the first man in 71 years to win the title from match points down, saving two in the 16th game of the deciding set. His major title tally is now just two behind Rafael Nadal and four off the all-time men’s Grand Slam record of 20 held by Federer. Dhokovic has time on his side, being a year younger than Nadal and more than five years younger than the legendary Swiss. After Sunday’s epic triumph, Djokovic revealed he was able to turn the overwhelmingly pro-Federer, 14,000-strong Centre Court crowd in his favour by training his mind. “I like to transmutate it in a way: When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’ I hear ‘Novak’,” said the 32-year-old Djokovic. “It sounds silly, but it is like that.” He has spent the best part of his career in pursuit of Nadal and Federer and attempting to seduce fans sceptical of his character. For many he is viewed as too intense, too insincere, too calculating and prone to fads. Federer and Nadal, in comparison, are treated almost reverentially. “It’s hard to not be aware of the crowd. You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise,” said Djokovic. “Of course, if you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps. When you don’t, then you have to find it within, I guess.” Djokovic insists he won’t get distracted by the pursuit of Federer’s record haul.
“Whether I’m going to be able to do it or not, I don’t know,” added Djokovic. “I’m not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me at least. What I said on the court, I really meant it: Roger really inspires me with his effort at his age. It just depends how long I’m going to play, whether I’m going to have a chance to make historic No 1 or Slams.” When asked if he sees himself still playing at 37, Djokovic said the motivation to be treated with the same respect is strong. Eventually, hearing screams of “Let’s go, Novak, let’s go” will be more than welcome. Hopefully in five years’ time I can be hearing the same chants.” Djokovic is by far the most consistent of the ‘Big Three’ at the Slams. Since the start of 2015, he has won nine of the 19 majors played with Nadal winning four and Federer three. The other three have been split between Stan Wawrinka (two) and Andy Murray (one). On Sunday, Djokovic saved match points in the 16th game of the deciding set, which ran for over two hours and was settled by a 12-12 tiebreak for the first time in a singles match at the tournament. It was another display of stunning mental fortitude. He has been in similar predicaments in the past against Federer—saving two match points in both of his semi-final victories over the Swiss at the 2010 and 2011 US Opens. “I just try to never lose self-belief, just stay calm, just focus on trying to get the ball back, return, which wasn’t serving me very well today.” said Djokovic. “But in the most important moments, all three tiebreaks I guess, I found my best game.” He was off the pace for large parts of the final, only carving out his first break points in the eighth game of the fourth set.Federer won more points in the match with 218 to 204, broke serve seven times compared to three, hit 25 aces to 10 and 94 winners to Djokovic’s 54. “I thought I could have played better. But the one thing that probably allowed me to come back and save match points and win this match was the mental stability,” admitted the champion.
Frittelli wins to earn British Open spot
Illinois : South African Dylan Frittelli secured the final spot in the British Open field when he won the John Deere Classic by two strokes in Silvis, Illinois, on Sunday. Frittelli clinched his first PGA Tour victory in style with a seven-birdie, seven-under-par 64 at TPC Deere Run, after starting the day two strokes off the pace. He finished at 21-under 263, while American Russell Henley shot a sizzling 61 to vault into second place on 19 under. Frittelli quickly set his sights on the British Open that starts at Royal Portrush on Thursday. Johannesburg-born Frittelli attended the University of Texas in Austin before turning pro in 2012. He won twice on the European Tour in 2017 but this is his first full season on the PGA Tour. Wearing all white clothing on Sunday, Frittelli got a great start with birdies at the first three holes and never looked back. While he eventually won with a degree of comfort, for a while it looked as though Henley had a chance to secure what would have been a stunning victory. The American teed off trailing overnight leaders Andrew Landry and Cameron Tringale by seven shots, and made 10 birdies to set a target for the rest. Only Frittelli was up to the challenge. Landry (69) birdied the final hole for third place on 18-under, while Tringale (73) was never a factor, plunging down the leaderboard to equal 16th.
More Tour de France joy for Impey
South Africa’s Daryl Impey (right) celebrates winning the Tour de France ninth stage in Brioude, eastern France, on Sunday.AFP/RSS
BRIOUDE : South Africa.n Daryl Impey added an individual stage win to his Tour de France happy memories when he prevailed at the end of a long breakaway from St Etienne on Sunday. The Mitchelton Scott rider, who wore the race’s yellow jersey for a couple of days in 2013, beat Belgian Tiesj Benoot in a two-man sprint after the duo went clear from the day’s breakaway. Slovenia’s Jan Tratnik took third place, 10 seconds behind as France’s Julian Alaphilippe retained the overall lead after 170.5 kilometres, with the top guns enjoying an easy day on a bumpy stage nine. “Pretty much, for me, from a Tour de France perspective, a stage win was something really missing. I made quite a few breakaways in the past few years and finally, today, I got the win on Bastille Day. It’s fantastic,” Impey said. “It’s a dream come true. It’s so difficult to win at this level. I kind of marked this stage. I was kind of lucky to find the right move. We worked all well together. I’m glad the legs were there at the end to beat Tiesj Benoot. I haven’t been emotional like that for a long time.” Frenchman Romain Bardet, a two-time podium finisher who has already lost considerable ground in the general classification, attacked on the Cote de St Just, 13km from the finish. He was followed by Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk and Australian Richie Porte but the trio were easily reined in by defending champion Geraint Thomas’s Ineos team. Following a hectic finale in Saturday’s eighth stage which saw Frenchman Thibaut Pinot gain almost half a minute on Thomas and the defending champion take a tumble, there were no fireworks on Bastille Day. A 15-man breakaway, featuring former Tour individual stage winners Tony Martin and Edvald Boasson Hagen, opened a gap of more than 10 minutes but none were a threat to Alaphilippe’s overall lead. Italian Alessandro De Marchi was taken to a hospital with facial injuries after a nasty crash, his CCC team said. The three-time Vuelta a Espana stage winner crashed after eight kilometres and was first attended to by the race’s medical staff as he lay face down. At the front, Benoot and Impey emerged as the strongest men at top of the Cote de St Just and the South African, who snatched the yellow jersey in Nice six years ago when his team won the time trial, was the fastest to the line. Impey, the first African rider to wear the yellow jersey, is the first South African to win a Tour de France stage since Robbie Hunter 12 years ago. The main bunch crossed more than 16 minutes later.
Jawalakhel knock out Army, enter semis
- Sports Bureau
Jay Adhikari (right) of Tribhuvan Army Club in action against Jawalakhel Youth Club during their Lalit Memorial U-18 football tournament match at the ANFA Complex in Satdobato on Monday.Photo Courtesy: ANFA
LALITPUR : Jawalakhel Youth Club knocked out holders Tribhuvan Army Club in sudden death penalty shootout to enter the semi-finals of the Lalit Memorial U-18 football at the ANFA Complex in Satdobato on Monday. The match was decided from the spot after the regulation 90 minutes finished in a 0-0 deadlock and the penalty shootout also ended in a 3-3 tie. Jawalakhel’s Ram Gurung converted the first shot of the sudden death while Anish Ale missed the target for departmental team, the champions in the last two editions. In the penalty shootout, Army’ club’s Binaya Chaudhary, Shiva Bote and Bishal Sunar converted while Bishrant Basnet and Nischal Gurung failed missed out. Jawalakhel’s Sachu Gurung and Surja Guro missed the first two shots from spot before Dhiraj Pun Magar, Akshya Pradhan and Ashis Shahi scored to level the scores in tie-breaker. The late quarter-final of the day saw Nepal Police Club register a hard fought 1-0 victory over Machhindra Club. Police scored the all-important goal in the second of the five-minute of stoppage time through Manjil Rai. The outcome also completed the semi-final lineup of the tournament which will see the Police club take on Jawalakhel and Manang Marshyangdi Club playing against Brigade Boys Club for a place in the final. Both the semi-finals will be played on Thursday.
Belmadi salutes Algeria attitude in last-gasp win
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
CAIRO : Algeria boss Djamel Belmadi paid tribute to his team’s “great attitude and mental strength” as an injury-time freekick by Riyad Mahrez secured a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final. Mahrez struck with the last kick of the game against Nigeria in Cairo to snatch a 2-1 win for Algeria and set up a rematch with Senegal for the title on July 19. “We knew that it would be a tough game because of the quality of the opponent and because of the tough game we had against Ivory Coast,” said Belmadi, with his side having reached the semi-finals following a penalty shootout victory on Thursday. Algeria took the lead just before half-time following a strong start when William Troost-Ekong bundled into his own net, but Odion Ighalo drew Nigeria level with a VAR-awarded penalty on 72 minutes following a handball by Aissa Mandi. “The guys did an amazing first half. We deserved to score the goal and I think we could’ve scored more but then in the second half I think we had a difficult moment for 15 minutes where we were under pressure,” said Belmadi. “After this penalty, this decision, I think the players showed great attitude and mental strength to come back and fight until the end and score the goal. Either we could drop off for a bit and pay heavily for it or we could regroup and start again.” Algeria looked the likelier to score in the closing stages as Sofiane Feghouli wasted a good chance before Ismael Bennacer smacked the crossbar, but Mahrez saved the best for last. “This freekick arrived and of course with players of quality like Riyad Mahrez it’s a massive chance to score,” concluded Belmadi.
Neymar returns to PSG training with future still up in the air
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
PARIS : Neymar showed up for training at Paris Saint-Germain on Monday, according to French media reports, a week late and days after controversially claiming his best football memory was beating PSG when he played for Barcelona. A video posted on the website of leading sports daily L’Equipe showed the 27-year-old Brazilian—his hair dyed peroxide blonde—getting out of a black Mercedes van at the club’s training ground in the suburbs of the French capital. PSG officially began pre-season training last Monday but Neymar, linked with a move back to Barcelona, was not there, with the player’s camp maintaining he had a prior agreement to stay away. The French champions responded last week by threatening to take “appropriate action” against the world’s most expensive player, who said he had stayed in Brazil to attend a charity five-a-side football tournament run by his foundation, the Neymar Institute. On Saturday, Neymar, who joined PSG for 222 million euros from Barcelona in 2017, made a series of remarks that strained his relationship further with the club and sparked outrage on social media. Asked by online sports channel Oh My Goal about his best memory in football, the troubled superstar cited Barcelona’s incredible 2017 Champions League victory over PSG when he was part of the team that overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit by winning 6-1 in the second leg of their last-16 tie. Earlier in the day, Neymar posted a 10-second video of himself in a Barcelona shirt and a quote from the Bible: “No weapon turned against you will prosper.” Neymar’s father, who is also the player’s representative, later defended his son in an Instagram post, saying: “At no point did my son show a lack of respect to PSG or the players who played in that game in 2017.” “My son plays for PSG, but he can’t simply ignore his past. A past that led to him arriving at the French club,” Neymar Senior added. It has been a troubled summer for the player, who missed Brazil’s triumphant Copa America campaign on home soil after suffering an ankle injury in a warm-up friendly against Qatar in early June. In addition, he was questioned by Brazilian police last month over allegations he raped a woman he met through social media in a Paris hotel. He has denied the accusations. Meanwhile, PSG’s new sporting director Leonardo—a Brazilian like Neymar—last week opened the door to the player leaving the club “if there is an offer that suits everyone”. However, the chances of him returning to Barcelona, where he previously starred for four years, cannot have been helped by the completion of Antoine Griezmann’s transfer to the Camp Nou from Atletico Madrid. That deal was completed on Friday when the Catalans activated Griezmann’s 120 million-euro release clause. While Neymar has just returned to Paris, his teammates are due to play their first pre-season friendly on Tuesday away to German side Dynamo Dresden. Thomas Tuchel’s team are also due to play at Nuremberg at the weekend before travelling to Asia to face Inter Milan in Macau on July 27. Their first competitive match of the season will be against Rennes in Shenzhen, China, on August 3 in the Champions Trophy, the traditional curtain-raiser to the French campaign. Assuming he remains a PSG player, Neymar will be suspended for that game as he completes a ban for lashing out at a fan following the club’s shock defeat to Rennes in last season’s French Cup final. Neymar is also banned for the first three m atches of next season’s Champions League group stage, a punishment for an angry outburst at match officials following PSG’s last-16 loss against Manchester United in March.
Stokes revels in redemption story as England make history
The incredible climax at the Lord’s gives England their first World Cup and ensures Stokes’ lasting legacy will be his heroics in the final.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
England captain Eoin Morgan (2nd left) and Ben Stokes (left) embrace after winning the World Cup title at the Lord’s in London on Sunday.AP/RSS
LONDON : Ben Stokes started England’s march to World Cup glory with a catch to remember and ended their historic campaign weeping tears of joy as win against New Zealand completed a personal tale of redemption. The allrounder was named man-of-the-match after hitting an unbeaten 84 in a thrilling England run chase that ended with the match tied after Eoin Morgan’s team finished on 241 all out in reply to New Zealand’s 241-8. The 28-year-old’s heroics set up a rare Super Over that saw Stokes and Jos Buttler score 15 runs from six extra balls off New Zealand’s Trent Boult. When England held Kiwis to 15 from Jofra Archer’s own Super Over, it was the hosts who took the trophy because they hit more boundaries in the match, including several from Stokes. The incredible climax at Lord’s gave England their first World Cup and ensured Stokes’ lasting legacy will be his heroics in the final instead of the 2017 street brawl that threatened to ruin his career. Not surprisingly, Stokes was overcome with emotion and he wept openly during the jubilant on-field celebrations. “I’m pretty lost for words. All that hard work for four years and now to be stood here as champions of the world, it’s an amazing feeling,” Stokes said. “There was no chance I wasn’t going to be there at the end. It’s moments like that you live for as a professional cricketer. It’s incredible, I hope we have inspired people to want to do this in the future.”
“Ben Stokes, he’s a great player. He stepped up when his team needed him. That is the mark of greatness,” former England captain Michael Vaughan said on BBC radio. Stokes missed the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia following a well-documented incident in Bristol—an ugly scene outside a nightclub which led to a charge of affray, over which he was found not guilty. But he was welcomed back with warm, unconditional support from his teammates and has repaid that faith in spades during this unforgettable World Cup campaign. “Without the lads in the ODI team and the Test team and the support from my family—that’s all gone now,” said Stokes, who made his England ODI debut in 2011. “This is what we aspire to be. I don’t think there will ever be a better game in cricket than that.” New Zealand-born Stokes and the World Cup have been a perfect match over the past six weeks. From the moment he leapt backwards and thrust a hand over his head to take a stunning catch to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo in England’s tournament-opening win over South Africa, the tournament has provided Stokes with a chance to change his story. He scored 82 not out and 89 when all about him were losing their heads in group-stage defeats against Sri Lanka and Australia that threatened England’s progress to the semi-finals. In a must-win clash against India, Stokes delivered again with 79, helping to launch England on a three-match winning run that took them to the final. With the situation growing more tense by the minute in England’s run chase against New Zealand’s fired-up pace attack on Sunday, it was Stokes who came to the rescue. Playing with poise and panache, he ensured England made it to the Super Over despite needing 14 off the final over to tie the regulation match. Smashing Boult for a six, Stokes enjoyed a moment of deserved good fortune when he dived full length to avoid being run out, with the ball deflecting off his bat and going for four more runs—giving him another six runs. It was surely at that moment that Stokes realised it was going to be his day. The cathartic triumph was completed soon after amid fireworks and confetti as Morgan held the World Cup high in the London sky while Stokes tried in vain to stop the tears.
England mistakenly awarded extra run, says former umpire
London : England should have been awarded five runs instead of six in the final over of Sunday’s World Cup title clash against New Zealand after a throw from the deep struck Ben Stokes’ bat and ran away for a boundary, former umpire Simon Taufel has said. England ended their 44-year wait for a maiden 50-overs World Cup by beating New Zealand on boundaries after a tied Super Over. But Australian Taufel suggested that the umpires had made an “error of judgement.” With England needing nine runs from the last three balls of the final over, Stokes desperately dived to complete a second run when Martin Guptill’s throw from the deep hit his bat and went to the boundary, prompting the umpire to signal six runs. “It’s a clear mistake. It’s an error of judgment. (England) should have been awarded five runs, not six,” Taufel, who is part of cricket’s law-making body, told foxsports.com.au. MCC’s law 19.8, which deals with overthrows, says: “If the boundary results from an overthrow... runs scored shall be any runs for penalties awarded... and allowance for the boundary, and runs completed by batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.” The governing International Cricket Council could not be immediately reached for comment about the decision of the umpires. Cricket website ESPNcricinfo reported after reviewing footage that Guptill had released the ball when Stokes and Adil Rashid had not yet crossed for the second run. Taufel said leg-spinner Rashid would have been on strike to face the last two deliveries had the second run been found to be incomplete. However, he had sympathy for Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena and his South African colleague Marais Erasmus, the men in the middle. “In the heat of what was going on, they thought there was a good chance the batsmen crossed at the instant of the throw,” the 48-year-old added. “Obviously TV replays showed otherwise... it’s unfair on England, New Zealand and the umpires involved to say it decided the outcome.”
Griezmann says Atletico outcry to Barca move a pity
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
BARCELONA : French forward Antoine Griezmann said on Sunday that Atletico Madrid’s angry response to his transfer to La Liga rivals Barcelona is “a pity”. Barcelona revealed on Friday they had paid the 28-year-old’s 120-million-euro release clause to sign the World Cup winner on a five-year deal, prompting a furious response from Atletico who said the amount was “insufficient”. “Regarding Atletico, it’s a pity. I went to see them on purpose so they would not be caught off guard and could prepare for the future,” the player told a news conference as he was presented at the Nou Camp. “We reached an agreement but finally it changed, it’s like that, you have to accept it,” he added when asked about Atletico’s response. Shortly after the Catalans had announced the signing, Atletico complained Barca and Griezmann had negotiated the deal before the buy-out price dropped from 200 million euros at the start of July. “Atletico Madrid believe that the termination of the contract took place before the end of last season,” the club said, adding Griezmann had made it clear in his actions and words. Atletico had already “begun appropriate procedures” to defend their “rights and legitimate interests”, the statement added. Spanish sports newspaper AS said on Saturday the capital city club will go to FIFA, the governing body of world football, to argue that Barcelona owe them more than the 120 million euros release clause deposited by a lawyer for Griezmann on Friday. The daily added Atletico want to have both Barcelona and Griezmann punished. Contacted by AFP on Saturday, the club refused to comment. Griezmann almost signed with Barcelona a year ago but instead opted in June 2018 to sign a new five-year deal at the Wanda Metropolitano, revealing the reasons why in an almost one-hour long documentary called “The Decision” made by a production company owned by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. But in May 2019 he announced he would be leaving Atletico at the end of the season. Griezmann’s five-year contract with Barcelona includes a buyout clause of 800 million euros. “It’s always hard to leave a home, a place where you felt comfortable, which is your family,” he said. “I only have admiration and respect for the club. I have given everything on the pitch from the beginning to the end of the season and I feel no shame,” added Griezmann, who will wear the number 17 jersey for his new side.
Black Caps praise team but query cruel rules
Kiwis lost even though scores were tied at the end of both regular play and a Super Over shootout, with England’s superior boundary count giving them victory.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson (left) reacts as he waits for trophy presentation after losing the World Cup final against England at the Lord’s in London on Sunday.AP/RSS
WELLINGTON : Heartbroken New Zealanders expressed pride on Monday in the Black Caps’ fighting spirit after defeat to England in the Cricket World Cup final, but also bemusement at the obscure rules that cost them the match. The Black Caps lost even though scores were tied at the end of both regular play and a Super Over shootout, with England’s superior boundary count giving them victory. As Kiwi fans absorbed a second straight loss in the tournament decider, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was concentrating on the positives. “That was undeniably an incredible game. I think as a nation we all aged a year in that Super Over,” she posted on social media. “Congratulations to England. And to the Black Caps, I feel nothing but pride. What a team.” But her sports minister Grant Robertson questioned the tie-break method. “What an extraordinary game. Not sure Super Over is the right end,” he tweeted. “Whatever, NZ you can be so, so proud of this team.” Former Black Cap Scott Styris labelled governing body the ICC “a joke” over the rules but congratulated both teams on a stunning efforts. Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming’s one-word reaction to the result was “cruel”, while even the father of England’s Kiwi-born match-winner Ben Stokes felt the Kiwis were hard done by. Gerard Stokes, a former New Zealand rugby league international who took his son to England as a boy while he pursued his career, said honours were even. “It’s a shame there has to be a loser,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “They could have shared the trophy but that doesn’t seem to be how things are done these days.” News website stuff.co.nz said New Zealand had been denied by the fine print. “England did not win the Cricket World Cup final and the Black Caps did not lose it,” an editorial said. “But the tournament had to have a winner, somehow. And in the end, what was perhaps the most dramatic ODI ever played, was decided by a curious, contentious fine-print rule.” It was a theme echoed by Sam Flynn Scott from pop culture website The Spinofff’s cricket podcast. “Did we lose the game? It seems like it was tied and then it was tied again, then there was just some stupid rule about who wins the World Cup,” he said. “It should have been who took the most wickets (which would have given Kiwis win).” Former New Zealand bowler Daniel Vettori said it “feels unfortunate” the final was decided on boundaries scored but the Black Caps had to accept the rules. He said the match also turned on several key moments, including a freak fielding deflection off Stokes’ bat that raced to the boundary and a missed opportunity for Trent Boult to catch the England batsman on the boundary. “It’s going to be remembered for so many little moments and infortunately all those little moments probably went against New Zealand,” he told ESPN.
Caster Semenya vs IAAF: A ground-breaking gender test case
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
PARIS : Caster Semenya’s battle with world athletics’ governing body over testosterone-curbing regulations for female athletes will likely have long-lasting ramifications for gender definition in sport as a whole. The South African, a two-time Olympic 800m gold medallist, is locked in a bitter dispute with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and both parties are awaiting a ruling from Switzerland’s supreme court on Semenya’s appeal against the regulations. Semenya is classified a woman, was raised as a woman and races as a woman. But for the IAAF, women like Semenya, with certain masculine attributes due to differences of sexual development (DSD), are classified, biologically, as men. It is a position hotly contested by South African officials. The IAAF, seeking “to ensure fair competition for all women”, argues that DSD athletes, like Semenya, born with the “46 XY” chromosome rather than the XX chromosome most females have, would have an advantage in all events based on their levels of testosterone that are in the male range. “Does the IAAF have the legitimacy to define the sex of somebody, to question that person’s civil state?” asks anthropologist Philippe Liotard, an expert in discrimination in sport. “This ruling is judging the identity of that person.” In the build-up to the 2009 world championships in Berlin, where Semenya went on to win gold in the 800m, the South African had to undergo gender verification testing to confirm her eligibility to compete in the women’s category. She was subsequently put on medication to reduce her testosterone levels, spending six months sidelined by the IAAF. “The IAAF used me in the past as a human guinea pig to experiment with how the medication they required me to take would affect my testosterone levels,” Semenya said. Sociologist Beatrice Barbusse, a specialist in sexism in sport, added: “Sport has been built on this dichotomy between men and women on a binary concept of sexes. There’s not a biological split between men and women but a continuity because there are people like Caster Semenya, who find themselves in neither camp. You can only imagine in 50 years when we’ve reached a sufficiently raised societal level to accept that there’s no longer a compulsory categorisation of sex. This affair could completely shake up the organisation of sport in the future.” World sport’s highest court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), found that the new regulations “were a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s legitimate objective of fair and meaningful competition in female athletics”. While the IAAF has been at the forefront at curbing the supposed advantage of DSD athletes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has set up a group of experts to look into the matter. The IAAF has based its new regulations on a study which has since been highly contested. Published in July 2017 in the British Journal of Sport Medicine, the study of doctors Stephane Bermon and Pierre-Yves Garnier is based around data from testing female athletes between the 2011 and 2013 World Athletics Championships. By comparing the results of female athletes with the highest concentrations of testosterone with those with the lowest level, the study concluded that the women with a high level of the hormone had a significant advantage in track events ranging from the 400m to the 800m, as well as the pole vault and hammer throw. The results were strongly contested in some quarters. The IAAF admitted some errors and in 2018 published a new peer-reviewed report which it said “confirms with a different statistical method the main findings of the 2017 paper”. To reduce overly high levels of testosterone, the IAAF suggest the female athletes concerned either take a daily oral contraceptive, hormone-reducing drugs or, more radically, a gonadectomy—an operation in which testes are removed. But is it possible to force people who are not ill to take medication which could cause secondary effects? No, according to the World Medical Association (WMA), which called on doctors to shun the IAAF regulations.
Man City cleared to fly to China
LONDON: Manchester City have finally been cleared to fly to China for their pre-season tour after two days of delays. The treble winners were due to travel to Shanghai ahead of the Premier League Asia Trophy on Saturday but their departure was twice put back due to an administrative issue. The delays meant City were absent as organisers opened with the exhibition event at a press meet on Monday that was due to feature Pep Guardiola and a player. (AFP)
Wolves boss wants quality
SHANGHAI: Wolverhamp-ton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo said on Monday that he wants to add “quality not quantity” to his squad ahead of the new Premier League season. Wolves have yet to make a major signing during the summer transfer window. A number of major tournaments, including the Copa America and Africa Cup of Nations, means that clubs are having to wait until late in the summer to make additions, he said. (AFP)
P&G gives bonus to USA stars
NEW YORK: US multinational Procter & Gamble gave its backing to the United States’ women’s soccer stars in their fight for equal pay on Sunday, handing the team a $529,000 bonus following their World Cup win. In a full-page advertisement placed in The New York Times, P&G said the company, one of the team’s sponsors through its Secret Deodorant brand, urged the US Soccer Federa tion to be “on the right side of history.” (AFP)
Three days of non-stop torrential rain tops up Kulekhani reservoir
Nepal Electricity Authority cuts down power imports from India to 150 MW from 400 MW.
- PRAHLAD RIJAL
A generan view of Kulekhani reservoir in Makwanpur. Post file Photo
KATHMANDU, The torrential rain that fell nonstop for three days last week topped up the Kulekhani reservoir in mid-July for the first time in living memory. Formed by Kulekhani dam, the lake located 20 km southwest of Kathmandu supplies water to the Kulekhani I and II hydropower projects. With the reservoir filled to the brim, and the two plants churning out electricity feverishly, the Nepal Electricity Authority has been able to cut down power imports from India to 150 MW from 400 MW. Officials said the water level in the Kulekhani reservoir rose by 20 metres in just four days. Usually, the water in the lake would reach this level only in October with snowmelt flowing down from the Himalaya. “The monsoon has just started; and the reservoir, which would fill up only in October after the snow started melting, has hit peak storage three months in advance this year,” said Ghising, managing director of the Nepal Electricity Authority. “Earlier, the plants used to remain shut during the monsoon to conserve water, but we have operated the plants at full capacity and cut back on imports from India.” According to Ghising, both hydel plants fed through the reservoir are producing their maximum output of 92 MW as they have been running at full throttle since Monday to prevent overflowing and possible dam burst. The water level recedes at a rate of 2 cm per hour even when the plants are run at full capacity. The Nepal Electricity Authority has requested communities downstream to remain alert as the utility will have to open the dam’s flood gates in case the water rises any higher. “If the spillway and reservoir cannot hold the flow of water even with the turbines running at full capacity, we will have to open the dam which will result in floods in the Bagmati River,” said Ghising. The state-owned power utility is now importing only 150 MW from the Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur cross-border transmission line and 45 MW from other transmission points against the normal import of around 400 MW. According to the Nepal Electricity Authority, the 60 and 32 MW Kulekhani plants are only operated to fulfill power demand during the dry season when the country witnesses a drop in generation from run-of-the-river schemes. The turbines are also switched on for voltage improvement and system stability. With the monsoon raging and floods wreaking havoc across the southern plains, the country’s total power off-take has dipped to 600 MW from the normal demand of 1,250 MW as demand from the farming sector has gone down along with a decline in cooling requirements from domestic consumers. With the Kulekhani reservoir at peak storage, power imports in the upcoming months and the festival season when demand spikes are expected to be less than in previous years. As of Monday, state-owned power plants were churning out 457 MW and independent schemes were producing 469 MW. Electricity imports stand at 150 MW, according to the Nepal Electricity Authority. All 23 state-owned power plants except one unit at the Kali Gandaki powerhouse are fully operational and producing 457 MW. Three private plants—25 MW Upper Modi, 22 MW Bagmati and 6 MW Chaku Khola—are out of commission due to structural damage caused by rain and floods.
‘They bombed our livelihoods’: Sri Lanka’s tourism firms struggle after attacks
UNWATUNA/GALLE (SRI LANKA), Pearl Divers, a diving school on one of Sri Lanka’s most popular southern beaches, shut shop for two months after suicide bombers attacked churches and hotels on the island on Easter Sunday, killing about 250 people. It had no customers as tourists cancelled holidays, and its manager Nuwan Harshana says he took two months leave and a pay cut. Last week, he dusted off the diving equipment and boats, used to carry scuba enthusiasts off the shore of Unawatuna beach, in the hope that foreigners will start to trickle into the country again and the shop can slowly build back to the $800 a day in revenue it made before the attacks. But there is no sign of any quick upturn in his fortunes. “Everything was good before April. Now that situation is finished ... there are no customers,” said Harshana, who said he is worried about earning enough to look after his wife and two children, while also meeting his monthly loan payments. The economy of Sri Lanka, a sun-drenched island in the Indian Ocean, depends heavily on the $4.4 billion tourism industry. Small businesses like Pearl Divers have been on the rise since the nation’s civil war ended in 2009 and tourists poured in. But after the bombings in April, tourist arrivals slumped 70 percent in May and 57 percent in June from a year earlier. Many small businesses, that employ thousands, are now either forced to lay off staff or have them work for minimal pay. This is already having a domino effect on the economy, further hitting consumer demand. The government has introduced a series of measures to boost tourism, including lowering airport charges, cutting taxes on jet fuel and pushing hotels to offer discounts. It is planning to relax visa rules for residents of a number of countries. It has also asked banks to lower lending rates and give loan moratoriums. But the relief is yet to reach many small businesses that make up the backbone of the economy. “Clearly it took banks a bit of time to gear up for it ... As they had to work out the decision making process,” central bank governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy said on Thursday. Dilum Ranjana, who owns a foot spa in the fort city of Galle in the south, said he had to fire three of seven employees and postpone plans to open a second branch because he was getting hardly any income in the past couple of months. “It is not easy to get a loan, there is a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy,” said Ranjana, who has monthly expenses of $2,300 in rent, bills and salaries. He said he has so far made $570 in July, a tenth of what he did last year. “All my plans are lost, they are ruined,” he said. Tourism was the third largest and fastest growing source of foreign currency for Sri Lanka last year, and accounted for 4.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. The government expects a shortfall of $800-900 million in tourism revenue this year, which will widen its current account deficit to 3 percent of GDP from the 2.3 percent it had earlier expected, a top central bank official told Reuters. The central bank has also slashed its growth forecast for the year to 3 percent from 4 percent earlier. “The main concern is rising non-performing loans due to sluggish economic growth after the attacks,” the official said. When the diving business was booming, Harshana said he took a loan of $57,000 in 2017 to convert an old house into a no-frills hostel which earned him $114 a night from tourists in peak season. It is currently closed because he has no bookings. After letting him postpone loan payments of $630 for both May and June, the bank is giving no such concession for July, he said. “I have to manage with my savings but I don’t have much. People like us, we rise slowly but the fall is sudden,” he said. The island received 2.5 million foreign tourists last year and with Lonely Planet magazine endorsing it as 2019’s top destination, the government was hoping to draw in more than 3 million this year. It now hopes to get around 2 million tourists, said Johanne Jayaratne, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Airlines cancelled 41 weekly flights after the attacks and while carriers like Emirates have resumed their schedule, China Eastern, for instance, is still operating only four flights a week—half of what it used to. GW Ramyasiri, a 57-year-old fisherman who poses for tourists while propped up on a pole in Kogalla lake near Galle, says the government is not providing enough help. He says he used to make up to $20 in tips from tourists every day before the attacks, now he barely makes a dollar. He said he has sold the family gold and may not be able to send his younger daughter to university. “We need money, not loans. If tourists don’t come back, how will I repay the loan?” asked Ramyasiri. “They have actually bombed us and our livelihoods.”
Tourist arrivals to Chitwan reach all-time high of 185,644
The national park is home to 125 tigers and 605 one-horned rhinos, making it a must-see destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
- RAMESH KUMAR PAUDEL
Tourists enjoy elephant safari in Sauraha, Chitwan. Post Photo: ramesh kumar poudel
CHITWAN, The number of foreign sightseers visiting the jungle safari destination of Sauraha, Chitwan reached an all-time high this fiscal year, making it one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country. Nepal’s first national park—Chitwan National Park located in the southern Tarai—received 185,644 foreign tourists in the current fiscal year ending Tuesday. Arrivals recorded a 56.50 percent growth, marking a tremendous recovery from the disastrous years of 2015 and 2017 following the earthquake. The national park is home to 125 tigers and 605 one-horned rhinos, making it a must-see destination for wildlife enthusiasts. The rich flora and fauna attract hordes of adventure seekers which has turned Chitwan into the most profitable park in Nepal. Bed Kumar Dhakal, chief conservation officer at the park, said it was an all-time high number this fiscal year after 2014-15 when 178,257 foreigners had visited the park. Following the earthquake and economic blockade in 2015-16, the numbers dropped to 87,391. Again in 2016-17, foreigners dropped Chitwan from their tour plans due to the disastrous condition of the Narayanghat-Mugling highway, the main overland route to the wildlife sanctuary. With the improvement in road conditions and political stability in the country, the tourists are coming back, said Dhakal. He added that they had computed the number of tourists on the basis of the entry tickets issued by the park, and the data does not include around 300,000-400,000 Nepalis and foreign tourists who visit the park through different community forests. Chitwan National Park was established in 1973. There are 10 entry points to the park with Sauraha being the most popular one. Apart from Sauraha, a large number of tourists visit Patihani, Meghauli and Amaltari in Nawalparasi, and these areas have witnessed a boom in luxury resorts and hotels. Suman Ghimire, president of the Regional Hotel Association, Chitwan, said visitor numbers were satisfying, but not enough. “Resorts and hotels built around the national park can accommodate at least double the number of arrivals,” he said. “With the proliferation of luxury resorts, it’s essential to increase the number of visitors too,” he said. Jeep safari, elephant safari, boating, and bird watching on the banks of the Narayani and Rapti rivers are the major adventure activities that attract visitors. Elephant safari in the thick jungle is the main attraction, but the park does not provide this service. Elephants belonging to private hotels are not allowed to go inside the national park. Elephant safari is available in the community forests only. According to Dhakal, there are 32 jeeps inside the park which seems like a large number, but tourism entrepreneurs say that they are insufficient. “They have requested us to allow more jeeps and permit elephant safari inside the park. It is high time we worked on bringing quality tourists instead of just focusing on the number,” Dhakal said. The park earned Rs291 million in entrance fees this fiscal year, up from Rs248 million in the last fiscal year. With the increasing number of tourists, economic activities in Chitwan and Nawalparasi have also expanded, said officials. The tourism industry in Chitwan is estimated to provide direct and indirect employment to 3,000 and 9,000 people respectively.
South Korea leader says Tokyo’s trade curbs will hurt Japan more
- ASSOCIATED PRESS
South Korean small and medium-sized business owners stage a rally calling for a boycott of Japanese products in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday. AP/rss
SEOUL, In his strongest comments yet on a growing trade dispute, South Korea’s president urged Japan on Monday to lift recently tightened controls on high-tech exports to South Korea, which he said threaten to shatter the countries’ economic cooperation and could damage Japan more than South Korea. The dispute between the two US allies has further soured relations already troubled over Japan’s colonial rule of Korea before the end of World War II. President Moon Jae-in accused Japan of abusing its leverage in trade to punish South Korea over their historical dispute. South Korea sees the trade curbs as retaliation for South Korean court rulings earlier this year that ordered Japanese corporations to compensate South Korean victims for forced labor during World War II. South Korea says the strengthened export controls of photoresists and other sensitive materials mainly to manufacture semiconductors and display screens could hurt its export-dependent economy and disrupt global supply chains. Its government plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization and raise the issue at next week’s WTO General Council in Geneva. Trade officials from the countries failed to resolve the dispute in a working-level meeting in Tokyo on Friday. Moon also said South Korea will use the dispute as an opportunity to reduce its dependence on Japan by strengthening its technology industry and diversifying import sources. “Japan’s export restrictions have broken the framework of economic cooperation between South Korea and Japan that had continued over a half-century based on mutual dependence,” Moon said in a meeting of senior aides at Seoul’s presidential palace. “The shattered credibility of cooperation with Japan in the manufacturing industry will inspire our companies to break out of their dependence on Japanese materials, components and equipment and work toward diversifying import sources or localizing the technologies. I warn that, eventually, it will be the Japanese economy that will be damaged more.” Analysts say the Japanese measure won’t have any immediate meaningful impact on South Korean chipmakers, which have sufficient supplies of the materials for now, given a slowdown in demand for semiconductors. But there is concern that Japan will expand its export controls to other industries. Park Ki-young, a spokesman of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, said Monday that the government is bracing for the possibility that Japan will remove South Korea from a 27-country “whitelist” receiving preferential treatment in trade. Its removal from the list would require Japanese companies to apply for case-by-case approvals for exports to South Korea of more than 850 items deemed sensitive, not just the three materials affected by the trade curbs that took effect July 4. It would also allow Japanese authorities to restrict any export to South Korea when they believe there are security concerns, Park said. Moon spoke hours after dozens of South Korean small-business owners rallied in Seoul, calling for boycotts of Japanese consumer goods. The Japanese measures have stoked public anger in South Korea, where many believe Japan still hasn’t fully acknowledged responsibility for atrocities committed during its colonial occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Kim Sung-min, president of the Korea Mart Association, urged shop owners to boycott the distribution of Japanese products until Tokyo apologizes over the trade curbs and withdraws them. Other demonstrators held up signs that read, “Our supermarket does not sell Japanese products.” Thousands of South Koreans have signed petitions posted by citizens on the presidential office’s websites that called for boycotts of Japanese products and of travel to Japan and for South Korea to skip next year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics. Retailers have also reported modest drops in the sales of Japanese beer. “We will continue boycotting the consumption and distribution of Japanese products until Japan’s government and the Abe administration apologizes and withdraws its economic retaliation,” Kim said, referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Tokyo says the materials affected by the export controls can be sent only to trustworthy trading partners. Without presenting specific examples, Tokyo has questioned Seoul’s credibility in controlling the exports of arms and dual-use items that can be used both for civilian and military purpoes.
Oil prices edge higher on Chinese economic data
LONDON, Oil prices rose slightly on Monday as Chinese industrial output and retail data topped expectations but gains were capped by overall figures showing the country’s slowest quarterly economic growth in decades. The positive Chinese data may indicate early success in the government’s stimulus efforts and potentially more oil demand in the world’s second biggest economy. Brent crude futures LCOc1 rose 29 cents, or 0.43 percent, to $67.01 a barrel by 1125 GMT, while US crude CLc1 was up 23 cents, or 0.38 percent, at $60.44 a barrel. Both contracts last week made their biggest weekly gains in three weeks on cuts in US oil production and diplomatic tensions in the Middle East. Analysts at ANZ bank said China’s crude oil imports year-to-date still looked impressive, even as imports fell in June for a second straight month. China’s crude oil throughput rose to a record of 13.07 million barrels per day in June, up 7.7 percent from a year earlier, following the start-up of two new, large refineries, official data showed on Monday. Still, economic growth of just 6.2 percent in the second quarter of 2019—the worst in 27 years—highlighted the impact of trade tensions with Washington and raised the possibility that more incentives might be needed to jump start the economy. Despite a truce agreed between the Chinese and US presidents last month, the trade war remains unresolved. The Paris-based International Energy Agency’s monthly report on Friday said that abundant output and sluggish growth would leave oil markets increasingly over-supplied going into 2020. “The basic message is that the second half of this year will see some depletion in global oil inventories but this will be followed by a dismal 2020, especially the first six months of next year,” PVM analyst Tamas Varga said. Refineries in the path of Tropical Storm Barry continued to operate, although the storm has slashed US Gulf of Mexico crude output by 73 percent, or 1.38 million barrels per day. In the Middle East, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday that Iran was ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday said there remained a “small window” of time to save the Iran nuclear deal as Tehran signaled it would ramp up its nuclear program.
Bitcoin dips as scrutiny of cryptocurrencies grows
Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, speaks in front of the concept design for the new Bank of England fifty pound banknote, featuring mathematician and scientist Alan Turing, during the presentation at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, north-west England on Mond. AFP/RSS
LONDON, Bitcoin slumped more than 10 percent over the weekend to a two-week low as fears of a crackdown of cryptocurrencies grew on mounting scrutiny of Facebook’s planned Libra digital coin. Bitcoin fell 11.1 percent from Friday to $9,855 early on Monday, its lowest since July 2. The original cryptocurrency slumped 10.4 percent on Sunday alone, its second-biggest daily drop this year. It was last up 0.5 percent at $10,245. Politicians and financial regulators across the world have called for scrutiny of Facebook’s Libra coin, with concerns ranging from consumer protection and privacy to its potential systemic risks given the social media giant’s global reach. US President Donald Trump criticized bitcoin, Libra and other cryptocurrencies last week, demanding that firms seek a banking charter and subject themselves to US and global regulations if they wanted to “become a bank”. Bitcoin, which initially shrugged off Trump’s tweet, fell sharply after US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell called for a halt to Facebook’s project until concerns from privacy to money-laundering were addressed. “Together they have increased the tail risk that the US will look to crack down on it in some way,” said Jamie Farquhar, portfolio manager at crypto firm NKB Group in London. Underscoring the growing attention on Facebook’s plans, Japanese authorities have also set up a working group to look at Libra’s possible impact on monetary policy and financial regulation, government sources told Reuters. European Central Bank policymaker Benoit Coeure is due to deliver a preliminary report on the matter at a meeting of G7 finance ministers this week in Chantilly, north of Paris. Bitcoin climbed nearly 55 percent in nine days after Facebook unveiled its plans for Libra on June 18, touching an 18-month high of nearly $14,000. The project has boosted hopes among some investors that cryptocurrencies could gain wider acceptance.
Tech tax set to dominate G7 finance minisers meeting
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
PARIS, A row over taxing tech giants is set to dominate a meeting of G7 finance ministers near Paris this week, with the world’s leading industrialised nations already riven by disruptive US trade policies. During the meetings Wednesday and Thursday in Chantilly, ministers are set to discuss making taxation fairer as part of wider plans by G7 leaders to address rising inequality when they gather next month in the southern French city of Biarritz. An international effort to update rules so as to rein in multinationals gaming the system by paying in low-tax rate countries has been plodding along. But France and Britain gave the process a jolt last week when they moved forward with plans to apply sales taxes to digital giants, mostly American companies. France became the first major economy to impose such a tax when legislators gave their final approval while Britain unveiled legislation. The French measure does not specifically target US internet giants, but it is commonly called the GAFA tax, an acronym for Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire will meet seperately with his US counterpart Steven Mnuchin, with the tax measure expected to feature prominently in their discussions. Even before the final vote by French lawmakers, the US announced it was opening a so-called Section 301 investigation into the measure. A Section 301 investigation was used by the Trump administration to justify tariffs on China. Washington and Beijing have lashed out at each other with punitive tariffs on about $360 billion in goods in a trade dispute that has roiled global financial markets and undermined business confidence. “We will urge Mnuchin to accelerate efforts to define tax rules for the 21st century rather than threaten us with Section 301, sanctions, retaliatory measures, which aren’t really the best actions for allies to use on one another,” a French government official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We need 21st century tax rules for a 21st century economy,” said the official. French and British officials have indicated their perference for an overarching deal, which is being negotiated via the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the G20, and they would abandon tech taxes if an agreement is reached. The French government official said the US supports the tax reform effort, but played down the possibility of a breakthrough, such as an agreement on a minimum tax rate, one way to discourage so-called tax optimisation by firms. “It won’t be possible to set a rate at this meeting,” said the official. “It’s premature. We need to get agreement on the principle first.” A number of other thorny issues await ministers, including plans by Facebook to launch a virtual currency called Libra, which has stoked concerns by regulators in numerous countries about regulation and market oversight.
Hold the beers: Budweiser APAC IPO hit by investor push-back
Carlos Brito, Chief Executive of Anheuser-Busch InBev, pours a Stella Artois beer after presenting the company’s results during a news conference in Leuven, Belgium in February. REUTERS
HONG KONG/NEW YORK/BRUSSELS, Scepticism over AB InBev’s high valuations doomed Budweiser APAC’s IPO of up to $9.8 billion—poised to be the world’s biggest this year—investors and bankers said, putting would-be floats on notice that careful pricing remains key to success. Anheuser Busch InBev NV (AB InBev), the world’s largest brewer, dramatically shelved the initial public offering (IPO) of its Asian business on Friday, citing market conditions among other factors. After a week-long global roadshow, the shares had been due to price in New York on Thursday evening and to begin trading in Hong Kong later this week. The deal was expected to raise $8.3 billion to $9.8 billion for AB InBev, helping the heavily indebted brewer reduce its leverage, and giving Budweiser APAC a market capitalisation of $54 billion to $64 billion. Sources involved in the deal said investors were unwilling to accept AB InBev’s valuations for Budweiser APAC. Another source added that the reluctance led to weak orders from top-class US “long only” fund managers—prized as long-term investors—who had been expected to place big orders. “The Company and banks all counted on long-onlys to make big orders,” said one source involved in the deal, who was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter and so declined to be identified. “Many long-onlys got cold feet and didn’t show up on the last day as expected.” Brussels-based AB InBev, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan, the two lead banks on the deal, and representatives for Budweiser APAC declined to comment. AB InBev shares, which closed down 1.5 percent on Friday after reports on a possible delay, were trading 1.7 percent lower on Monday, making them among the weakest performers in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European stocks. Observers noted, however, that markets were currently buoyant. Last week the S&P 500 closed above 3,000 for the first time—up 20 percent this year—while in Hong Kong the blue-chip Hang Seng Index has gained 10 percent this year. “This is likely a case of valuation push-back, not market conditions,” said Kathleen Smith, founding principal at Renaissance Capital, a US-based research firm and manager of IPO-focused exchange-traded funds, who noted that returns from IPOs had generally been strong this year. “If these returns were negative, that would be a sign that market conditions are an issue in getting IPOs done. For now I would say we have an operating IPO market with cautious investors—that’s a good balance: not too hot, not too cold,” she added. With the notable exceptions of ride-hailing companies Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc, which are trading below their issue prices, more than three-quarters of big IPOs in New York have produced gains for investors, according to data from Dealogic. In Hong Kong, eight of the top 20 deals are trading higher including the city’s biggest this year, Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd which is up 68 percent. The failed flotation came just a day after Swiss Re AG pulled the $4.1 billion IPO in London of British life insurer ReAssure, citing weak demand from institutional investors. “If investors are being disciplined on a deal, it often doesn’t bode well for the after-market performance,” said one London-based equity capital markets banker not involved in the Budweiser APAC deal. “It’s a really tricky market at the moment and you’ll notice that almost all the deals that priced at the bottom of the range this year have traded down.” AB InBev’s pricing valued its Asian business at 16 to 18 times its expected enterprise value (EV) relative to its expected EBITDA—earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation—in 2020, according to sources involved in the deal. EV/EBITDA is used to help investors compare companies’ operating performance by stripping out the effects of different financing costs. While ratios are also affected by a company’s location, Budweiser APAC’s range compared with a ratio of 11 for both parent AB InBev and for Japan’s Kirin Holdings Co Ltd, another Asia-centric beverage group, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
Carmaker PSA in reverse as Chinese sales hit a wall
PARIS: French carmaker PSA said Monday its sales slumped in the first half of the year as it pulled out of Iran and sales in China plunged by nearly two-thirds. Half of the overall 12.8 percent drop in sales by the maker of Peugeot, Citroen, DS, Opel and Vauxhall brands to 1.9 million vehicles was due to halting operations in Iran to avoid falling foul of US sanctions on the country. While the Chinese car market has been shrinking since last year, PSA has been hammered, with its sales plummeting by just over 60 percent to 64,000 vehicles in China and southeast Asia. Allied with its top investor, Chinese carmaker Dongfeng, PSA sold 742,000 vehicles in China in 2014, but sales have since spiralled lower as consumer tastes shifted. (AFP)
Syria repairs gas pipeline after sabotage
DAMASCUS: The Syrian government said a gas plant resumed operations Monday after repairs to a key pipeline put out of service by a sabotage attack at the weekend. “The Ebla gas plant resumed production at full capacity” at dawn Monday after repair of the sabotaged pipeline, the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources said in a statement. The pipeline in the Badiya desert, where the Islamic State jihadist group is present, transports gas from the government-controlled Shaer gas field, the country’s largest, in the central province of Homs to the Ebla plant. It feeds the Ebla plant with 2.5 million cubic metres (88 million cubic feet) of gas per day, according to the ministry. (AFP)
Huawei planning major job cuts in US
WASHINGTON: Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which is subject to US sanctions over concerns about its ties to the government in Beijing, is planning to make major job cuts at its US operations, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. The layoffs are expected at Huawei’s US-based research and development arm, Futurewei Technologies, the paper reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the situation. The unit currently employs 850 people at several labs in the United States, but hundreds of them could be laid off. Some of the company’s Chinese employees were given the option of keeping their jobs and returning home to work. The administration of US President Donald Trump has put Huawei on its entity list, which meant US companies needed a license to supply US technology to the Chinese firm. (AFP)
Atlantia tipped to take Alitalia stake
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
ROME, Italy’s Atlantia group, owned by the Benetton family, is ready to take a stake in ailing flagship carrier Alitalia, as are three other new investors, Italian media reported Sunday. The companies are said to be ready to partner with Italy’s state railway Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), which is to present its formal rescue plan for the airline on Monday, the reports said. That plan has been pushed back several times as discussions were held to bring various investors on board with FS, which has said it does not want to hold more than 30 percent of Alitalia. According to previous media accounts, the Italian Treasury would take another 15 percent, while discussions were held with the US airline Delta to take another 15 percent. Investors willing to buy into the outstanding 40 percent had until late Sunday to make their interest known to the bank handling the rescue, Mediobanca. Italian media citing sources in the bank said four offers had been received. The main one was from Atlantia, a major operator of toll expressways and airports that is part of the Benetton group best known for its clothing brand, which reportedly will take 35 percent in Alitalia, worth more than 300 million euros ($340 million). Atlantia has already twice injected money into the airline, which has long been struggling with debt.
China GDP growth slows to 6.2pc in second quarter on weak global demand
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A boy drinks coconut water at a market in Beijing on Monday. China’sgrowth slowed to its weakest pace in almost three decades in the secondquarter. AFP/rss
BEIJING, China’s growth slowed to its weakest pace in almost three decades in the second quarter, with the US-China trade war and weakening global demand weighing on the world’s number-two economy, official data showed on Monday. The slowing economy makes it more difficult for President Xi Jinping to fight back forcefully against Washington—which is using tariffs as leverage to try to force Beijing into opening up its economy. The 6.2 percent figure released by the National Bureau of Statistics was in line with a survey of analysts by AFP and down from a 6.4 percent expansion in the first quarter. The GDP figures are within the government’s target range of 6.0-6.5 percent for the whole year, down from the 6.6 percent growth China put up in 2018. “Economic conditions are still severe both at home and abroad, global economic growth is slowing down and the external instabilities and uncertainties are increasing,” said NBS spokesman Mao Shengyong. “The economy is under new downward pressure.” Beijing has introduced measures including a massive tax cut to boost the economy, but they have not been enough to offset a domestic slowdown and softening overseas demand—made worse by a punishing trade war with its biggest trading partner country, the United States. Total exports rose only 0.1 percent on-year during the first six months. Analysts widely expect Beijing will step up support in the coming months. Mao told journalists: “There is still much room for policy manoeuvering”. Monetary easing is expected to help boost the economy, and the central bank on Monday finalised a previously announced cut to the amount of cash that small and medium-sized banks hold in reserve. With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China founding, politics necessitates healthy growth, said Raymond Yeung of ANZ bank. “The Chinese government will not allow the quarterly growth to fall below 6.0 (percent),” he said in a note. The month of June held bright spots for the economy. Industrial output rose 6.3 percent, from 5.0 percent in May, which was the slowest increase since 2002. Fixed-asset investment also picked up, rising 5.8 percent on-year in January-June, from 5.6 percent in January-May. China’s 1.3 billion consumers continued to open their wallets, with retail sales growing 9.8 percent on-year in June, up from 8.6 percent in May. “A stronger end to the quarter didn’t prevent growth from slowing in (the second quarter) and we see more weakness on the horizon,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a note. Sales of big-ticket items such as cars have not held up, with sales down 12.4 percent in the first half of the year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. And growth in infrastructure investment has retreated from years of near 20 percent expansion—coming in at a 4.1 percent rise in January-June. Imports and exports also both shrank in June, while the urban unemployment rate ticked up to 5.1 percent for the month. Meanwhile, extreme weather and highly contagious African swine fever have sent food prices skyrocketing, especially for meat, with the size of the world’s largest pig herd down 15 percent in the first half of the year. The trade war with the US has hit demand for China’s goods, compounding slowing demand from the rest of the world. “It’s hard to escape the economic realities that the US-China trade war is having on global economies,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at Vanguard Markets. Altogether the two economic giants have slapped each other with punitive tariffs covering more than $360 billion in two-way trade, damaging manufacturers on both sides of the Pacific. It helped push China’s manufacturing activity into contraction last month and its exports to the US dropped more than 8 percent over the first half of the year. High-level trade talks to resolve the issues resumed this month, but the gulf between the two sides remains wide. China on Friday said it would impose sanctions on US companies involved in a potential arms sale worth $2.2 billion to self-ruled Taiwan.
UK banks say business investment slowing further ahead of Brexit
LONDON, Britain’s major banks have seen a growing number of business customers delay decisions on investments and borrowing in recent weeks, as the probability of a disorderly exit from the European Union inches higher. Britain’s banks have largely played up the resilience of businesses since the June 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU, but senior executives speaking to Reuters say that in recent weeks they have seen a dip in firms’ activity levels. The country’s largest lenders—Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) , Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, and the UK arm of Spain’s Santander—are all set to publish half-year results in the coming weeks, with investors watching for any signs of strain. Bankers responsible for tens of billions of pounds in business debt told Reuters that activity among corporate customers had fallen in recent months, as the two candidates to be Britain’s next prime minister have both said they are ready to take the country out of the EU without a withdrawal deal. “The world has changed a bit,” one bank executive who asked not to be named told Reuters. “There is a slowdown across the commercial piece. It started off with people holding off investment, now they’re just not transacting.” An executive at a second bank said more big corporates were delaying investment decisions, with the conversion rate of the bank’s potential new commercial business pipeline falling from 70 percent to 50 percent in recent months, although lending to smaller firms was holding up. The executives said they were preparing for a potentially disorderly Brexit, including refining ‘early warning’ systems to identify struggling clients and spot possible weak links in their supply chains. Frontrunner to be the next prime minister, Boris Johnson, has committed to Britain leaving the EU by the Oct. 31 deadline with or without a deal, concerning firms that want to see an orderly departure to avoid disruption to cross-border trade.
Empty nets as overfishing and climate change sap Lake Malawi
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Malawian fishermen wash themselves with the water from the lake on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village in Malawi. AFP/rss
SENGA BAY (MALAWI), On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedarwood boat carrying its haul. The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay. But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll. Hundreds of local traders gather each morning and afternoon at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest body of freshwater. “We were hoping to catch a half-boat full or maybe a quarter-boat... but I’m afraid the fish are dwindling in numbers,” port manager Alfred Banda told AFP staring wearily at the small catch as it was dragged onto the sand. “Before, we used to catch a full boat but now we are struggling,” he said, adding that a full boat would earn a team of between six and 12 fishermen about $300. Bordering three countries—Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique—Lake Malawi stretches across more than 29,000 square kilometres (11,200 square miles) with over 1,000 species of fish. The 14,000 people living at Senga Bay depend on the lake for food and for their livelihood. “Seven years ago there was lots more fish than today. In 2019 it is different, there’s no fish in the water,” trader Katrina Male, a 40-year-old mother of six, told AFP as she stalked the nets of newly brought in fish seeking the best deal. “The fish nowadays are more expensive, because they are becoming scarce,” Male said. “Some children have stopped going to school because their parents can’t find the money.” For both locals and climate experts, declining fish numbers reflect a combination of environmental change and overfishing that augurs ill for the future. The World Bank ranks Malawi among the top 10 at-risk countries in Africa to climate change, with cyclones and floods among the major threats. Senga community leader John White Said says increasing gale force winds and torrential rains have made it harder for fishermen on the lake. “Our men can’t catch fish because of wind which is much stronger than before,” he said, adding that the rains are increasingly unpredictable on the lake. “The rain before would not destroy houses and nature but now it comes with full power, destroying everything and that affects the water as well.” According to USAID, the number of rainfalls incidents in the aid-dependant country is likely to decrease—but each rainfall will be more intense, leading to droughts and floods. The threat was highlighted in March when Malawi was hit by torrential rains from Cyclone Idai, killing 59 people. The storm also cut a swathe through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving nearly 1,000 dead. On top of the environmental impact, the number of fishermen in Senga had doubled in the last 10 years due to the lack of other jobs, Said said. “There is no alternative to fishing.” One of the few to benefit is 38-year-old boat owner Salim Jackson, who rents out his two vessels. “I got into fishing 13 years ago because I had no other option, I never went to school. But it has brought me good money,” he said. By sunset, the balls of fishing net lay stretched out on the beach and both buyers and fishermen negotiate prices. Traders take their purchases in buckets to makeshift reed tables to be dried, smoked, fried or boiled in preparation for the market. “Declining fish catches are mainly due to unsustainable fishing practices,” said Sosten Chiotha, a Malawian environmental science professor who works for the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) action group. “Overfishing is a challenge in Lake Malawi (but) there are efforts on co-management and closed seasons to ensure that the fishery recovers.” Chiotha added that climate change was hitting Malawi with “increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the major ecosystems including lakes.” That leaves Malawi’s agriculture-based economy sharply vulnerable to climatic events and entrenched poverty heightens pressure on the environment. Wearing a black silk thawb robe and white kufi cap, Said stands tall on Senga beach, surveying the scene around him.
Europe’s GPS rival Galileo suffers outage
BRUSSELS: Europe’s Galileo satellite position system, a future rival of the American GPS network, has been out of service since Friday, its oversight agency said. The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) said the outage was caused by a “technical incident related to its ground infrastructure”. Galileo has been in a pilot phase since December 2016 and devices that use its signal should be able to switch to GPS services while it is fixed. “The incident has led to a temporary interruption of the Galileo initial navigation and timing services,” the GSA said. The network’s search and rescue function, which helps pinpoint boat crews or hikers in distress, is unaffected. (AFP)
Zimbabwe inflation soars to 175 percent
HARARE: Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate hit 175 percent in June, official data showed on Monday, stoking fears of a return of the hyperinflation that wiped out savings ten years ago when the economy collapsed. Official inflation is the highest since hyperinflation forced the government to abandon the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009. Supplies of essentials such as bread, medicine and petrol are regularly running short in the country. “The year-on-year inflation rate for the month of June 2019 as measured by the all items consumer price index stood at 175.66 percent while that of May 2019 was 97.85 percent,” the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency said in a statement. (AFP)
Asian markets mixed as China growth slows further
HONG KONG: Asian markets recovered after an early stumble on Monday as data showed China’s economy growing at its weakest pace in nearly three decades, hit by the US trade war, while investors debated the depth of an expected Fed rate cut. The world’s number-two economy expanded 6.2 percent in April-June, the worst reading since the early 1990s but in line with forecasts and within the government’s target range. The reading highlights the negative impact the US tariffs stand-off is having on China as leaders also try to recalibrate its growth model from exports and state investment to one driven by consumer spending. “While GDP touched a 27-year low in Q2, the on-consensus print does lessen market fears that China’s economy is headed for a hard landing,” said Stephen Innes at Vanguard Markets. (AFP)
US firms may get nod to restart Huawei sales in two-four weeks
Huawei mobile phones are displayed in their store at Vina del Mar, Chile on Sunday. REUTERS
WASHINGTON, The US may approve licenses for companies to re-start new sales to Huawei in as little as two weeks, according to a senior US official, in a sign President Donald Trump’s recent effort to ease restrictions on the Chinese company could move forward quickly. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, was added to a Commerce Department list in May that prohibits US companies from supplying it with new American-made goods and services unless they obtain licenses that will likely be denied. But late last month, after meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, President Donald Trump announced American firms could sell products to Huawei. And in recent days, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said licenses would be issued where there is no threat to national security. Trump’s reversal, and rapid implementation by the Commerce Department, suggests chip industry lobbying, coupled with Chinese political pressure, may well reignite US technology sales to Huawei. Two US chipmakers who supply Huawei told Reuters in recent days they would apply for more licenses after Ross’s comments. They asked to remain anonymous. A customer response management company and a firm that simulates cross-sectional radar for Huawei are also likely to file applications in the coming days, according to Craig Ridgley, a trade compliance consultant in Washington. Out of $70 billion that Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms including Qualcomm, Intel and Micron Technology. “Since there’s no downside, companies are absolutely submitting applications, as required by the regulations,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official. A Huawei spokesman said “the Entity list restrictions should be removed altogether, rather than have temporary licenses applied for US vendors. Huawei has been found guilty of no relevant wrongdoing and represents no cybersecurity risk to any country so the restrictions are unmerited.” US companies can currently sell goods in order to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to existing Huawei handsets, but are prohibited from making new sales of American-made goods and services. Furthermore, not all US sales to Huawei hinge on government approvals of license requests. Some US chipmakers sales to Huawei may not need licenses because their products could be beyond the scope of US export controls since many are manufactured abroad with few US components. US officials have sought to clarify the new policy in recent weeks, saying they will allow sales of non-sensitive technology readily available abroad if national security is protected. But they have also reiterated that Huawei remains on the entity list, and relief would be temporary. The US semiconductor industry has been lobbying for broader relief, arguing that US security goals should be advanced in a way that does not undermine the ability to compete globally and retain technological leadership. Suppliers want to be allowed to provide customer service support for chips they build and sell overseas, or the approval to ship new American-made equipment to Huawei and its subsidiaries around the world. Still, it is unclear which products will be granted licenses. Some US suppliers sought clarity at a conference the Commerce Department held in Washington this week. One manufacturer’s representative was told by the senior US official that licenses could be granted in two to four weeks at the conference on Thursday. The person, who did not want to be identified, said the official did not delineate the criteria for license approvals, but she came away believing they would be made on a case-by-case basis, at least at first, as the agency seeks to form more broad opinions. When asked about the guidance from the senior official, a Commerce Department spokesman said the agency is “currently evaluating all licenses and determining what is in the nation’s best national security interest.” The United States has pending cases against Huawei for allegedly stealing American intellectual property and violating Iran sanctions. It also has launched a lobbying effort to persuade US allies to keep Huawei out of next-generation 5G telecommunications infrastructure, citing concerns the company could spy on customers. Huawei has denied the allegations. Eric Hirschhorn, a former undersecretary of Commerce, said the problem for government officials now reviewing the licenses is that they don’t know where the administration is going.
Amazon staff strike in Germany on Prime Day extravaganza
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France. REUTERS
BERLIN, Amazon employees went on strike at seven locations in Germany on Monday, demanding better wages as the online retail giant launched its two-day global shopping discount extravaganza called Prime Day. Workers in Germany walked out in the early hours on Monday morning, with Orhan Akman, a spokesman for labour union Verdi, telling AFP: “We expect a good turnout”. “Amazon offers these discounts to customers at the expense of its own employees’ salaries and by fleeing collective bargaining,” he charged. Amazon had insisted in advance that Monday’s strike will not affect deliveries to customers. The strike action coincided with Amazon’s announcement on Monday that it would create another 1,000 jobs in Poland as it opens a new logistics depot in the country’s southwest near the German and Czech borders. The US giant said it will offer new employees in Poland “a competitive salary of 20 zloty (4.68 euro, $5.82) per hour gross”. In Germany, Amazon employees start with a minimum wage of 10.78 euros per hour before tax, according to management figures, and after 24 months’ employment, they draw an average monthly salary reaching 2,397 euros before deductions. The online retail giant has faced several rounds of walkouts by workers seeking better conditions. In 2018, industrial action reached a new height as around 50 strikes were organised around Europe and, in a rare show of cross-border solidarity, some were coordinated to hit simultaneously in several countries. In April, Amazon trade union representatives from 15 countries met in Berlin to co-ordinate their efforts. On Monday, Amazon employees at the two distribution centres in Bad Hersfeld, as well as sites in Werne, Rheinberg, Leipzig, Graben and Koblenz, went on strike under the motto: “No more discounts on our incomes”. Meanwhile in the United States, employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Minnesota also walked out for the first six hours of Prime Day to highlight their wage demands, according to local media reports. Verdi argues that money for better wages is “available” as in the first quarter of this year alone Amazon posted record profits of 3.2 billion euros ($3.6 billion). However, Amazon rejects the trade union’s demands and sees no need for collective agreements.