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Nepal clears India to develop $2.4 billion hydropower projects left by China

The 1,200MW projects, mooted as storage type on the Seti river, are located in far-western Nepal, and sprawl over four districts—Bajhang, Doti, Dadeldhura and Achham.
According to the MoU, after the survey licence is approved, the developer has to complete the detailed project reports within two years.  Post Photo: Sanjog manandhar

Nepal has formally awarded the much-touted West Seti Hydropower Project and Seti River Project in western Nepal to India through a negotiation window, nearly four years after China withdrew from it.
Investment Board Nepal on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with India’s state-owned NHPC Limited to develop the two projects—West Seti and Seti River (SR6)—joint storage projects totalling 1200MW.
Thursday’s development may be seen as an attempt to mend soured relations with India by Sher Bahadur Deuba after his election as prime minister in July last year. The 750MW West Seti and 450MW SR6 projects cover four districts—Bajhang, Doti, Dadeldhura and Achham in far-western Nepal.
As per a 2007 study, the West Seti project has been envisaged to generate energy throughout the year, storing excess wet season river flows in the reservoir, and using this water to generate energy during peak demand periods in the dry season (December-May). Sushil Bhatta, CEO of the Investment Board Nepal and Abhay Kumar Singh, chairman and managing director of NHPC Ltd, signed the MoU on behalf of their respective organisations, in Kathmandu on Thursday.
On the occasion, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba said the agreement would serve as an important instrument in enhancing Nepal-India energy cooperation. “Implementation of these projects will help expand and strengthen bilateral trade and investments,” the prime minister said.
“During my recent visit to India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I agreed on a vision statement on cooperation in the power sector, underlining the need for strengthening mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in this sector.
“Furthermore, during the visit of Prime Minister Modiji [SIC] to Lumbini, we had a productive discussion on this matter and I invited the interested companies from India for the development of the West Seti Hydroelectric Project.”
Deuba thanked the government of India for opening the electricity market for Nepal.
“I am confident that our close neighbour India will increase the import of surplus power from Nepal. In this context, I am of the view that we should start, with due priority, the construction of a few more cross-border transmission lines. It will help develop more projects and promote cross-border power trade for the benefit of our two countries and peoples.”
As per the MoU, the Indian developer has to apply for the survey licence for the West Seti project within 45 days after signing the agreement. For the SR6 project, the developer has to apply for the survey licence within six months.
According to the MoU, after the survey licence is approved, the developer has to complete the detailed project reports (DPRs) within two years and submit them to the Investment Board Nepal.
In the detailed project reports, the developer should state whether the projects could be constructed as storage-type, semi-storage type or joint or separately, including the cost of the projects.
“It’s our history that once we enter a project, we complete it,” said Singh, immediately after signing the MoU. “These two projects are crucial for us as they will boost our credentials as a global hydropower player.”
Singh said that these two projects are harbingers of development in the Sudurpaschim Province. “I am sure, we will get more opportunities to harness the hydropower potential of Nepal.”
Initially, the 750MW West Seti was proposed by West Seti Hydro Limited, a storage scheme designed to generate and export large quantities of energy to India.
However, in March 2019, during the Nepal Investment Summit, the government bundled the West Seti and SR-6 as a joint storage scheme and showcased them before foreign and domestic investors. The projects were among eight hydro schemes showcased at the summit.
But they received no attention from potential investors.
The NHPC Limited, an Indian government hydropower board under India’s Ministry of Power, had submitted a proposal in May to develop the projects.
The estimated cost of the two projects, according to the Investment Board, is $2.4 billion.
The West Seti project, first envisioned some six decades ago, is located on the Seti River in far-western Nepal. The proposed dam site is located 82 kilometres upstream of the confluence of the Seti and Karnali rivers, forming part of the Ganges basin.
As soon as Sher Bahadur Deuba was elected prime minister in July last year, the government decided to push the projects forward.
A panel headed by Biswo Nath Poudel, vice chairman of the National Planning Commission, was constituted to move the projects ahead.
The West Seti project has been on the drawing board since the early 1980s. The project also attracted some geopolitical fissures in the last two and a half decades since the government issued the developing licence to a French company and then to a renowned Chinese company.
The project dates back to 1981 when a 37MW run-of-the-river scheme was proposed based on preliminary studies conducted in 1980-81.
In 1987, the French company Sogreah prepared a pre-feasibility study proposing a 37MW run-of-the-river scheme without building a dam, according to a report of the Asian Development Bank. Later, the same company revised the capacity to a 380MW storage-type scheme stating that the energy could be optimised without environmental impacts.
West Seti Hydro, a company promoted by Australia’s Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation, won the survey licence for the project in 1994. The government issued a construction licence to West Seti Hydro on June 27, 1997.
The project was originally designed as export-oriented with 90 percent of the power intended to be sold to India. However, the project, whose cost was estimated at Rs120 billion at that time, failed to go into construction.
The cash-strapped project got a boost when China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (CMEC) decided to invest in it. The CMEC even signed an agreement with the project during the then prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s China visit in 2009.
At that time, CMEC President Jia Zhiqiang and West Seti Hydro director Himalaya Pandey signed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing. The Chinese firm had decided to invest Rs15 billion in the project.
However, the CMEC later opted out of the project saying that Nepal lacked an investment-friendly environment. Another important shareholder in the company, the Asian Development Bank, also did not show interest citing a lack of public acceptance of the project and the absence of good governance.
The project received yet another jolt when the main promoter of the company, Snowy Mountain, stopped sending funds for office operations in August 2010.
The government revoked the licence of West Seti Hydro on July 27, 2011.
Then came the Three Gorges International Corporation, China’s biggest hydropower developer and the operator of the world’s largest hydropower plant at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. The project was formally handed over to the Chinese company on August 29, 2012.
In November 2017, state-owned power utility Nepal Electricity Authority signed the final agreement with the China Three Gorges International Corporation, a subsidiary of the China Three Gorges Corporation, to set up a joint venture to develop the 750MW West Seti Project.
In 2018, the China Three Gorges Corporation hinted at pulling out of the project saying it was financially unfeasible because of the steep resettlement and rehabilitation costs.
Subsequently, in September 2018, the government scrapped the agreement with the China Three Georges Corporation.
On May 29, 2020, the then finance minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada, presenting the annual budget, announced plans to build the project by mobilising Nepal’s internal resources. The announcement effectively scrapped a $1.6 billion plan by the Chinese firm.
Nepal can earn up to Rs310 billion per year in 2030 and as high as Rs1,069 billion per year in 2045 if the country is able to sell electricity to India by harnessing its hydropower potential, according to a report.
Nepal stands to generate these earnings provided the country starts exporting 13 gigawatts of electricity to India by 2030 and double this capacity by 2045, says a USAID report titled ‘Economic Benefits from Nepal-India Electricity Trade’ released in 2017.
To harness the electricity of this quantum, Nepal needs to invest up to Rs2,596 billion between 2012 and 2030 and another Rs2,216 billion between 2031 and 2045, says the report produced by Integrated Research and Action for Development.


Citizenship Bill, returned by President, passed by House without change

The bill will be sent to President Bhandari again once it is endorsed by the National Assembly.
The House passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill with majority votes on Thursday.  Post Photo: Angad Dhakal

The House of Representatives on Thursday endorsed the bill to amend the Citizenship Act 2006, which was returned by President Bidya Devi Bhandari for a review, without any changes.
The bill that was endorsed with a majority vote will be sent to the President’s Office again for authentication after it gets through the National Assembly.
After sitting on the bill for 14 days, Bhandari on Sunday returned it to the lower house with a 15-point message and comments on seven provisions of the bill, urging Parliament to review it.
However, the House didn’t review it as the ruling parties decided to resend it for authentication without any changes.
“The bill to amend the Citizenship Act returned by the President for review with comments has been endorsed by majority votes,” announced Speaker Agni Sapkota.
“Of the total 195 lawmakers present, 135 voted in favour while 60 voted against.”  
While the ruling party lawmakers voted for the bill, the main opposition CPN-UML stood against it arguing that a national consensus must be forged before its endorsement.
It was put to a vote after some 80 cross-party lawmakers participated in the deliberations giving their views for and against an immediate endorsement of the bill. While most ruling party lawmakers demanded it needs to be endorsed without revision, the opposition lawmakers insisted on a review.
“The President could have returned the bill if it contradicted the constitution. However, the note from her nowhere mentions it contradicts the statute,” said Barsha Man Pun, a CPN (Maoist Centre) lawmaker, while taking part in the deliberations. “The constitutional provision on revision can be used when there is contradiction [in the bill] with the constitution.” Article 113(3) of the constitution allows the President to return any bill for the review if s/he deems it necessary.
Expressing his views, Nepali Congress lawmaker Gagan Thapa said delaying the endorsement of the bill meant that thousands of children born to the parents who have acquired citizenship by birth would be deprived of citizenship, and so would those waiting to acquire citizenship through their mothers.
“The President is for having a common understanding on naturalised citizenship by marriage but we have failed to do so,” Thapa said. “The present bill doesn’t talk about naturalised citizenship by marriage. Whether or not the present bill gets endorsed, a foreign woman married to a Nepali man would be getting naturalised citizenship.”
Thapa said that some 440,000 foreign women married to Nepali men have acquired naturalised citizenship so far.
CPN-UML lawmakers, however, said the five-party alliance has turned the Parliament into a rubber stamp. “The discussion in Parliament was just for formality. It was decided that it would be endorsed as dictated by the ruling alliance,” said Bishal Bhattarai, chief whip of the UML, in Parliament.
“We had expected that the lawmakers would be allowed to propose amendments and due procedure would be followed for endorsement. Where is parliamentary supremacy when it functions as dictated by a few leaders of the five parties?”
The ruling alliance on Tuesday had decided to endorse the bill without revision against the request of the President. Presenting the bill for endorsement, Minister for Home Affairs Bal Krishna Khand said the bill is targeted at opening the door to children of the parents who got citizenship by birth to acquire citizenship by descent and those whose fathers are unidentified.
“We can always revise the Act if it is necessary,” he said. “Let’s have a common understanding on the issue of marital naturalised citizenship and amend the Act again,” the minister said.
Article 11 (3) of the constitution says a child of a citizen who has acquired the citizenship of Nepal by birth before the commencement of the constitution, shall acquire the citizenship of Nepal by descent. The existing Act allows everyone born within Nepal’s territory before April 12, 1990 to acquire citizenship by birth.
However, their children haven’t got citizenship by descent in the absence of a law as the constitution said the provision to grant them citizenship would be guided by a federal law. Some 190,000 persons have acquired citizenship by birth so far.
Similarly, the bill also paves the way for a child born in Nepal to a Nepali woman and whose father is unidentified to get citizenship by descent. However, the applicant’s mother must make a self-declaration that the father “cannot be identified.” She will be liable for action if it is found that the claim that the father “cannot be identified” turns out to be wrong.
For the first time, the bill also paves the way for Non-Resident Nepalis to acquire citizenship. However, they will not be eligible to enjoy political and administrative rights. The provision will be applicable only to those who reside outside the South Asian region.
As per the bill, children can choose either the surname and address of their mother or the father while acquiring citizenship. Similarly, one can get citizenship through gender identity in line with the constitution. Article 12 of the constitution says a person who obtains the citizenship of Nepal by descent in accordance with the constitution may obtain a certificate of citizenship of Nepal with gender identity in the name of his or her mother or father.
The House of Representatives will now send the bill for endorsement from the National Assembly. It will then be sent to the President’s Office for presidential seal. President Bhandari has no option but to authenticate it within 15 days. Article 113 (4) of the constitution says if the President sends back a Bill along with her remarks and if both the Houses reconsider the bill as it was presented or with amendments, and pass it and present it again to the President, the Bill shall be certified by the President within 15 days of its submission.
Constitutional experts say both the President and parliament have taken decisions as prescribed by the constitution. “It would have been better had the House of Representatives discussed it in the House committee in detail as the President had returned the bill with some comments,” senior advocate Chandra Kant Gyawali, who specialises on constitutional law, told the Post. “However, it was the House’s prerogative to endorse the way it liked.”


The bill that was and the bill this is

What did King Birendra do with the bill to amend Citizenship Act 1964 that became a topic of discussion after President Bhandari returned the bill to amend Citizenship Act 2006?
King Birendra is said to have returned the citizenship bill in 2000. But did he?  Reuters

Days after President Bidya Devi Bhandari returned the bill to amend Citizenship Act 2006 with a 15-point message, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed the bill in its existing form. Once the National Assembly passes the bill, it will be sent back to the President again for authentication.
This time, the President will have to authenticate it within 15 days from the date of receiving it as per the constitutional provisions.
The President’s move of returning the bill left politicians divided, with those from the ruling parties taking exception to it while those from the opposition hailing the action.
There, however, is no denying that the President exercised her constitutional powers to return the bill. One key issue, however, got buried in the political brouhaha.  
While returning the bill, the President called on the House of Representatives to take a historical overview of issues surrounding citizenship and reminded lawmakers of an incident from 2000. She referred to the amendment bill to the Citizenship Act 1964, which was passed by the lower house on June 11, 2000 but was rejected by the upper house on June 13 that year. The lower house, however, rejected the upper house proposal for a review on July 26 that year.
It is known to all that the bill failed to take the form of an Act, the President said in her message to the House.
The Post inquired with the Parliament Secretariat about the incident. Officials said they had no documents regarding that amendment bill.
“We have long been trying to locate the documents but haven’t found them,” Narayan Dhakal, chief at the bills section of the secretariat, told the Post.
Some documents that are available, however, show that then Speaker Taranath Ranabhat had certified the citizenship bill as a “money bill,” and he had sent the bill to King Birendra—the then head of the state— for authentication on December 1, 2000.
When the Post reached out to Ranabhat, he said he could not exactly recall the incident and that there must have been some circumstances that prompted him to certify the citizenship amendment bill as a “money bill.”

In 2000, then Speaker Taranath Ranabhat using his prerogative authenticated the bill on sixth amendment to the Citizenship Act as a money bill.

But why would the Speaker certify any other bill as a “money bill”? And why did the bill in 2000 fail to take the form of an Act?
In interviews with the Post, experts and officials called it one of the many idiosyncrasies of the parliamentary system, saying that such practices happen in other democracies too.
What is a money bill?
A money bill is defined by Article 110 (3) as matters concerning imposition, collection, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of taxes, among others. Article 68 (3) of the 1990 Constitution also had a similar definition for the bill.  
The peculiarity of the money bill is that it needs to be introduced only in the lower house and there is no upper house veto on it—it is deemed passed by both the houses if it’s endorsed by the lower house—and it cannot be returned by the head of state.
A statement issued by the Office of the President on Sunday said: “The President has sent the Citizenship Act amendment bill to the House of Representatives as per Article 113(3) of the constitution, along with a message that it needs a review.”
Article 113(3) says: “In case the President is of the opinion that any Bill, except a Money Bill, presented for authentication needs reconsideration, he or she may, within 15 days from the date of submission of such Bill, send back the Bill along with his or her message to the House in which the Bill originated.”
Radheshyam Adhikari, an advocate, two-time member of the Constituent Assembly and former National Assembly member, said the parliamentarians in 1990 appear to have misused the constitutional provision so as to ensure that the king did not return the bill.
“As far as my memory serves me right, King Birendra didn’t return the bill, or let’s say there was no message from the palace regarding the bill,” Adhikari told the Post. “Nonetheless, a citizenship bill, or any other bill, should not be certified as a money bill.”
Ranabhat, however, said that any bill involving tax, fine or any financial issues could be certified as a money bill. “You should better ask the general secretary of the Parliament Secretariat, he could explain it better,” he told the Post.
Mukunda Sharma, a former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post that there was a tendency to certify most of the bills as a money bill.
“There was a trend in the 1990s to certify any bill that involved even a single rupee of fine or tax as a money bill so that the upper house did not have a veto on it,” said Sharma. “That could be the reason the citizenship amendment bill must have been certified as a money bill.”
After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the king became a constitutional monarch, but the upper house continued to have the majority of members from the palace.
“It was a tactical move to nullify the role of the national assembly,” Sharma told the Post. “The Speaker’s role hence became powerful.”  

Then Speaker Ranabhat’s letter to King Birendra requesting royal approval for the money bill.

According to Sharma, discussions were also held over whether every other bill should be introduced as and certified as a money bill.
Both the 1990 Constitution and the 2015 Constitution have similar provisions regarding a money bill, except for one addition in the 2015 charter—“provided that any bill shall not be deemed to be a Money Bill only by the reason that it provides for the levying of any charges, fees or tariff such as licence fee, application fee, renewal fee or for the imposition of fines or penalty of imprisonment.”
Article 68 (4) of the 1990 Constitution says: “If any question arises whether a bill is a money bill or not, the decision of the Speaker shall be final.” This provision has been retained in the 2015 Constitution as well.
The Post could not independently verify if any controversy had arisen in 2000 on whether the citizenship bill was a money bill or not.
People familiar with the matter in 2000 say the king had held consultations with the Supreme Court but they could not exactly say what followed. The 1990 Constitution allowed the king such consultations. Article 88 (5) of the 1990 Constitution says: “If His Majesty wishes to have an opinion of the Supreme Court on any complicated legal question of interpretation of this constitution or of any other law, the court shall, upon consideration on the question, report to His Majesty its opinion thereon.”
Badri Bahadur Karki, a senior advocate who was the attorney general at that time, said King Birendra had sought the opinion of the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court used to conduct hearings on issues on which the king sought the court’s opinion,” Karki told the Post. “I can’t remember who participated in the hearing then and what all happened.”
The provision that a money bill cannot be returned by the President for a review is in the Indian constitution as well.
Article 111 of the Indian constitution says that the President may return any bill, if it is not a money bill, to the Parliament for a review. If the bill is passed again by the Houses with or without amendment and presented to the President for assent, the President shall not withhold assent therefrom, the Indian constitution says.
The Indian government in 2016 had introduced the Aadhaar Bill as a money bill in the Lok Sabha (lower house). It was endorsed as the Bharatiya Janata Party enjoyed a majority. But it led to a row. The opposition didn’t agree with the government’s classification of the Aadhaar Bill as a money bill, in which the Rajya Sabha (upper house) has no power to veto. In 2018, a five-judge Supreme Court bench held its constitutional validity.
The question, however, remains why the constitution empowers the Speaker to certify any bill as money bill, and why is there another provision that says “the President can return any other bill except the money bill to the Parliament for a review.”
Rameshore Khanal, a former finance secretary, said such provisions are put in the constitution so as to rescue the governments during difficulties. “The problem is politicians tend to ignore the good intent of the provision and misuse it for their political interests,” Khanal told the Post.
Khanal offered the example of the ordinance provision.
“Ordinances have been provisioned in the constitution with good intent. Who had imagined the provision of ordinance would be misused,” Khanal told the Post. “Both KP Oli and Sher Bahadur Deuba misused it for their petty interests.”
Back to the money bill.
Since there is no constitutional provision for the President to return the money bill because such a bill is introduced to the lower house with prior notice to the President, the President has no option but to authenticate it. But what happens when any bill certified by the Speaker as a money bill is sent to the head of state for authentication and the head of state does not agree with it or its provisions?
Nothing has been specified in the constitution about it.
Since there’s no provision of returning, the President may not act—won’t authenticate it, leading to automatic termination of the bill. Since no documents are available relating to the citizenship bill amendment case of 2000, the general assumption is the king didn’t act on it—and it lapsed.
The last amendment to the Citizenship Act 1964 was made on May 30, 1991. In 2006, a new law was enacted for amendment and integration of matters relating to the Nepal Citizenship Act.
A bill to amend the Citizenship Act 2006 was introduced in the House on August 7, 2018. The State Affairs and Good Governance Committee deliberated on it for 22 months before sending it to the House. But the Sher Bahadur Deuba government earlier last month withdrew the old bill and introduced a new amendment bill, which was passed by the lower house on July 22 and the upper house on July 26.
After the passage of the bill by the lower house on Thursday, it is set to be sent to the President soon.
The President now will be left with no option than to authenticate it because she is bound by the constitution.
“In case any bill is sent back along with a message by the President, and both houses reconsider and adopt such a bill as it was or with amendments and present it again, the President shall authenticate that bill within 15 days of such presentation,” says Article 113(4).

(Binod Ghimire contributed reporting.)

Page 2

Mid-day meal budget misused in Kalikot

Government schools in the district say they are spending the meal money to pay salaries to privately-hired teachers.
- Tularam Pandey
Children of Saldanda Basic School at Khandachakra in Kalikot having their mid-day meal in this undated photo.  Post File Photo

When Man Bahadur Bishwakarma first heard about the mid-day meal programme at local schools, he was relieved because he no longer had to worry, or so he thought, about what his children would eat while in school.
But he soon learnt that his children were not getting the promised daily meal.
Already running his household on a shoestring budget, Man Bahadur said he feels dejected and let down by the system.
“I have seven children to feed. Four of them go to school so I was hoping at least they wouldn’t go hungry. But that’s not the case,” said the 41-year-old farmer from Khandachakra Municipality-4, Kalikot.
Four among seven of Man Bahadur’s children study at the local Navajyoti Basic School. His eldest daughter is an eighth grader in another school while two others are not yet of school-going age.
“I asked the school administration about it, but the school said that the money meant for mid-day meal is being spent on teachers’ salaries,” Man Bahadur said.
The mid-day meal programme was introduced in 2017 in collaboration with the World Food Programme to ensure children in community schools get a healthy, nutritious diet and control malnutrition. The programme has also been helpful to make school kids regular to their classes.
But most people from the target population are deprived of such facilities. The state also provides scholarships to the children of poor and needy people like Man Bahadur.
Community schools in Kalikot, meanwhile, say they have no alternative to using the mid-day meal budget to pay teachers since the authorities have left several teachers’ posts vacant.
“We have to hire private teachers to run the school and we have to pay them their salaries,” said Ram Bahadur Bogati, headmaster of Navajyoti Basic School. “The authorities are yet to manage teacher posts at the school, so we have to use the funds meant for the mid-day meal and scholarships to pay them.”
Navajyoti Basic School, which currently has five teachers appointed through private sources, received Rs543,720 for the mid-day meal programme in the last academic session. The entire amount was spent to provide salaries to the teachers, according to Bogati.
The federal government provides Rs20 per day to each student studying up to grade five in community schools through the local units in Karnali Province.
With this scheme, the government aims to provide a nutritious diet to children and control malnutrition in the province. The programme is also expected to reduce absenteeism among students in rural areas.
The community school mid-day meal programme is being run in 42 out of 77 districts in the country.
However, most of the community schools in remote areas have redirected the amount for mid-day meals to manage the salary of the teachers.
“We have recently dispatched letters to all community schools instructing them to prepare mid-day meal compulsorily in the school and to feed the children,” said Jasi Prasad Chaulagain, chief at the education, youth and sports unit of Khandachakra Municipality. According to him, the budget for the mid-day meal has been released for the students of grade six this year.
Khandachakra Municipality released a total of Rs1.9 million for 711 students of the child development centre and Rs11.5 million for 4,188 students studying up to grade five in the last fiscal year.
Children of Tilagupha, another municipality in Kalikot, also do not get mid-day meals at school. Ramkala Bohora, 31, a resident of Tilagupha-2, has three children studying at Durga Secondary School in Ratada. The school informed her that the amount released for the mid-day meal programme is used to manage the salaries of the teachers appointed through private sources.
There are just five teachers under the posts managed by the government in Durga Secondary School. “Secondary classes are being run somehow by appointing six teachers through a private source. The amount meant for the mid-day meal is used to provide salary to those teachers,” said Sarpalal Bohora, the headmaster.
Guardians of students at Kalika Secondary School at Khalla in Tulagupha-5 complain that their wards have been deprived of mid-day meals and scholarships for the past five years.
In this school, too, the budget released for the mid-day meal programme and scholarships are used to manage salary to the teachers appointed through private sources, according to Debilal Neupane, guardian of a student studying at the school.
Tilagupha Municipality issued Rs18 million for the mid-day meal programme in the last fiscal year. In the current fiscal, a total of Rs 26 million has been released for the programme, according to deputy Mayor Mahendra Bahadur Shahi. He urged the government to manage the teacher posts in the schools so that the educational institutions would not use the budget on paying salaries to the teachers. According to Shahi, the local unit decided to open the bank account of each student to deposit amounts for the mid-day meal and scholarship in a bid to avoid the misuse of the amounts. “Preparations are on to deposit the scholarship and mid-day meal money directly in the student’s account,” he said.
There are a total of 294 community schools in Kalikot, a remote district in Karnali Province. The majority of the schools in all nine local units are found using the budget for the mid-day meal programme and scholarships to manage salaries for the teachers.
There are around 100 community schools in the district that do not have even a single post of government teachers.
Malnutrition is a serious health problem in all 10 districts of Karnali Province. The Multiple Indicator Survey-2019 showed that the prevalence of wasting among the children in Karnali was 17.6, the highest in the country, followed by Province 1 (14.3 percent), Sudurpaschim Province (14.1 percent), Province 2 (13.9 percent), Lumbini Province (13.7 percent), Gandaki Province (8 percent), and Bagmati Province (4.7 percent).
According to the Provincial Health Directorate in Surkhet, the majority of people in Karnali, which regularly faces food scarcity, are deprived of nutritious foods.
Kiran Adhikary, a civil society leader, said it is ironic that the schools are compelled to use the budgets for scholarship and mid-day meal programmes to provide salaries to teachers.
“The schools are doing bad work for a good purpose,” Adhikary said. “The problem will be resolved only if the government manages teacher posts in the community school.”

Page 3

Beset by disputes and splits, Madhesh parties are fighting for relevance in their own base

Janata Samajbadi and Loktantrik Samajbadi are in negotiations with bigger parties eying better prospects in November polls.

As seat-sharing negotiations are underway in the ruling coalition, two major Madhes-based parties are also working out strategies to improve their poll prospects.
While the Janata Samajbadi Party, which is part of the coalition, is mulling over quitting the ruling alliance and joining hands with other parties, including the CPN-UML, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party is wondering if it should join the ruling alliance.
Even the Nepali Congress, the leader of the ruling coalition, appears willing to bring the Loktantrik Samajbadi on board.
Complexities, however, remain. The two Madhesh-based parties are likely to face a tough time during the polls, even if their leaders maintain they are in a comfortable position.
Keshav Jha, a Loktantrik Samajbadi leader, says since they fought local elections on their own, they don’t have any plans to partner with other parties.
He didn’t deny his party is lobbying to join the ruling coalition though.
At a time when the five parties in the coalition have been struggling to finalise seat-sharing, the entry of the Loktantrik Samajbadi may create more confusion, observers say.
For other parties, an alliance with the Janata Samajbadi and Loktantrik Samajbadi is a good bet, as they hold sway over the Madhesh Province, which sends 32 lawmakers to the House of Representatives.
The Madhesh Provincial Assembly is 107-member strong.
In the 2022 local elections, the Nepali Congress emerged as the largest party in the province. The UML too has managed to make inroads in the region.
Out of the 136 local units, Nepali Congress won 46, UML 30, Janata Samajbadi 25 , Loktantrik Samajbadi 14, and the Maoist Centre won nine.
Likewise, the CPN (Unified Socialist) won six units; as many went to other parties.
In the current House of Representatives, the Janata Samajbadi has 17 seats while Loktantrik Samajbadi Party controls 13 seats.
Baburam Bhattarai and Mahindra Ray Yadav recently parted ways with the Janata Samajbadi and launched their own Nepal Samajbadi Party. Bhattarai and Yadav, who won from Gorkha-2 and Sarlahi-4, respectively, are the only members in the House from the new party. Currently, the Janata Samajbadi has 39 lawmakers in the Madhesh Provincial Assembly while the Loktantrik Samajbadi has 16.
“Our popular votes have increased and we are now stronger in the Madhesh Province as well,” said Ram Sahaya Prasad Yadav, a Janata Samajbadi leader who is also a member of the ruling coalition’s task force formed to finalise seat-sharing arrangements.
Jha, the Loktantrik Samjbadi leader, echoed Yadav. “The situation is not as bad for us as it has been perceived,” he said. “The real power will be tested when all the parties contest the elections on their own.”
Observers, however, say as the seat-sharing arrangements will more likely be made based on the votes obtained by the political parties in the latest local polls and the 2017 parliamentary and local elections, the Janata Samajbadi and the Loktantrik Samajbadi
are not in a strong position and are left with little choices.
The only province in which these parties had a noteworthy presence was Madhesh but they are losing their stronghold because they appear to have given up their agendas and been enmeshed in power politics, observers say.
The Janata Samajbadi had secured five seats in total in the provinces other than Madhesh. Likewise, the Loktantrik Samajbadi won two seats in other provinces in total.
“As the Janata Samajbadi has already joined the electoral alliance led by the Congress, and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party will soon join them, the fate of these political parties depends on other big parties as they are not in a strong bargaining position,” Chandra Kishore, a journalist who has closely followed Madhesh politics for decades, said.
According to him, the two parties that had fought the previous elections on their own with Madhesh agenda had left a good impression on the electorate, but now they are dependent on other parties.
“Both parties have lost their influence. The Janata Samajbadi fared better in the latest local elections than the Loktantrik Samajbadi because the former was part of the ruling coalition,” said Chandra Kishore. “These parties got involved in power politics, thereby losing the trust of the people.”
Yet another  bane of the Madhesh-based parties is they have over the years gone through frequent splits, which could help other parties like the Congress and the UML make inroads into the Madhesh region.
Tula Narayan Shah, a political analyst, said the major challenge for the Janata Samajbadi and the Loktantrik Samajbadi is retaining the seats they had won in the last elections.
“For both parties, chances of winning the same number of seats as in the last elections are slim,” Shah said. “The Madhesh movement was fresh in the minds of the people back then. They need to find agendas as well for the upcoming polls.”
With the elections a little over three months away, the two Madhesh-based parties are going through an existential crisis, according to CK Lal, a political commentator who is also a columnist for the Post.
“While struggling to save their existence, they will seek and take support from any other political parties,” Lal said.
“They are in a serious crisis—both lack agendas, credible leadership, and intact organisations.”


Malnutrition threat for pregnant women, new mums, children displaced by disasters

- Arjun Poudel

Of the over 400 people displaced by the recent Koshi floods at Belaka Municipality in Udayapur district, around a dozen are pregnant women, some are new mothers and dozens are under five years old.
Those people from wards 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 of the municipality have been taking refuge at the community shelters constructed by the local unit for the past several days.
“Some of the children, pregnant women and new mothers have started getting sick,” Chet Nath Adhikari, an official at the municipality, told the Post over the phone from Udayapur last week. “We have been trying to mitigate the risks of an outbreak of communicable diseases at the temporary shelters of the displaced people.”
Officials deployed to the displaced camps for management said that displaced people, especially pregnant women, new mothers and small children, are not only vulnerable to communicable diseases but also are at risk of getting malnourished as they lack adequate nutritious food and access to health care services.
Experts say people displaced in natural disasters are highly vulnerable to acute malnutrition and that the displaced need additional nutritious foods and safe drinking water.
“Everyone residing in temporary shelters is vulnerable to several communicable diseases,” said Dr Ashok Bhurtyal, a nutritionist. “Infants, young children, pregnant women and lactating mothers are malnourished.”
Malnutrition is developing into a silent crisis in Nepal. The country has made significant progress in reducing stunting among children under five. Stunting decreased from 57 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2019, according to the recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS 2019).
Wasting, a debilitating disease that causes muscle and fat tissue to waste away, among children under five was 11 percent in 2001, 10 percent in 2016 and 12 percent in 2019. Wasting or low weight for one’s height is an undernutrition condition, which is a strong predictor of mortality among children under five, according to the UN health agency. Wasting in children, if not treated properly, is associated with a higher risk of death, according to it.
Anaemia among children under five is still at 51 percent (NDHS 2016), which experts say is concerning.
The problem of malnutrition has been escalating quickly amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to nutritionists.
Experts say that natural disasters, from which thousands of people get affected every year, exacerbate malnutrition problems.
“The government as well as several other agencies distribute relief materials to displaced people,”
said Dr Sudha Shree Adhikari, a nutrition scientist, adding, “But those agencies also distribute junk foods like noodles and biscuits as relief materials. Such foods could contribute to the increase in malnutrition cases.”
The Ministry of Health and Population has decided to distribute super cereal (fortified flour) in the displaced camps of Udayapur.
A 1.5 kg packet of fortified flour, which consists of carbohydrate, fat and other minerals, will be provided to all children between six months and 23 months, all pregnant women and new mothers, officials said.
When asked about food relief for thousands of others displaced in other parts of the country, officials said that they do not have any such programme.
“Displaced people, whether they are from Koshi flood or from any other disasters, are highly vulnerable,” said Dr Atul Upadhyay, a nutritionist. “Authorities concerned should take the issue seriously and address it accordingly.”
Experts say that nutrition has a direct link with the overall development of the country. Malnutrition affects physical as well as mental growth of children, which ultimately affects the country’s economic health, according to Upadhyay.
Malnutrition also plays a major role in the under five mortality rate, according to the nutrition section at the Family Welfare Division under the Department of Health Services.
“Distributing food relief alone is not enough as those distributing should carefully consider whether the food items are beneficial or harmful,” said Upadhyay.


Local units fear their first term may pass without federal education law

The federal government has yet to ready a bill for the law and the term of the current Parliament is ending in four months with elections announced for November 20.
The constitution allows local governments to make laws, but the statute also says such laws will be void if they contradict the federal law.  Post File Photo: Elite joshi

The jurisdiction over school education has been the most debated issue between the federal and local governments in the last five years.
While the local governments have been saying they have constitutional authority to manage education up to grade 12, the federal government is reluctant to delegate the authority. Schedule 8 of the constitution gives local governments the explicit authority of basic and secondary education while schedule 9 puts education under the concurrent authority of the federal, provincial and local governments.
The constitution lists out the authorities in broad terms which are defined clearly by the Acts and regulations. They are also the prerequisite for the implementation of the constitution. However, around seven years since the promulgation of the constitution and five years since last parliamentary elections, the government is yet to register a bill to promulgate a federal education act.
When he was appointed minister for education, science and technology in October last year, Devendra Paudel said preparing the bill for the Act would be his priority. He has reiterated his commitment on several occasions. However, over a year since he took charge, the education ministry is yet to finalise the bill.
Paudel is the fifth education minister since the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal and third since the last general elections. And every minister who preceded Paudel has made similar claims. No minister, however, has fulfilled their claim to have the Act in place.
The officials at the Education Ministry say they have already prepared a draft of the federal education bill along with five others which are stuck at the Finance Ministry. “We have urged the Finance Ministry to give the clearance to the bills,” Education Secretary Ram Krishna Subedi, told the Post. “Education minister raised the issue in a meeting of the ministers called by the prime minister on Tuesday.”
The local representatives say they have completed their term without getting to exercise their constitutional authority in lack of the law. Even though the first term of local governments since the promulgation of the constitution is already over, there is no certainty on when the Act would be formulated. The recent local level elections were held on May 13.
“Allowing the local governments to oversee the school education was one of the most important aspects of federalism,” Bhim Prasad Dhungana, mayor of Dhading’s Neelkantha Municipality, told the Post. “We completed our full tenure in uncertainty and it doesn’t seem like the Act will be promulgated anytime soon.”
Local government representatives say with the federal and provincial assembly elections set to be held later this year, they are not hopeful that the present House will pass the law. The government, within a few days, is expected to make an official announcement to conduct the elections on November 20. As it takes over a month for a bill to get through Parliament, it will not be possible to promulgate the Act from the ongoing parliamentary session if the bill is not registered soon.
The constitution allows local governments to make laws. However, the constitution also says such laws will be void to the extent they contradict the federal law. On different occasions in the past, the federal government has issued circulars to local governments ordering them not to make laws until related federal Acts are formulated. A writ petition challenging the circular is sub judice at the Supreme Court. “The court has not scheduled the final hearing for my petition,” advocate Sunil Ranjan Singh told the Post. “A verdict from the court would have ended the ongoing confusion.”
Education experts say lack of legal clarity has left the entire education sector in shambles. “The Act is a must to bring school education on track,” Binay Kusiyait, an education expert, said. “Not just the education ministry but the successive governments must be held accountable for the delay.”
Lack of a constitutional deadline for promulgation of laws like the one related to the fundamental rights is also responsible for the delay, experts said.
The constitution made it mandatory to have laws related to fundamental rights in place within three years since its promulgation. It also said the existing Acts that contradict the constitution must be revised within a year since the first meeting of the federal parliament. The government prepared the laws within the constitutional deadline. However, as there is no such constitutional deadline for the promulgation of federal laws, successive governments have become negligent in discharging their duties, Kusiyait said.
“The reluctance in promulgating laws like the Federal Education Act is one of the reasons why our federalism hasn’t been fully implemented yet,” he said.

Page 4

In crisis lies opportunity

We need to attract people who have ventured abroad and are now equipped with skills.

A slowdown in remittance inflows and depleting foreign exchange reserves had sparked widespread concern, but perhaps the worst is over. In the last fiscal year, Nepali migrant workers sent home a record Rs1 trillion, up 4.8 percent over the previous year. While growing remittances signal prosperity for Nepali families, the failure to retain our labour force by providing employment opportunities also points to a glaring policy gap. And as a consequence, we see this popular trend of young Nepalis jetting off to foreign lands in search of better jobs and opportunities, leaving an ageing population to mind the towns and villages in Nepal.
The departure of Nepali youths boils down to the lack of economic opportunities at home. Migrant departures had briefly stopped in the wake of the pandemic. A worsening global economic crisis saw reverse migration, with official data suggesting that nearly half a million people required rescuing. But no sooner had the pandemic waned than people who had returned to their homes due to the loss of jobs during the lockdown started leaving in droves. However bleak, the pandemic presented an excellent opportunity for the authorities to retain the people who had returned for the country’s development needs.
But this opportunity was callously squandered by the authorities without thinking about how we could have thrived from the crisis. It is estimated that around 500,000 youths enter the job market annually, and 80 percent of them find their way to secure foreign employment. Those left to do domestic work probably have no thoughts of going for greener pastures at the earliest. So, what has precipitated this scenario? Over the past few decades, Nepal has been governed by visionless leaders whose only purpose in politics has been the betterment of themselves and their near and dear ones.
The economy indeed took a hit during the decade-long Maoist insurgency, and it was then that people began leaving their homes in droves for a safer working environment.
The country has had time to recover since the end of the fighting, yet nothing has been done to create employment opportunities at home. Instead, we are made to feel fortunate that foreign governments have shown interest in hiring our youths to plug their labour shortages. From doctors to nurses to skilled and semi-skilled labour, Nepal has seen nothing but an exodus of people from all walks of life at the slightest opportunity.
Devoid of investment which could contribute to generating output, Nepal has become reliant solely on imports.
Nepal imports even farm products, which is ironical in a country classified as agricultural where 66 percent of the total population are engaged in farming. If we are to see any form of meaningful economic development, policies and programmes will be needed to ensure job creation for the youths entering the labour market. A conducive environment should be created to attract people who have ventured abroad and are now equipped with skills which could be helpful in various sectors. The current scenario is only likely to worsen if the development policies aren’t addressed sooner.


City of garbage

The streets have filled up with trash once again, and no solution is in sight.
- Amish Raj Mulmi
Post File photo

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the stretch of road that is currently the Shankhamul-Balkhu River corridor was a ghastly sight to behold. The banks of the Bagmati were treated as an unofficial garbage dumping site, and the stench carried itself far inside the homes of those who lived near. Although land had been earmarked for UN Park, a proposal originally mooted in 1997 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the multilateral institution, the fences did little to stop the mounds of garbage from piling up.
Suddenly, over the course of a few years, new mounds of garbage stopped appearing. Whether it was divine providence, or the valley finding a new dumping site in Okharpauwa, one couldn’t say. UN Park then began to take shape. Today, silver oaks and eucalyptus trees provide green cover to a city starved of any. All along the extended pathway along the river, one can find new lovers and old couples, dog walkers and slackliners, men running to train for physical fitness tests, volleyball matches, cricket pitches, cows feeding on the grass and stray dogs greeting those who come to feed them. There’s even a yoga group that practices to the sound of techno every morning. In the evenings, TikTok and Instagram aficionados take over.
The ghats of the past have been replicated in concrete on both sides of the bridge. But the  garbage that once littered this spot can still be found, particularly when the soil is dug up. Old plastic wrappers emerge as fossils, and the soil can be dank when it rains. The garbage itself has not disappeared; it simply appears outside the walls of the park, a daily invitation to the stray dogs and several murders of crows.

Mounds of trash
This long segue was necessitated by the uber-perennial problem of waste management inside the valley. The streets have filled up with trash once more, which became floating islands of waste during the heavy rains of these past few weeks. The new Kathmandu mayor seems to be at his wit’s end, faced with constant opposition by locals living close to the landfill sites of Banchare Danda and Sisdol in Okharpauwa.  
The protests are certainly politically motivated, with its leaders belonging to parties from the ruling coalition. But one could also argue the locals have a point. Who, after all, wants to live next to a landfill site? The protests are outrightly designed to interrupt the independently elected mayor’s term in office (and possibly send out a message to other independent candidates in future elections). But the locals have a right to be angry, especially after years of negligence by those who have ruled Kathmandu. They’ve been promised many amenities in lieu of turning their lands into a garbage dump, most of which have remained unfulfilled. Then there’s the road to Sisdol itself, contracted to Maoist chair Prachanda’s landlord, which is a mudslide on its worst days and a dust storm on its best.
The valley’s waste problem is not unique to it. Most cities in South Asia suffer from it. This April, Delhi’s landfill sites began to catch fire in the extreme heat, burning for more than nine days and sending toxic fumes into the skies of the world’s most polluted city. Perhaps our cultural distaste towards garbage—and the belief that only lower castes and classes are fit enough to handle it—is why once the garbage leaves our homes, we no longer bother with it.

Buried under its weight
Kathmandu’s waste management has been the focus of innumerable studies—both by domestic and international organisations and experts. Several alternatives have been proposed, all of which seem doable, but none has been put into action. International donors began to engage with the issue of waste management from as early as the 1970s onwards with a long-term German involvement. The resultant Solid Waste Management Project began to collapse in the early 1990s under the weight of political changes and other shortcomings. “[I]ts main shortcomings were a centralised waste management system, lack of coordination with the municipalities and dependency on international expertise, machinery and finance.”
By 2003, when the valley had begun to generate 300 tonnes of waste a day, the search for a new landfill site had already been going on for a decade, with politicians preferring the Okharpauwa site despite it being “technically, environmentally and economically unsuitable”. Environmental engineer Bhushan Tuladhar wrote, “The total waste of Kathmandu and Lalitpur cities can be recycled by setting up a 300 tonne/day organic fertiliser plant for which an India-Nepal joint venture project is already selected. By doing this, the waste disposal problem is reduced by 80 percent with minimal environmental impacts, and high quality fertiliser can be generated.”
Twenty years and several such reports later, the valley today generates 1,200 tonnes of waste every day, the majority of which is dumped in landfill sites, and the rest in empty plots and our rivers. At least 75 percent of the solid waste is biodegradable according to experts, with one possible solution being to feed the organic waste to domesticated pigs. A 2014 plan to produce 18 kilowatts of electricity, funded by the European Union, didn’t go anywhere either. Roads and parks such as the one along the Bagmati built on top of waste are not an ideal solution by any measure either.  
It may be possible that the authorities reach another agreement with the protesting locals—174 such agreements have already been signed—to make the garbage disappear from our streets. But trouble will brew again without an alternative longer-term solution. Garbage collection will be halted, and once more, the issue will come under the spotlight while citizens walk holding their noses and hop, skip and jump over piles of trash. Maybe it’s time to dig out the buried reports and act on them.


The Taliban’s war on women and girls

When the girls arrived at the school gates, armed Taliban guards refused them entry.
- Yasmine Sherif,GORDON BROWN

When Taliban leaders visited an elementary school in Kabul in October 2021, two months after retaking control of Afghanistan, several seven- or eight-year-old girls bravely stood up, one by one, to declare:
“Our classes have resumed, but not for our older sisters. We have been promised that our older sisters will return to class, but this has not happened yet!”
Now, on the first anniversary of the Taliban’s return to power, most of Afghanistan’s 1,880 girls’ secondary schools remain closed. And when women and girls demonstrated in Kabul this past weekend, calling for their educational opportunities to be restored, Taliban forces fired shots over the protesters’ heads.
Islam’s holy book, the Koran, encourages both women and men to read, contemplate, and pursue education. The Prophet Muhammad advocated education as a religious duty for males and females: “Seek education from the cradle to the grave,” the Prophet instructed. But the Taliban’s ban on schools for girls above sixth grade has made Afghanistan the only Muslim country to prohibit girls’ secondary education.
In August 2021, the Taliban promised Afghans and the rest of the world that they would reopen all primary, secondary, and tertiary schools for both boys and girls. Girls’ secondary schools were expected to reopen on March 23 to coincide with the Persian New Year. But when the girls arrived at the school gates, armed Taliban guards refused them entry.
A few days later, dozens of female students protested near the Ministry of Education in Kabul. “Open the schools! Justice! Justice!” they chanted, holding banners declaring that “Education is our fundamental right, not a political plan.” The Taliban, however, remain unconvinced. As a result, Afghanistan’s girls, nearly one million of whom have no access to secondary education, are the world’s most forgotten children and adolescents.
No one should remain silent in the face of this discrimination. Islam has 1.8 billion adherents, making it the world’s second-largest religious group, comprising 24 percent of the global population. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country, women’s university enrollment has increased from 2 percent in 1970 to nearly 33 percent today. In Saudi Arabia, half of university-age women attend university, a higher rate than in Mexico, China, Brazil, and India.
According to a World Economic Forum report, 30 percent of the 450 million women in Muslim-majority economies are in paid work. Although women’s labour-force participation rates vary widely—74 percent in Kazakhstan, 53 percent in Indonesia and Malaysia, 42 percent in the United Arab Emirates, 33 percent in Turkey, 26 percent in Pakistan, and 21 percent in Saudi Arabia—they are increasing faster than for men in nearly all these economies. Muslim women’s combined income of just under $1 trillion would make them the world’s 16th most prosperous country.
After four decades of armed conflict and climate-induced natural disasters, Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest and least-developed countries. But the Taliban are denying the female half of the workforce the chance to help rebuild it. Afghanistan cannot afford to regress a quarter-century to the start of the Taliban’s first stint in power in 1996, when the group prohibited women and girls from working outside the home, attending school and university, or leaving their homes unless accompanied by a mahram (husband, father, brother, or son). Back then, the Taliban’s religious police meted out severe punishment, including stoning, for any infraction of their moral code.
Prior to the Taliban’s 1996 takeover, 60 percent of Kabul University teachers (and nearly half the students) were women. In addition, women constituted 70 percent of schoolteachers, 50 percent of civilian government workers (and 70 percent of the 130,000 civil servants in Kabul), and 40 percent of doctors.
Today, with Afghanistan facing economic collapse, soaring poverty, and increasing risks of starvation, and unable to survive without humanitarian assistance, the Taliban are arguing that girls’ current school uniforms are not Islamic. But most Afghans do not think long black tunics and pants and a white head scarf (hijab) designed in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence will solve the country’s many deep-rooted problems.
Nonetheless, the Taliban are threatening to close down those girls’ secondary schools that have remained open in major provinces, such as Balkh in the north, unless they change their dress codes. “The requirements on hijab are getting tougher day by day,” one teacher told Human Rights Watch. “They have spies to record and report […] If students or teachers don’t follow their strict hijab rules, without any discussion they fire the teachers and expel the students.”
Meanwhile, some Taliban members who can afford to are sending their daughters abroad to study. Others are trying to convince the organisation’s religious leadership in Kandahar to rethink the ban and let girls return to secondary school.
In March, the foreign ministers of the G7 countries and Norway, together with the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, issued a joint statement condemning the Taliban’s refusal to reopen girls’ secondary schools. “We call on the Taliban urgently to reverse this decision, which will have consequences far beyond its harm to Afghan girls,” they said.
But more must be done. The international community, specifically countries in the region, and especially members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, should make Afghan women’s and girls’ rights central to their diplomatic and economic negotiations with the Taliban. Afghanistan and its people have suffered enough. Anyone who cares for the country’s future must stand up for adolescent girls’ right to an education—and women’s right to work.

Sherif is Director of Education Cannot Wait. Brown is Chair of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.
 — Project Syndicate

Page 5

Public sector paralysed as Lebanon lurches towards ‘failed state’


It’s a weekday, but 50-year-old Lebanese finance ministry employee Walid Chaar is not at work and hasn’t been since June.
He rushes to water the garden at his home in the hills south of Beirut, using the single hour of rationed state power to run the sprinkler. He then phones his mother, who is struggling to get a new passport at a state agency grappling with paper and ink shortages. “The public sector is at its end if we keep going like this,” Chaar told Reuters.
Like thousands of state employees in Lebanon, Chaar has been on strike for two months over the collapse of his salary caused by Lebanon’s economic implosion—one of the world’s worst in modern times.
The public sector paralysis is spreading further—this week judges launched their own protest, while soldiers moonlight to feed themselves and government offices run out of power and basic office supplies.
State infrastructure, already strained by years of unchecked spending, corruption and a preference for quick fixes over sustainable solutions, has reached breaking point.
“We are in a state of collapse,” said Lamia Moubayed of the Lebanese Institute of Finance Basil Fuleihan, a research centre at the Ministry of Finance.
In parliament, there is no fuel to run a generator for the elevator—so security guards run messages up and down the stairs between workers.
Those registering a new car purchase with the department of motor vehicles were given handwritten notes instead of proper state-issued documents due to paper shortages.  
Commanders in Lebanon’s security services are looking the other way as troops take on second jobs—typically prohibited, but now unofficially allowed as soldiers’ salaries crash.
The average public servant’s monthly salary has dropped from around $1,000 to barely $50—and counting, as the Lebanese pound loses more value by the day.
That prompted tens of thousands of state employees—from ministries, local government bodies, schools and universities, courts and even the state news agency—to strike.
This week, 350 Lebanese judges will not show up for hearings, demanding a hike to their salaries, too.
“The judges are hungry,” said Faisal Makki, a founder of the country’s Judges’ Club—the judiciary’s equivalent of a syndicate or union. Makki told Reuters the justice ministry had long been underfunded, so judges had for years been buying paper and ink for their office printers at their personal expense.


UK rail workers strike again as inflation intensifies crisis


Railway staff in Britain on Thursday staged the latest in a series of strikes, once again disrupting commuters and leisure travellers, as decades-high inflation hits salaries and prompts walkouts across various industries.
The latest action by rail workers, which will be repeated on Saturday, is part of a summer of strike action by the sector and others at a scale not seen since the 1980s under former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
The dispute over pay rises and working conditions has shown little sign of resolution and is likely to be exacerbated by news this week that UK inflation topped 10 percent in July for the first time since 1982.
The global impact of the war in Ukraine on energy and food prices, and, to a lesser extent, post-Brexit trade frictions are blamed for the surging cost-of-living crisis in Britain.
Tens of thousands of railway staff are set to walk out over the two days, leaving a skeleton train service and stranding holidaymakers and commuters, even if home-working continues for many office staff after Covid restrictions were lifted.
Meanwhile, London transport workers serving the underground “Tube” and bus network will walk out on Friday, creating three days of travel misery in southeast England.
“It’s extremely unreliable these days, so I’m finding I’m having to drive, park and pay a lot more,” recruitment consultant Greg Ellwood, 26, told AFP at an unusually quiet Euston station in London.
“We’re all just trying to make a living and get by... So I’ve got all the sympathy in the world for them,” he added, referring to the strikers.
‘Defend jobs’
Among the sectors also calling strikes are dockers at Felixstowe, Britain’s largest freight port situated in eastern England, who will start an eight-day stoppage Sunday.
The waves of industrial action could continue into the autumn, since the Bank of England forecasts inflation will top 13 percent later this year, tipping the economy into a deep and long-lasting recession.


Luxury sneakers may be a step too far for cash-strapped Gen Z

Sneakers of Italian high fashion sneaker brand Golden Goose are displayed at its store in Beijing, China.  REUTERS

From $300 bucket hats to $900 sneakers and $700 t-shirts, the high-flying luxury sector is fretting over the appetite among financially stretched Gen Z consumers for such “aspirational” purchases.
Executives are troubled in particular by a hit to young Chinese shoppers, not only because mainland China has been a major driver of the industry’s growth in recent years, but also because high end consumers in the world’s second-largest economy are a decade younger than the global average of 38.
Young adults around the world have been “a very strong factor of luxury growth over the past decade,” said Gregory Boutte, chief client and digital officer at Gucci-owner Kering.
Data this week showed China’s economy slowed unexpectedly, prompting a central bank rate cut, while macroeconomic trends are disproportionately impacting the extra funds that those born between 1996 and 2012 might use to enter the world of luxury.
Whereas in North America and Europe, inflation and a rising cost-of-living are hitting discretionary incomes of young consumers especially hard, China’s problem is different.
“In the US, inflation is a huge issue, the major focus of a lot of luxury companies ... In China, it’s the youth unemployment rate that’s alarming right now,” Kenneth Chow, principal at consultancy Oliver Wyman said.
Government data for July registers the unemployment rate of China’s urban population aged 16 to 24 at a record 19.9 percent, exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns and a crackdown on big tech firms that traditionally hired droves of graduates.
“This might be the first time that a lot of young adults (in China) are facing (such an) economic impact, so it will be a testing ground on how these consumers are going to spend on luxury items going forward,” Chow said.
“If a recession happens, then I will 100 percent buy less or maybe even stop buying altogether,” said US-based luxury lifestyle and travel TikToker Jeffrey Huang, 28, who shares his Louis Vuitton shopping trips and hauls with his 150,000 followers. A recent Oliver Wyman study showed that some luxury brands are significantly lowering their sales expectations for the Chinese market in response to current conditions, with 80 percent of executives questioned not expecting a “v-shaped” recovery this year. Oliver Wyman declined to name the brands it surveyed.
Nevertheless, earnings last month from firms including LVMH and Kering painted a picture of resilience in the face of economic headwinds, with luxury players riding a wave of post-Covid spending by their wealthiest clients.


Sri Lanka warns of record 8 percent economic contraction


COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown will result in a record contraction of at least eight percent this year but the public could soon expect some relief from runaway inflation, the head of the country’s central bank said Thursday. The island nation defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and is seeking an International Monetary Fund bailout after months of food, fuel and medicine shortages. Its 22 million people have also suffered through lengthy blackouts and spiralling cost-of-living pressures after scarcity and a currency crash drove up prices. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka had already projected the economy could shrink a painful 7.5 percent for the calendar year, dwarfing the previous record 3.6 percent contraction in 2020 as the pandemic raged. (AFP)


Pakistan lifts import ban, to impose heavy duties


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday lifted an import ban on luxury goods, but such items will be heavily taxed, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said. Pakistan banned the import of all non-essential luxury goods in May to avert a balance of payments crisis and stabilise the economy. “We’re lifting curbs on all imports,” Ismail told a news conference in Islamabad, saying the policies his government introduced to stabilise the economy had worked well. He said Pakistan’s foreign reserves will rise with funding expected from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He said the IMF board will meet on August 29 to decide whether to approve the seventh and eighth reviews, which would allow the disbursement of more than $1.1 billion to Pakistan. (REUTERS)


Chery in talks to produce cars in Russian plants: TASS


MOSCOW: Chinese car manufacturer Chery is in talks with Russian manufacturers about producing cars in Russian plants, Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS reported on Thursday, citing Vladimir Shmakov, director of Chery’s Russian branch. “First of all in our plans is the need to localise production on Russian territory,” TASS cited Shmakov as saying. TASS also cited Shmakov as saying he wanted to increase Chery’s Russia sales to around 80,000 to 100,000 vehicles in 2022. Chery is China’s ninth largest vehicle manufacturer, with sales of 959,000 vehicles in 2021. According to the Association of European Business. (REUTERS)