Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gautam appointed PM's special advisor

KATHMANDU, July 31: Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has appointed Kul Chandra Gautam, Nepal´s nominee for the presidency of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), as his special advisor on international affairs and peace process.

“He has been appointed to the post recently as he has been advising the prime minister for a long time,” said a source at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers on condition of anonymity.

A former deputy executive director of UNICEF and Assistant Under Secretary General of the UN, Gautam has been advising Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal on matters related to international affairs and the peace process since Nepal became prime minister in May 2009, said the source.

"In the terms of reference given to Gautam, the prime minister has acknowledged Gautam´s advisory role," said the source.

With the appointment of Gautam as special advisor to the prime minister, Nepal is now prepared to launch a full-fledged campaign to garner support for Gautam´s candidacy for the president of UNGA.

To that end, the prime minister on Friday directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) to call Nepali Ambassador to the UN Gyan Chandra Acharya to come to Nepal to formulate lobbying strategy for Gautam´s candidacy, said the source.

The government nominated Gautam for the presidency of the UNGA as he has the required credentials.

After his retirement from the UN, Gautam has been actively involved in informally advising Nepal´s senior political civil society leadership on issues related to peace process, strengthening of democracy and socio-economic development. He also leads a Rollback Violence campaign.

“Now we are going to begin a campaign officially,” said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Besides Nepal, Qatar is also vying for the post. The West Asian country has nominated its incumbent UN ambassador for the presidency of the UNGA.

But before kickstarting the campaign, Nepal will wait for the meeting of the Asia Group, an alliance of Asian countries at the UN.

Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) say the meeting scheduled for the first week of August is discussing the candidacy of Nepal and Qatar for presidency of the UNGA.

“We are waiting for the meeting of the Asia Group at the UN before starting a full-fledged campaign for the election of Gautam,” said a MoFA official on condition of anonymity.

MoFA officials are hoping that Qatar will withdraw its candidacy during the meeting that is expected to ask both Nepal and Qatar to reach consensus. Generally, UNGA presidency is elected unanimously.

Nepal and Qatar have filed nominations for presidency as it is the turn of Asia to head the UNGA from September 2011-2012 September. Nepal had decided to present its candidature for presidency of the UNGA in 2000. Qatar announced its candidacy two year after. This is the first time Nepal has filed its candidacy for the post.

UNGA presidency rotates among five geographic groups -- African, Asian, Eastern European, Latin American and Carribean and Western European and other states.

UN watchers say that Nepal has high prospect of winning the presidency on five main grounds.

First, Nepal is deeply involved in the UN since it became member of the global body in 1955, 16 year before Qatar was awarded UN membership.

Second, after seven years of joining the UN, Nepal was elected unanimously to head an official inquiry into the death of Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the UN.

Third, Nepal´s contribution to the UN peacekeeping has earned global recognition. Nepal is one of the largest troop contributing countries to the UN.

Fourth, Qatar comes from the region from where last Asian president of the UNGA was elected. Bahrain was elected president of the UNGA during Asia´s turn in 2006. As South Asia had its last UNGA president in 1986, Nepal has justified claim for the presidency this time, argues an MoFA official working at the UN Section.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have already headed the UNGA presidency.

Besides, Nepal is currently the head of the Least Developed Countries and will use this forum to garner support for Gautam´s candidacy.


Verdict out: Sobhraj to stay in jail for life

KATHMANDU: In a historic judgment, Supreme Court today convicted Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj for 1975 murder of a teenage US girl Connie Joe Bronzich.

Following a scoop published in The Himalayan Times on September 17, 2003, disclosing Sobhraj was staying in Kathmandu that eventually led to his arrest from a casino on September 20, 2003.

A division bench of Justices Ram Kumar Prasad Shah and Gauri Dhakal upheld the conviction of 66-year old French national. Upholding the Kathmandu District Court and Patan Appellate Court verdicts, the bench observed that there was no legal loophole in the lower courts’ verdicts and Sobhraj did not deserve acquittal.

The bench has also convicted him in fake passport case and slapped additional sentence of one year. Since he has already served seven years of the sentence, he has to serve almost 13 years more.

Nihita Biswas, who Sobhraj reportedly married in 2008, and her mother Shakuntala Thapa, who had been defending Sobhraj, alleged that the apex court had delivered a biased verdict.

Sobhraj was not present in the court to hear the verdict, as he is suffering from dental ailment, Nihita told The Himalayan Times.

The bench also observed that Sobhraj had killed Canadian national Laurent Armond Carriere in Nepal in 1975 and escaped to Bangkok.

After staying there overnight he returned to Kathmandu to evade police probe. Sobhraj came to Nepal in 1975 on the passport of Henricus Bintanja after killing him in Bangkok, added the bench.

“Despite the police warning not to leave Nepal without informing them he left the country five-six days after the crime via road and was involved in a dacoity in New Delhi,” the bench observed.

The apex court added that Sobhraj’s statement before the Indian judiciary in 80s also proved his offence in Nepal.

Justice Shah, while pronouncing the judgment in a packed courtroom, cited the statement Sobhraj had given before the Supreme Court of India that he had visited Nepal and moved in a white car.

Based on circumstantial evidences— the bag of the deceased found in Sobhraj’s room, his phone number in her note book, modus operandi, his statement to Indian authorities, witness account when Sobhraj visited Nepal in 1975, description of his Nepal activities mentioned in the book, Life and Crimes of Sobhraj, and the report of DSP Chandra Bir Rai — the KDC and PAC slapped 20-year term on Sobhraj.

However, challenging his conviction, Sobhraj moved the apex court in 2006. The government also filed a separate appeal in the apex court challenging the clean chit given to him in fake passport possession case by the both lower courts.

May 2009 decision of the Patan Appellate Court convicting Sobhraj in fake passport case, slapping one-year jail term and Rs 2,000 fine, weakened Sobhraj’s appeal in murder case.

THT Scoop

It was The Himalayan Times that broke the story on Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj’s presence in Kathmandu way back in 2003 that eventually led to his arrest.

On September 17 that year, it published a scoop with Sobhraj’s photograph near a public phone booth in Kathmandu.

Even after that Sobhraj chose to stay on in Kathmandu. On September 19, 2003, he was picked up from Casino Royale, where he was playing baccarat. Sobhraj once famously said laws in Nepal were so lax that he could smuggle a buffalo through Tribhuwan International Airport. These ‘lax laws’ eventually proved to be his nemesis.

Sobhraj saga

• December 23, 1975: Laurent Armond Carrire’s body found in Bhaktapur

• December 24, 1975: Connie Joe Bronzich’s body found near Manahara River in Kathmandu

• September 1, 2003: Sobhraj visited Nepal

• September 17, 2003: The Himalayan Times published a scoop over his stay in Nepal

• September 19, 2003: Police arrested Sobhraj

• August 12, 2004: KDC convicted Sobhraj based on circumstantial evidence

• August 13, 2005: Patan Appellate Court upheld KDC verdict

• January 13, 2009: SC transferred passport case to Patan Appellate Court

• May 12, 2009: Appellate Court convicted him in fake passport case

Can The Serpent still dig out of hole?

KATHMANDU: Sobhraj is now left with an option to request the apex court to review its own judgment, his lawyer Ram Bandhu Sharma told The Himalayan Times. As per Section 11(1)(a) and (b) of the Judicial Administration Act, 1991, the apex court can review its own final judgment on two major grounds — discovering a new evidence which may affect the previous verdict and in case the previous verdict violates the set precedent and principles of the SC. His team is yet to discuss the move with Sobhraj. However, Nihita Biswas, who Sobhraj reportedly married in 2008, and her mother, Shakuntala Thapa, have threatened to move International Court of Justice, accusing the judiciary of bias. Nihita also threatened to file graft case against the SC Justices at the CIAA. Thapa flayed SC for giving legal recognition to the evidence provided by the Indian Supreme Court.

Madhesi front to vote for Prachanda: MJF;NC may opt out of PM race: Sujata

Himalayan News Service

KATHMANDU/BIRATNAGAR: Whip of the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum parliamentary party Abhishek Pratap Shah today claimed that the United Democratic Madhesi Front will vote for Pushpa Kamal Dahal during the prime ministerial election scheduled for August 2.

“We will form a majority government, which would eventually turn into a national consensus government,” he claimed while addressing an interaction here.

Shah claimed that Prachanda would become the PM of the majority government on August 2 as the front will unanimously vote for him. He also urged CPN-UML not to abstain from voting, as such a decision would only lead the nation towards uncertainty.

Leader of another faction of the UDMF — MJF-Democratic — Sanjay Kumar Sah, however, claimed that the front will not vote for Prachanda because UCPN-Maoist was yet to turn into a civilian party. “Front should abstain from voting even on of August 2, as none of the candidates have come up with clear commitment on the demands of the front,” he argued.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of caretaker government Sujata Koirala today said the Nepali Congress might announce the withdrawal of Ram Chandra Paudel’s candidacy for PM to pave way for national consensus.

Speaking at a press meet organised by Nepal Press Union Morang branch in Biratnagar, she said, “Nepali Congress will not pose any obstacle for national consensus. My party is even ready to withdraw the candidacy of the PM, if required.”

She also claimed that Prachanda could not be accepted as prime minister unless the Maoists did not abide by the first point of May 28 three-point agreement reached among the three major parties.

She added that if the Maoists distanced themselves from their arms and army our party would accept the Maoist leadership in the government. She also claimed that her party had no lust for power and was ready to sacrifice for national consensus.

She said incumbent government failed due as it did not forge consensus. “It could not work for the welfare of the people,” she added. She also opined that all the parties sho-uld focus on the peace process and the statute-drafting process rather than craving for power. She added that discussions were on in NC on extending the tenure of UNMIN. Koir-ala said, “Just blaming the UNMIN for all that is wrong will not serve purpose,” she added.

SC upholds Sobhraj

KATHMANDU, July 30: The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday upheld a Patan Appellate Court decision to convict French national Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj on the charge of murdering an American national in Nepal and possessing a fake passport, mainly on the basis of statements he recorded at the Indian Supreme Court in 1995.

The Patan Appellate Court, upholding the decision of Kathmandu District Court, had sentenced Sobhraj in 2005 to life imprisonment along with property confiscation on convictions for murder and fake passport possession.

Sobhraj had appealed to the SC against the Appellate Court decision. The division bench of SC Justices Ram Kumar Prasad Shah and Gauri Dhakal concluded that Sobhraj committed crimes in Nepal in 1975 under three fake names-- Allen Gotiyar, Henricus Bintanja and Sobhraj.

"Statements and records received from the Indian Supreme Court proved that Sobhraj was involved under fake names in a series of criminal activities inside and outside Nepal," reads the SC verdict.

The division bench said he came to Nepal in 1975 using a fake passport in the name of Henricus Bintanja, whom he had murdered in Bangkok, Thailand along with four other people.

"We came to the conclusion that the Patan Appellate court decision to convict him on the charge of murdering American national Connie Jo Bronizch after he arrived in Nepal on Bintanja´s fake passport in 1975 was quite appropriate," reads the SC verdict, adding, "The decision of the Appellate Court to convict him for possessing a fake passport was also appropriate and we upheld that too."

* Statements and records from Indian Supreme prove Sobhraj faked three names
* Conviction by appellate court was appropriate
* SC concluded Sobhrai faked Bintaja´s passport to emplane for Nepal in Bangkok in 1975
* Sobhraj ex-girlfriend´s statements recorded in Indian court proved he killed American in Nepal

In his statements recorded at the Indian Supreme Court, Sobhraj said that he had traveled to Nepal along with Ajaya Chaudhari and Monica Lecrec but never killed anyone in this country.

"Sobhraj also admitted before the Indian Supreme Court that he came to Nepal under Bintanja´s passport," reads the SC verdict, adding, "We upheld the Appellate Court decision to convict him based on the circumstantial evidence."

But Lecrec recorded her own statement before the Indian Court in which she said she was traveling in Nepal with Sobhraj and Chaudhary and Sobhraj did kill American national Bronizch while in Nepal."

The division bench said they observed the documents and verdicts of Indian courts as Nepali Law allows them to do so.

"We also verified that all three names --Sobhraj, Allen Gotiyar and Bintaja were used by Sobhraj himself. We concluded this after going through the Indian court documents. The law allows us to consult documents and verdicts of the Indian courts."

After his arrival in Nepal in 1975, Sobhraj killed American national Bronizch in Kathmandu and Canadian Laurent Armand Carriere in Bhaktapur.

A charge sheet filed against Sobhraj for murdering Carriere is still pending at Bhaktapur District Court as the incident took place in Sangha of Bhaktapur district.

After killing the two foreign nationals, Sobhraj went to Bangkok for one day using Carriere´s passport.

"He returned to Nepal from Bangkok after spending one day there and then went to India via Raxaul with a fake passport in the name of Vhitali Hakim, who was among those he killed in Bangkok," reads the SC verdict.

According to documents submitted by government officials, Sobhraj had killed five people in Bangkok alone.

Sobhraj was arrested in 2003 in Kathmandu on the charges of murdering the two North Americans. But later, Patan Appellate court also convicted him of using fake passports to come to Nepal from Thailand. Kathmandu District Court convicted him of murder in 2004 and Patan Appellate court upheld the verdict in 2005.

Sobhraj had moved the SC claiming that he was innocent of both the murder and fake passport charges. He has to continue serving a 20-year life sentence slapped by the courts. He has already served seven years in a Nepali jail.

Sobhraj´s bride to be Nihita Bishwas and mother-in-law to be Shakuntala Thapa, who is also his lawyer, said the judiciary was biased while convicting him. Talking to journalists at the SC premises, they said, "We are ready to show evidence how the justices were biased."

Government prosecutors Krishna Prasad Poudel, Shree Krishna Bhattarai and Revatiraj Tripathi had pleaded at the SC against Sobhraj.


Friday, July 30, 2010

NOC staff threaten strike if bonus not given

KATHMANDU, July 30: Two trade unions at Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), the bankrupt state-owned company that was recently forced to withdraw its bonus scheme following stiff criticisms, have jointly presented a 13-point demand to the management, including distribution of bonus to staff, and a seven-day ultimatum.

"If the management turns a deaf ear, we will be forced to stop operations at all depots -- something that might be unpleasant for consumers”, reads the memorandum that NOC Employees Association and NOC Employees Organization handed over to the management.

Officials of the two trade unions also said that NOC management should shoulder the responsibility for consumers´ inconvenience if that happened.

"The trade unions handed over their demands to the management on Wednesday," NOC spokesperson Mukunda Dhungel told Republica. He did not disclose the demands though.

Interestingly, officials of both trade unions refused to make their demands public.

However, in the demand letter disclosed to Republica, the trade unions have raised objection over the NOC board´s recent decision to annul a previous decision to distribute bonus for fiscal year 2008/09. The corporation had earned a profit of Rs 3.31 billion during the year. Based on that, the corporation had provisioned over Rs 19 million for bonus to staff.

However, the board last week annulled distribution of the bonus after the decision drew flak from the government and consumer rights activists, mainly because the corporation accumulated losses of Rs 7.92 billion and had a negative net worth of Rs 7.63 billion during the year.

"We want the reasons why the board decided not to distribute bonus even for the year when NOC was in profit," reads the memorandum.

Likewise, the two trade unions have asked NOC management and board to revise upwards the acceptable loss limit for major depots, mainly Amlekhgunj, where fuel loss has consistently exceeded the control target over the last few years.

Against the findings of a high-level committee that rising loss indicates anomaly at the depot, the two trade unions have argued that the acceptable loss limit set for the depots is unscientific.

"We urge the management to make it scientific," reads the memorandum.

The trade unions have likewise asked the management to revoke the action that it took against Dinesh Yadav, former Amlekhgunj depot chief and 21 other staffers for crossing the loss limit. The management had suspended them a few months ago, after the high-level committee assessed that they inflicted a Rs 29.2 million loss on the corporation. The NOC board has even asked management to make them pay the loss amount.

The employees association and organization have further demanded that management instantly stop importing fuel from Barauni, statting that it has been causing losses to at the depots to rise, rendering staff unable to keep within the acceptable loss limit.

Among other things, they have also asked management to provide insurance cover to all staff, particularly those working at the depots, in case of accident“. "In case of death, NOC should pay the family Rs 1.5 million in compensation," reads the memorandum.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

NRB tightens licensing policy for new banks

KATHMANDU, July 29: Along with tightening its policy for establishing a new bank, Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) has added a number of conditions for upgrading financial institutions to higher category and barred them from opening new branches without its approval.

According to the Monetary Policy for the fiscal year 20010/11 announced on Wednesday, apart from the required capital, decision regarding upgrade will now depend upon feasibility study, institutional capacity and existing competition.

Similarly, on the top of the required paid-up capital, the policy has announced that professional capacity and experiences of promoters, qualifications of promoters and directors, accessibility of commoners to financial services, among others, will be considered while granting licenses to new financial institutions.

The newly announced policy has also vowed to ´manage´ perks and benefits of directors, chief executive officers and other high-ranking staffers by not only making payrolls transparent but also compatible with financial system.

The process of accepting applications for establishing a new commercial bank has been suspended for now, said the policy. However, the suspension will not be applicable for those banks that have foreign partnership with huge investments and high technology, the policy stated.

The central bank said that it will continue to adopt a policy of relaxing credit flows to housing sector that relatively has higher value addition and tightening fresh loans to land transactions. As per the new policy, financial institutions have to limit their loans exposure to 10 percent of the total lending within the next two years.

The policy has also checked ongoing practice of using promoters´ shares to pledge as collaterals to take loans from banks and stated that promoters will be allowed to pledge only 50 percent of the shares owned by them as collaterals. NRB will adopt a policy of discouraging multi-banking transactions as it increases risks to loans, said the policy.

The policy has revised the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR) to 15 percent, which includes Cash Reserve Ratio of 5.5 percent, SLF of 8 percent and the vault cash. The bank rate has also been increased to 7 percent from existing 6.5 percent.

Similarly, the lending rate for central bank´s refinancing to financial institutions against their good loans has come down to 7 percent from 7.5 percent.

On foreign exchange front, the monetary policy has announced of adopting policy to bring remittance coming from India through banking channel. The deprived sector lending, which has been fixed at 3 percent of the total lending, has been imposed to development banks and finance companies at 2.5 percent and 2 percent respectively.

Similarly, financial institutions have been allowed to extend per family loans up to Rs 250,000 through deprived sector lending in order to promote animal farming in rural areas.

The policy has arranged collateral free loan up to Rs 200,000 for those members of deprived family who have obtained technical education equivalent to higher secondary education.

Bankers disapprove control over CEO´s perks

Bankers on Wednesday welcomed the new instruments that the new monetary policy adopted to mitigate existing macro-economic challenges, but disapproved its announcement to regulate salary and perks of chief executive officers and other top managers.

“The effort of Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) to enforce transparency in salary and perks of top-level bankers is a welcome move. But it must not be controlled,” said Sashin Joshi, the president of Nepal Bankers´ Association.

Talking to, he further showed concerns over the policy remaining silent on their demand of raising the source disclosure limit from the existing Rs 1 million.

“This source disclosure provision was one major cause behind liquidity crunch in the system. By not addressing it, the central bank has continued to leave the system vulnerable,” he said.

Bankers further said that the new policy´s provision that restricts banks from depositing money in other financial institutions for interest income will also make it difficult for banks maintain liquidity at the stipulated level of 20 percent.

“The provision will instantly lower deposits volume by Rs 5 to 6 billion,” said Sudhir Khatri of DCBL Bank.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Govt to lift ban on Iraq job market on Wednesday

KATHMANDU, July 28: The government is all set to lift a seven-year ban on the Iraqi job market for Nepalis after a few days of ground work, considering that over 30,000 Nepali workers are at risk of losing their jobs following a demand by the US CENTCOM Contracting Command that they legalize their status.

“We have completed final preparations to lift the ban on Wednesday after consultations today (Tuesday) with the prime minister and the foreign minister,”Labor Minister Mohammad Aftab Alam told on Tuesday.

Minister Alam said the US Embassy in Kathmandu has also given assurances of ensuring the continued stay of Nepali workers in Iraq once Nepal lifts the standing ban on their working in that strife-ridden Gulf country.

The US CENTCOM Contracting Command had given an ultimatum to more than 30,000 Nepalis working under it to prove the legality of their stay or leave the country by August 9, prompting the Nepal government to initiate the process of granting them legal status.

“We have completed final preparations to lift the ban for the maximum welfare of those working in Iraq,” Purna Chandra Bhattarai, spokesperson at the Ministry of Labor and Transport Management (MoLTM), told Tuesday.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) also had given written suggestions Tuesday to MoLTM to withdraw the ban as soon as possible. Officials of both ministries on Tuesday discussed lifting the ban that has been in place since the merciless killing of 12 Nepali workers in Iraq by Islamic militants in 2004.

However, Bhattarai also indicated that the government wouldn´t issue permission to new workers for Iraq without assessing the security situation and remuneration there besides directing the Nepali missions to deal effectively with the issues of Nepalis in Iraq. “We need to make lengthy preparations before reopening Iraq for Nepalis,” he added.

Nepal has already expressed its readiness to the US to review its ban on the export of Nepali workers to Iraq and to take necessary measures to legalize their status in that country if they are allowed to continue their stay beyond the August 9 deadline.

Officials at MoFA said the US embassy in Kathmandu has also assured of a situation in which no Nepali workers under US command would have to return home if the Nepal government decides to grant them legal status.

Dr Shankar Sharma, Nepalese ambassador to the US, told on Tuesday that US officials have responded positively to a request for prompt resolution of the issue during a high level meeting with them.

The US Contracting Command on July 20 issued a warning to illegal Nepalis and Filipinos to quit Iraq within 20 days.

A ban on the Iraqi job market has been in place since 2004 after the killing of 12 Nepalis sparked massive vandalization of manpower agencies by outraged people in Kathmandu.

However, lured by handsome salaries, a huge number of Nepali workers continued to go to Iraq through illegal channels despite the ban and introduction of passports bearing a tag that reads "not valid for travel to Iraq".

Government officials say that the workers first reach a country neighboring Iraq before being trafficked into Iraq through the involvement of Nepali manpower agents.

The Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) and the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) had already asked manpower agencies to cooperate with the government to repatriate the workers to the countries of their former employers.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Police quizzes Buddha Boy over thrashing locals

PATHALAIYA/ KATHMANDU: Police on Monday interrogated Ram Bahadur Bomjan, famously known as Buddha Boy, in connection with the thrashing of local villagers by him for trying to disrupt his penance on Thursday.

A squad of police, led by inspectors Rudrakanta Jha and Bhesh Raj Rijal from Bara District Police Office visited Bamjan in Halkhoriya forest, Bara, following complaints registered against him by a group of 17 vilagers.

Talking to the police, Bomjan admitted to having thrashed the villagers. "Yes, I took a minor action against them because they tried to disturb me while I was meditating," he said.

Refuting the victims' claimthat they mistakenly stepped into Bomjan's meditating site while searching wild vegetables, Bomjan said, “They came to this area just to disrupt my meditation."

Bomjan also admitted that he had taken the villagers into his control for 24 hours. “I had to do so personally because I did not have anyone around to punish them," he said.

Though Bamjan claimed he only used hands while thrashing, the villagers have said he had thrashed them with a handle of an axe continuously for three hours.

Also Bomjan said he would not come to the court for trial. "Do you think a meditating sage will go to the court to hear a case?" he exclaimed.

"I took action against them as per the divine law," he added.

Bamjan also refuted the allegation that he punished the locals for animal sacrifice, during Gadhimai festival. “The Gadhimai issue has nothing to do with this incident,” he said.

Bamjan, who is seen with reverence for his spiritual quest, has been lobbying against the mass animal sacrifice, touted as the world’s biggest.

He had given his word to stop the animal sacrifice ritual that last took place in November 2009, but finally did not show up.

Meanwhile, Bed Bahadur Thing, chairman of Tapoban Forest Conservation Committee, said that they beat up the locals for their attitude towards Bamjan.

Manoj Neupane, Deputy Superintendent of Police in the district, asserted no one is supposed to be above the law of the land.

The police would investigate the case and take action if required, Neupane added.

Bamjan, revered by many as a reincarnation of Lord Buddha, came to a wider public attention in 2005 when he was first spotted in jungle.

It is claimed he could meditate motionless for months without taking food and water.

He, aged 18, embarked on six years of penance in jungle on May the same year.


PM race shouldn't encroach on CA agenda'

KATHMANDU, July 27: Heads of Constituent Assembly (CA) committees and a constitutional expert have seriously objected to the growing trend of dealing with critical issues directly related to constitution making as bargaining chips in the course of government formation.

They urged party leaders not to encroach on the CA´s jurisdiction by reaching any agreement among the political parties on issues that fall under the purview of the assembly.

They said the prime minister´s post should not be bargained over with provisions to be incorporated in the new constitution nor should there be any connection between government formation and the statute-drafting process.

The Madhes-based political parties, which have become a key factor in the formation of the new government especially after the third largest party CPN-UML decided to stand neutral, have set some conditions for supporting government formation.

UCPN (Maoist) and Nepali Congress (NC) candidates have held several rounds of separate talks with Madhes-based and other smaller parties to woo them with promises of addressing voters´ concerns.

The Madhes-based parties have said they would vote for whichever candidates is ready to guarantee an autonomous Madhes Province with the right to self-determination, among other things.

"Issues like forming an autonomous Madhes state and pluralism, among others, that are reportedly being dealt with as bargaining chips in the course of government formation shouldn´t be in the agenda for power sharing. These are purely issues to be decided by the CA," Nilamber Acharya, chairman of the Constitutional Committee of the CA, told

He said this growing trend is itself a worrying factor and it´s not just a particular political party or a specific case.

"The approach itself is wrong. Both the sides -- the major political parties that claim they would address the smaller parties´ concerns if they can bag the prime ministerial post and the groups that put forth the issues to be finalized by the CA as conditions for their support -- are wrong," he said.

Acharya was of the view that such bargaining can set a very bad precedent.

Lokendra Bista Magar, chairman of the CA Committee on State Restructuring, termed such dealings uncalled for and inappropriate. He said such activities can neither be constitutionally acceptable nor will they have any political legitimacy.

"Dealing with issues that fall under the purview of the CA Committee on State Restructuring as bargaining chips is unfortunate," he said.

Following dispute over the report prepared by the CA thematic committee, major political parties recently agreed to form a high-level state restructuring commission with an understanding that its report will be endorsed as final by the CA.

Also, noted constitutional expert Purnaman Shakya said the political parties cannot engage in any give and take over any of the agenda reserved for the constitution-making process. "The CA can challenge any decision that encroaches on its jurisdiction and the people can reject any closed-door deal signed without their consent," Shakya said.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Govt may lift ban on Nepali workers to Iraq

KATHMANDU, July 26: The July 20 notice of the US Contracting Command in Iraq, which requires all illegal Nepali workers to leave the country by August 9, has led Nepali policy makers mull whether to lift the seven-year ban on export of Nepali workers to the war-ravaged West Asian country.

Policy makers at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and Ministry of Labor and Transport Management (MoLTM) have started groundwork to that end from Friday, expecting that lifting of the ban may impress the US contracting command to consider the case of an estimated over 30,000 illegal Nepali workers.

Following the notice of the command, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consulted its missions in Pakistan, UAE, Qatar, India and USA on the issue and has suggested the MoLT in writing to review the ban.

“MoFA has asked us in writing to lift the ban, arguing that the context when the ban was imposed has changed,” said a senior official at MoLTM on condition of anonymity.

When asked about the changed context, a knowledgeable MoFA official said, “The export of Nepali workers to Iraq was banned following the killing of 12 Nepali workers in Iraq. It would be in the best interest of the country to review the policy as the situation in Iraq has also improved significantly.”

MoFA sent a letter to MoLTM with its opinion on lifting the ban last Friday.

A recent decision by the Indian government on lifting a similar ban has also encouraged MoFA to conclude that the restriction should be reviewed. According to MoFA officials, India revoked the ban in May this year.

Last Tuesday, the Centcom Contracting Command issued the notice in the light of US agencies employing Nepalis and Filipinos without complying with the US and international law. “USF-I intends to conduct inspections of mancamps throughout Iraq to ensure contractor compliance,” it warned.

The command provides responsive operational contracting support to the chiefs of mission, multinational forces -- Iraq and Combined Forces Command-- Afghanistan to efficiently acquire vital supplies, services and construction in support of the Coalition Forces, according to the command´s website.

Besides, it also provides capacity building to establish effective contracting and procurement processes with the Iraqi and Afghani ministries to build and sustain self-sufficient security forces.

The ban on sending Nepalis to Iraq is in place since August, 2004 when the country saw mayhem in the streets of Kathmandu and across the country, resulting into a loss of millions of rupees, in protest of the killing of 12 Nepalis by Islamic militants in Iraq.

But the ban did not prove a deterrent. Nepalis continued to go to Iraq, which ultimately forced the government in 2008 to stamp on passports saying “not valid to travel to Iraq”. But this measure has also not worked.

As it received suggestion to revoke the ban, MoLTM wrote to MoFA on Sunday, asking for further information vital for taking any decision on the restriction.

In its letter, MoLTM has asked the foreign ministry to provide information on the issues: a) What should be done to those who have already been to Iraq despite the ban, b) If the ban should be lifted what should be the criteria, c) What strategies Indian government has taken while lifting the similar ban, and d) How an estimated 30,000 people reached Iraq despite the ban and issuance of passports restricting travel to Iraq.

Meanwhile, MoFA has alerted its mission in Pakistan, USA and Kuwait to take stock of the conditions of the Nepalis who will be affected by the notice of the Command.


30,000 Nepalis in Iraq at repatriation risk

Thousands of Nepali migrant workers based in Iraq will have to return home if the government does not lift its prohibition against visiting the Middle East nation.

After CENTCOM, the Iraqi contracting command company, decided to remove workers belonging to nations that have banned entry to Iraq, Nepali employees are at risk of losing their jobs. It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 Nepalis in Iraq. They had entered the country through various agencies paying a large sum of money—some are said to have paid as much as Rs.300,000.

The Iraq-based Nepali workers have formed a committee to press the government to lift the ban.

Deuman Tamang of the committee said that they have already corresponded with the prime minister’s office, Foreign Ministry and Labour Ministry, with the request of legalising the status of Iraq based Nepali workers.

“We haven’t heard from them so far. If the government does not act now then not only we will lose our jobs, the country’s economy that is largely supported by remittance will suffer as well,” he said.

The government had crossed out Iraq from its

list of countries for foreign employment after 12 Nepali workers were killed by a terrorist group nearly six years ago.

“Things have changed now and the security condition is also improving here,” said Matrika Niraula, who hails from Sunsari district. “The government should seriously consider lifting the ban.”

The CENTCOM has given a July 8-deadline for all ineligible workers to return to their respective countries.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Madhesi parties seek NC commitment in lieu of support

KATHMANDU, July 25: The four Madhesi parties have sought written commitment on their demands from Nepali Congress in lieu of supporting the latter’s candidate for prime minister in the election on August 2.

The informal front of Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF), MPRF (Democratic), Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP) and Sadbhawana Party asked the NC to give a written commitment on the Madhesi agenda during a meeting at the parliamentary party office of TMDP in Singha Durbar on Sunday.

NC spokesperson Arjun Narsingh KC told mediapersons after the meeting that the party has not made up its decision on the demands by the four parties but dubbed the talks “positive”.

The parties suggested the NC to secure support of the CPN-UML as the latter’s support is essential for the NC to lead the government.

Tow rounds of election in the parliament failed to choose the prime minister. NC’s Ram Chandra Poudel and UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal are in the fray.


Bhattarai for PM? Not yet!

While I sit in front of the computer screen and finger my keyboard, the radio announces that the prime minister (PM) contest on Friday (July 23) will feature Pushpa Kamal Dahal against Ram Chandra Poudel. Many hoped that Dahal would give someone else a chance. Thus the late Bal Bahadur Rai’s warning in a recent issue of Himal Khabarpatrika comes true—Dahal only preaches inclusiveness, he doesn’t practice it; Janajatis beware! Dahal has become another Girija Prasad Koirala who, while living, thought Nepal would perish without his tutelage. History repeats itself. Dahal acts like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao who didn’t allow for alternate leadership until death greeted them. Lenin fought against the Tsarist dictatorship; but ended up a despot himself, making way for Stalin’s totalitarianism.

Recently, articles advocating Dr Baburam Bhattarai as the new PM have appeared. After the Constituent Assembly election in 2008, I have maintained that no Maoist should lead our country, and thus gone “against the tide” (which is also the name of my monthly column). Two years later, events have vindicated my view. I still wish no Maoist will become our PM until the party renounces violence, returns confiscated property, disbands the despised Young Communist League ( YCL), and pledges to become a totally democratic party. The Nepali Congress (NC), the United Marxist-Leninist (UML), most other smaller parties, and the majority of our country people have demanded the same.

Dahal would have succeeded as the first republican PM of our country had he given more attention to nation-building than attempting to grab power through the sacking of the incumbent commander-in-chief. In politics, no one can rule out a comeback but Dahal probably shot himself too severely in the foot for a repeat of such good luck. So, the charming boy Bhattarai has recently had best wishes for the post of the PM.

The late Koirala once remarked that he didn’t fear Dahal that much, but he dreaded Bhattarai. I have caught the same “Koirala” bug, and share a similar dread. Somehow, Bhattarai doesn’t inspire trust. God forbid that without some drastic conversion, he sit on the PM’s chair.

“Whether Dahal or Ram Bahadur Thapa or Bhattarai, the unconverted Maoist will always push for a totalitarian rule!” Do I still want Bhattarai for PM? Not until he shows genuine conversion toward democracy.
For all his imputed “love for the country” (others make this claim for him), Bhattarai hasn’t renounced violence. He has an uncanny way of keeping absolutely quiet when Maoist murderers go berserk. Thus, I haven’t heard any comment from Bhattarai when Ramhari Shrestha, Birendra Sah, and Uma Singh lost their lives to Maoist assassins. In 2008, Bhattarai gave an interview to a national daily in which he claimed that his party would continue to use the ballot and the bullet. His cadres have followed him to the hilt. Ultimately, violence consumes the perpetrator as M K Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela have aptly demonstrated. These followed Jesus who said: “All who draw the sword will die by the sword!” Maoists’ unpopularity now stems from the “power-comes-from-the-barrel-of-a-gun” philosophy they continue to advocate.

This brings me back to my favorite thesis that unrepentant mass murderers can’t effectively lead our country. Why? Any murder disables the ruler’s psyche, burdens the conscience, and twists normal thinking; mass murder even more. If Maoist leaders repent of the 16,000 lives lost because of their so-called “People’s War” and thus regain a healthy conscience, I would vote for Bhattarai in the next election.

Perhaps, I will never forget the callous statement Bhattarai scribbled after watching a photo exhibition (which Kunda Dixit, Nepa-laya, and the Federation of Nepalese Journalists organized) in memory of the 10-year civil war. After seeing scores of tear-jerking pictures, like his cadres’ butchering of Lamjung’s school teacher Muktinath Adhikari, what does Bhattarai write in the comments book? “The nature of violence is based on history and class. To forget that and to make a classless and non-historical analysis of violence is not helpful. If these pictures had been presented from a class-based perspective, they would have been more useful and realistic.” What tattered philosophy from the so-called Maoist ideologue! With a few sentences from his pen, Bhattarai justified the Maoist murders, maiming, and mutilation. (The state was even guiltier, but here I am dealing with a candidate whom many desire for our next PM.)

People have commented that as the Finance Minister Bhattarai excelled by collecting the most revenue. Great! The UML-led government which resigned last June has surpassed that as well. Many have forgotten that Baburam threatened to unleash the YCL after our businessmen, who naturally took their money overseas or across the border. Thus, Bhattarai who gathered much revenue shot the goose that laid the golden eggs. He encouraged perpetual strikes in our industries. Just count the number of multinational companies that left our country because of Maoist interference.

Bhattarai hasn’t spoken a word about returning properties the Maoists have confiscated. In this, he follows his mentor Lenin who declared that “soviets should forthwith confiscate landlords’ estates without compensation, nationalize all land, and divide it among the peasants”. When Lenin lacked funds or grain to feed the Red Army, he ordered his cadres to grab surplus grain without compensation. Maoist cadres have done the same by confiscating rice harvests. Those the Maoists call “peasants” squat on private property and swell the party’s vote bank, thus Bhattarai’s known reluctance to return properties to their rightful owners. “Voluntary”, give-or-die donations to Maoists’ coffer continue.

Lenin had a slogan: “All power to the Soviets!” By 1921, he had crushed other opposition parties, and eliminated his opponents through “show” trials and on-the-spot death penalties. Our Maoists have attempted similarly through their kangaroo courts and killing of NC/UML cadres. The Maoist quest for a “People’s Republic” continues, and Bhattarai hasn’t deviated from this goal. Should he become the PM, Bhattarai would pursue this aim as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao did. Dahal tried to impose Maoist totalitarianism until President Dr Ram Baran Yadav intervened. Bhattarai will attempt the same. He still claims (in interviews to Nepali and foreign journals) that the Maoist revolution continues. This gives a chill to those who yearn for true democracy.

While the debate for a child monarch raged during PM Koirala’s last tenure, some politicians remarked: “Whether a child or an adult, a serpent will always bite at the opportune time!” We should apply this to the Maoists in general and Bhattarai in particular. “Whether Dahal or Ram Bahadur Thapa or Bhattarai, the unconverted Maoist will always push for a totalitarian rule!” Do I still want Bhattarai for PM? Not until he shows genuine conversion toward democracy.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Deadlock continues, next vote on Aug 2

KATHMANDU, July 23: The deadlock in the election of the new prime minister by parliament continued Friday with neither candidate getting a simple majority.

UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal got 241 votes out of 572 votes cast. The number of parliamentarians who voted to stay neutral in his round was 218.

Nepali Congress (NC) leader Ram Chandra Poudel secured 123 out of 578 votes cast in his round. Of the total, 241 members voted against and 214 cast neutral votes. Twenty seven members abstained from voting in Dahal´s round while 21 chose to abstain at Poudel´s turn. The 601-seat parliament has 599 active members as a case regarding two memberships is at the Supreme Court.

The third round voting for a new prime minister will be held on August 2. Speaker Subas Nembang announced this following a decision to this effect taken by parliament´s Business Advisory Committee (BAC).

The deadlock continues as neither the Maoists nor the NC were able to secure the support of the third and fourth largest voting blocks -- CPN-UML with 109 votes and the combine of four Madhesi parties with 82.

UML has said it wouldn´t vote unless a consensus government is guaranteed. Madhesi People´s Rights Forum (MPRF), MPRF (Democratic), Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP) and Sadbhawana Party (SP) have said they would support whoever guarantees implementation of the Madhesi agenda including formation of a Madhes autonomous province.

Dahal seemed confident the third round would be final. "The next round will resolve things and that will be final," Dahal told reporters after the second round voting.

The UML, which withdrew the candidacy of party Chairman Jhalanath Khanal, is deeply divided whether to stick to its decision or reconsider. Khanal has reiterated that the party wouldn´t budge from its decision. Khanal told reporters, "The same process will repeat in the third round if there is no consensus."

However, caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal is in favor of finding a new solution. "We need to resolve this never-ending process at the earliest through an amicable method," he said.

Poudel claimed that the NC should be given an opportunity to lead the government even if other parties are for a consensus coalition. "It is the turn of the NC [to lead a new government] if all want national consensus in the true sense," he told reporters.

Earlier on Friday, both NC and the Maoists tried to woo other parties´ support for forming a new government.

Poudel and other NC leaders met Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal Chairman Kamal Thapa to seek support. RPP-N has 4 seats in parliament. Likewise, Maoist leader Barsha Man Pun and Dev Gurung reached Singha Durbar to hold talks with leaders of the Madhesi parties.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Community radio director shot dead

DANG, July 22: An unidentified gang gunned down director of Tulsipur FM (100.2 MHz) Devi Prasad Dhital alias Hemraj Dhital, 45, at Urahari some 12 kilometers from Tulsipur, Dang on Thursday around 8:45 p.m.

Dhital who is a resident of Tulsipur bazaar was heading to Tulsipur from Fulbari VDC of Dang district on a motorcycle.

He had sustained chest injuries.

Meanwhile, pillion rider sustained minor injuries.

The assailants are absconding.

The motive behind the attack is still unknown and investigation into the incident is on, police said.

News editor of the community radio Shusil Basnet has condemned the incident.


Khanal wanted to stay in race for prime ministe

KATHMANDU, July 23: In a last-ditch effort to stay in the race for prime ministerial election, UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal had requested prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal not to withdraw his candidacy during the voting in parliament on Wednesday, said close to the prime minister.

After garnering support from UCPN (Maoist) and a few other small parties in writing, Khanal sent the message to Nepal through UML leaders Bharat Mohan Adhikari, Bishnu Poudel and Yuvraj Gyawali not to withdraw the candidacy.

"Later, he met Nepal in person and made a request not to withdraw the candidacy as there were chances of him winning if he stayed in the race," sources said.

Prime Minister Nepal, who feels that Khanal had worked behind the scenes with the UCPN (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to force his resignation, was in no mood to comply. He withdrew the proposal, citing the party´s Central Committee decision. Khanal´s candidacy was proposed by Nepal and seconded by Poudel.

This revelation contradicts public stance by Khanal. The UML chairman has publicly maintained that he would not accept anything short of two thirds majority. He had been insisting that there was no point in replacing one simple-majority-wielding-government with another.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Investment of over Rs 2b at risk

TATOPANI, July 21: Sharp decline in imports of Chinese goods from Tatopani customs point has put investment of Rs 2.25 billion on truck and containers on a serious risk.

Container operators, who have been contributing as much as Rs 200 million in revenue to state coffer every year, said sharp drop in imports have forced them to leave their vehicles in garage and parking lots. They argued that current volume of imports was not generating enough business to meet their operating cost.

“The decline in imports has pushed about 1,000 containers ferrying goods via Tatopani customs to Nepal off the roads. Our investment is facing a serious risk,” Arjun Sapkota, first vice president of Nepal Truck Container Operators´ Association, told

About 960 containers are affiliated with the association. Sapkota said investors have spent about Rs 1.8 million to Rs 2.2 million for each container.

Because of geographical difficulties of tightening of revenue leakages, imports from Tatopani customs -- the largest overland trading point with China - dropped in the last fiscal year. The number of containers operating on the route, however, went up in 2009/10, according to the association.

The drop in imports has seriously affected returns for the operators. As if it were not enough, the association introduced a dial system on the route from last year, stating that it system was necessary to manage the traffic and ensure business for all. However, the system leaves container operators with no other options but to wait for months to get their turns.

“Even during peak season, we need to wait for more than a month for our turn. During off-seasons, we get to operate once in every three or four months,” said a container operator.

Taking note of the situation, the association has raised the cost of transporting goods from Khasa to Kathmandu at Rs 75,000 per trip.

“The fair that we get isn´t enough to meet fuel and other operational costs,” said Khilaraj Giri, a container operator. He said majority of their income goes to pay salary for staffers and payment of loans and installments to banks. “We need to spend from our pocket to pay for repair and maintenance of the container,” he added.

The number of containers plying on the route has increased by 460 from 500 over the period of two years.

Container operators used to collect as much as Rs 250,000 per trip a few years ago by imposing syndicate system. But they were forced to break the syndicate system and lower transportation fare following government intervention.

“We are practicing dial system to manage traffic along the highway. If all of our containers are allowed to ply on the route, the traffic would be simply unmanageable,” Sapkota said.

Host of problems like complicated system in Chinese administration, lack of proper infrastructure, growing insecurity and extortion have diverted local businessmen to other sectors, leading to drop in trade through that customs by over 50 percent.


Round II also unlikely to elect PM

KATHMANDU, July 21: The Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of parliament has decided to hold another round of voting on Friday to pick a new prime minister. But chances are that the second round election will also fail to give the country a new prime minister.

The possibility of electing a new prime minister appears slim even in the next round of voting as the CPN-UML is very unlikely to vote in favor of a NC-led majority government, and the efforts of the Maoists, who have 237 seats in parliament, to woo Madhes-based parties seem to be in vain.

Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and NC Vice President Ram Chandra Poudel are in the fray for the next round of voting. While the support of the Madhesi parties is a must for the formation of a Maoist-led government, the UML must lend its support if a NC-led government is to take shape, in the current mathematical equation in parliament.

UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal, whose party withdrew his candidacy for the sake of a ´national consensus government´ despite garnering the support of 391 parliamentarians, said there will be no new prime minister as long as the parties fail to arrive at consensus on a national government.

"We will not vote in favor of any candidate in the next round of voting," he added.

NC, which has 114 seats in the 601-member parliament, must garner support from the UML to form a majority government with the support of Madhes-based parties.

* There will be no new prime minister in the country until there is national consensus. We will not vote in favor of any candidate in the next round of voting.
--Jhala Nath Khanal, UML chairman

* Bitterness in the UML is so fresh I am not hopeful the UML central committee will be able to take a decision to vote for the NC´s candidate on Friday.
--A senior NC leader

While the UML has 108 seats (excluding speaker), the alliance of the four Madhes-based parties -- Madhesi People´s Rights Forum-Democratic (MPRF-D), MPRF, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party and Sadbhawana Party -- has 82 seats.

While TMDP and MPRF-D are against supporting a Maoist-led government, the MPRF led by Upendra Yadav also appears divided over supporting the Maoists. Party leaders said the Sadbhawana Party is also not very likely to break its alliance with the three other Madhes-based parties to support the Maoists.

NC leaders likewise seem not very optimistic that Friday´s vote will give the country a new prime minister. "Bitterness in the UML is so fresh. I am not hopeful the UML central committee will be able to take a decision to vote for the NC´s candidate on Friday," said a senior NC leader privy to negotiations between NC and the UML.

A BAC meeting on Wednesday morning had agreed to hold a second round of voting on Friday should the first round fail to elect a prime minister.

According to NC Chief Whip Laxman Ghimire, the Maoists, NC and UML had agreed to a proposal by Speaker Subas Nembang to complete the task of electing a new prime minister at the earliest as the country has been left with a caretaker prime minister since July 1.

Nembang himself had proposed holding the next round of voting on Friday. Sources said NC candidate Poudel had asked the party chief whips to fix the second round of voting for the earliest possible date.


Round I fails to elect new PM

KATHMANDU, July 21: The parliament on Wednesday failed to elect a new prime minister with none of the candidates securing a majority, 300 votes, in the current 599-member House.

While UCPN (Maoist) candidate Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress (NC) candidate Ram Chandra Poudel fell short of a simple majority, the CPN-UML, which had fielded party chairman Jhalanath Khanal, withdrew its candidacy in the eleventh hour.

The UML stated that it would be against the party´s central committee (CC) decision to contest the election without the possibility of having a two-thirds majority. The UML and some fringe parties remained neutral during the voting over Dahal and Poudel´s candidacy.

Of the 592 lawmakers present in voting, Dahal received 242 votes in his favor and 114 against him, while 236 were neutral. Similarly, of the 597 lawmakers present, 124 voted for Poudel, 235 against him and 228 remained neutral.

The Maoist party, which has 237 votes, also received two votes from Janamukti Party, one each from Janata Dal and Nepa Rastriya Party, and it remains unclear who cast the rest one vote.

Similarly, the NC, which has 113 votes, received eight votes from Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and three from Rastriya Janashakti Party (RJP).

The voting process began at 3.45 pm, nearly five hours later than the scheduled time after the UML remained busy wooing the Madhes-based parties.

After his candidacy was withdrawn, Khanal said his party´s decision will contribute to national consensus.

The Maoists said that they will put in efforts to elect Dahal with a two-thirds majority and try to form a majority government in case they fail to gain a two-thirds majority.

Nepali Congress hopes that the political parties that were neutral during the voting would support it in the second round of election. "Most of those who remained neutral are the coalition partners in the current government. I hope they will vote for me," said NC candidate Poudel.

No option to consensus: Nepal

Senior UML leader and caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had proposed Khanal as the party´s candidate, stated in the parliament that his party withdrew the party´s candidacy for the sake of national consensus.

On Tuesday, the UML Central Committee meeting had decided to ask Khanal to show in writing the commitment of a two-thirds majority of lawmakers to elect him as the prime minister before entering into the process of voting in parliament.

While the Maoists gave a written commitment to Khanal Wednesday morning, Madhes-based parties did not, despite his marathon meetings with them till the last hours.

"There was no reason to quit the government as we had a comfortable majority," said Nepal giving rationale behind his party´s decision not to field any candidate after the party fell short of a two thirds-majority.

In a satire at Khanal, Nepal argued that it was not a big deal for the UML to garner a simple majority.

Nepal added that his party would rather continue taking initiatives for national consensus rather than lead another majority government. "There is no alternative to national consensus," he said.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

House fails to elect new PM

KATHMANDU: The Legislature-Parliament on Wednesday failed to elect the new prime minister.

As two of the three candidates--UCPN-Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress vice president Ram Chandra Paudel--failed to garner a simple majority, and the CPN-UML withdrew its proposal to elect its chairman Jhala Nath Khanal as the new prime minister on 'moral grounds', the House could not take any concrete decision on the prime minister election.

Speaking at the House, Madhav Kumar Nepal, the care taker prime minister who is also a senior UML leader, said that the UML withdrew its proposal as the party failed to garner support of the two-thirds majority in advance.

The UML had fielded its chairman as the prime ministerial candidate conditionally. It had said that Khanal's nomination would be withdrawn if it did not get support from 401 lawmakers before the election.

After the withdrawal of the UML proposal, Speaker Subas Nembang announced that the House was put off till 1 p.m. Friday, July 23.

Now, the Maoist and NC candidates are in the race for the hot seat.

The Constituent Assembly's Business Advisory Committee will decide on the schedule of the run-off election later.

The UML has said that it would eschew from the run-off election. However, the Maoists are expecting that the UML would support their candidate on the moral grounds as they had lent support to Khanal to help him forge support of 401 lawmakers.

Talking to the reporters at the Constituent Assembly this evening, Khanal said that even if he had support from 391 lawmakers he did not vie in the election as he was looking for broad political consensus.

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal had resigned on June 30 in a bid to break the political impasse and to pave the way for the formation of the national consensus government.

However, the major three parties failed to forge the consensus and fielded their own candidates for the prime minister's election individually.


Khanal out of race unless parties reverse their decision

Update X @ 1435 NST, 0850 GMT

KATHMANDU, July 21: CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal is unlikely to remain in the contest for the election to the prime minister after failing to get support of the two thirds of 599 members of parliament, our correspondents reported.

With the four Madhesi parties which command 82 seats between them staying out of the race and Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Rastriya Janashakti Party (with 11 members between them) deciding to vote for Nepali Congress’ Ram Chandra Poudel, Khanal’s candidacy is over unless the parties, that have decided to boycott the election or vote against him, change their stance.

Khanal, meanwhile, has gone to meet the Madhesi leaders to seek their support, our correspondent Kiran Chapagain reported.

As per the UML decision on Tuesday, Khanal has to get written pledge of support from the 401 members. With 114 members of NC and 10 others from seven small parties, Khanal is left with 382 members, provided all other parties support him.

To queer the pitch for the UML chief, CPN (ML) said it would take back its support to Khanal if he could not muster 401 votes.

He has bagged the support pledge from the largest party in the parliament – UCPN (Maoist) with 237 members and CPN (Unified) with two members. The UML members number 109.

The prime minister’s election procedure was to begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday but the deadline has been missed since the parties are still holding discussions.

Earlier, seven small parties including Sadhabhawana Party (Anandadevi), Chure Bhawar, Swatantra Pariwar Dal, Dalit Janajati Party and Sanghiya Loktantrik Manch, among others, decided not to take part in the prime minister’s election.

Rastriya Janashakti Party (RJP) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) have decided to support NC’s Poudel in the prime minister’s election on Wednesday, RJP co-chairman Dr Prakash Chandra Lohani said.

Meanwhile, Nepali Congress (NC) chip whip Laxman Ghimire made it clear that his party would not pull back its candidacy. He asked CPN UML to honor the existing alliance with NC.

UML leader KP Sharma Oli said that they were busy in parleys to seek majority in the parliament. "We would lead the government if we are able to garner 401 votes," Sharma told reporters in front of Constituent Assembly building.

Earlier, a meeting of parliamentary Business Advisory Committee (BAC) decided to hold a run-off election on Friday at 1 p.m. if Wednesday’s election is inconclusive, BAC member Yam Lal Kandel said, our correspondent Thira L Bhusal reported.

Unified CPN (Maoist) has decided to support Khanal in the prime ministerial election, if the latter garners a two-thirds majority in the parliament, our correspondent Post B Basnet reported.

UML leader Yogesh Bhattarai received a letter assuring Maoists’ support to UML. Speaking with reporters, Bhattarai said that UML would be able to receive two-thirds majority in the parliament.

Published on 2010-07-21 10:42:03


Khanal receives Maoists' support

KATHMANDU, July 21: Unified CPN (Maoist) has decided to support UML candidate Jhalanath Khanal in the prime minister election due to be held on Wednesday, our correspondent Post B Basnet reported.

UML leader Yogesh Bhattarai headed to UML office, Balkhu after receiving a letter assuring Maoists´ support to UML. Speaking with reporters, Bhattarai said that UML would be able to receive two-thirds majority in the parliament.

Maoist vice-chairman Narayankaji Shrestha said that they have decided to support UML if they were able to garner two-thirds majority prior to the PM election. "We have sent a letter to UML stating that we would back UML if the latter garner two-thirds majority. We have also asked them to inform us about it ahead of the election," Shrestha said.

Meanwhile, UML leader Rabindra Adhikari who is close to Khanal said that UML was now trying to convince Madhes-based parties and Nepali Congress to ensure the victory of its party candidate, our correspondent Thira L. Bhusal reported.

Meanwhile, a meeting of United Democratic Madhesi Front, an alliance of four Madhes-based parties, is underway at parliamentary party office of Terai Madhes Democratic Party in Singha Durbar.

Published on 2010-07-21 10:42:03


How will politics unfold?

KATHMANDU, July 21: The prime minister´s election is taking place tomorrow. But it´s very unlikely that we will get a new prime minister in the first round of voting. How long it will take before there is a second round vote and who will become the next PM is still uncertain.

Below is Republica´s briefing on how events are likely to unfold, starting tomorrow.

1. As Chairman of UCPN-M Pushpa Kamal Dahal filed his candidacy for prime minister first at parliament today, voting will first take place on Dr Baburam Bhattarai´s proposal to elect Dahal as prime minister. Bhattarai is unlikely to withdraw his proposal since that could leave only NC candidate Ram Chandra Poudel in the fray as the UML is likely to withdraw the candidacy of its party Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal (explained in detail later). In the voting, Dahal´s candidacy is likely to be defeated. The only possibility of Dahal´s election is if either the Madhesi parties, mainly the two MPRF factions, vote for him or the UML, in a dramatic turn of events, splits and about 50 of its lawmakers vote for Dahal. Both these scenarios remain only theoretical possibilities so far.

2. After Dahal´s candidacy is defeated, voting will take place on the candidacy of NC leader Ram Chandra Poudel as he was the second to file his nomination. His candidacy is almost sure to be defeated tomorrow as even the Madhesi parties are unlikely to vote for him, at least in the first round. Since the support of Madhesi parties alone will not give Poudel the numbers to get elected the Madhesi parties are unlikely to vote for him as it will only weaken their bargain with the NC for plum ministries and number of ministries before the second round of voting.

3. After the first two candidacies are shot down it will be the turn of UML Chairman Khanal. As per the written agreement reached at the party´s central committee today, Khanal will remain a candidate till voting time only if there is written support for him from 401 lawmakers, a slim possibility. If there is no support from 401 lawmakers -- two-thirds of the membership of parliament-- the agreement is that Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who today proposed Khanal´s candidacy, will officially withdraw the proposal.

What happened at the UML central committee meeting today provides a window on the power struggle within the UML and how it is likely to shape the political course ahead. The UML chairman proposed at the central committee that the party should announce his candidacy for the prime minister´s post. UML senior leader KP Sharma Oli came up with a counter proposal that the party chairman should not lead a majority government following the failure of the majority government led by party senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal. The Nepal-Oli faction challenged the Khanal camp to put both proposals to a vote if Khanal does not withdraw his proposal. The Khanal camp was reluctant to go for a vote as 47 out of the 86 members in the UML central committee who have the right to vote were against Khanal´s proposal. In the end UML leader Pradeep Nepal suggested a compromise formula-- that the party file Khanal´s candidacy but withdraw it if there is no written support from 401 lawmakers. It was accepted. The Nepal-Oli camp suspected that Khanal may not withdraw his candidacy once it was filed even if there was no support from two-thirds of parliament. So the Nepal-Oli camp decided that Prime Minister Nepal would propose Khanal´s candidacy. According to parliamentary regulations, the person who proposes a candidacy can withdraw it just before voting starts if he so wishes. Under this arrangement Nepal can and will withdraw Khanal´s candidacy unless there is support from 401 members of parliament, even if the Maoists decide to vote in his favor and Khanal wants to stay put.

4. So, after the first round of voting Khanal would no longer remain a candidate, making it a two-way race between Maoist Chairman Dahal and NC leader Poudel. Electing the prime minister from among these two won´t be easy either, and may take several weeks, if not months of wrangling and bickering among and within the parties.

5. Once Khanal is out of the race he will be in no hurry to begin the second round of voting. And the Nepali Congress has elections at the village, district and regional levels on July 25, July 31 and August 2 respectively to elect representatives for its upcoming general convention slated for August. Since its leaders and lawmakers will be busy in the party elections they will not be able to take part in voting in parliament during those times. So unless the second round of voting takes place by the end of this week, which is very unlikely, the NC will propose postponing the prime minister´s election at least for another two weeks.

6. Second round voting will take time also because the UML will continue to remain divided, and in all probability the division will only deepen after the first round of voting. The party will have to hold another central committee meeting to take a fresh decision. "If no one is elected from the parliamentary meeting on Wednesday, the UML will hold a CC meeting and take a fresh decision," said UML Spokesperson Pradeep Gyawali. Given a choice between Dahal and Poudel, the Nepal-Oli faction will press for supporting Poudel. But the Khanal camp is unlikely to buy that easily. "Since the party has decided to withdraw the candidacy of its chairman unless two-thirds of the lawmakers support him, how can we vote for Poudel to lead a majority government?" argued a leader belonging to the Khanal camp. Though it will be difficult for the Khanal camp to argue in support of Dahal´s candidacy it is unlikely to easily support Poudel and may draw the process out.

7. Once the election enters the second round Maoist Chairman Dahal will have to make a tough choice. He will either have to be ready to face the dreadful prospect, at least from the Maoist point of view, of having a NC president and a NC prime minister at the helm of affairs and the expiry of the CA after ten months without having written the constitution and without completing the peace process, or he will have to make compromises to avoid such a scenario. It´s possible that, after the first round voting, Dahal will come up with a new proposal, backed by UML´s Khanal camp -- that he is ready to reach an agreement with the NC and UML on the six-point agenda to complete the peace process and constitution writing provided they agree to form a consensus government under his leadership. If Dahal is ready to strike a deal on the NC and UML´s proposal for PLA integration/rehabilitation and other issues of the peace process, the NC will also face a tough choice: Whether to give up its claim to government leadership or strike a deal on the peace process. "Many NC leaders will be in favor of concluding the peace process and writing the constitution," said a senior NC leader but argues that he doesn´t believe Dahal will be able to make such compromises. But he is at least likely to give it a try and the negotiations may take several weeks before a second round of voting takes place.


Big Three’s top guns in PM race

The scenario is finally clear. The race for the prime minister’s post will be between the big three leaders of the Big Three. UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress (NC) Parliamentary Party Leader Ram Chandra Poudel and CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal will be contesting in the prime ministerial election on Wednesday.

However, with no new equation among the major political parties till Tuesday evening, chances are high that Wednesday’s elections will fail to elect a new prime minister, thereby leading to a second-round of voting.

The three major political parties filed their nominations for the top post on Tuesday afternoon after they failed to strike an agreement on a consensus candidate to lead the new government.

If the three parties go head long into elections, the swing votes from the Madhes-based parties appear decisive. However, it is unclear which side the Madhesi Front will back, though they have said they would support any of the three depending on how they commit to address the Madhesi agenda.

However, there are possibilities of multiple scenarios emerging.

Second round of polling likely

As of now, the Parliament failing to elect a new prime minister seems the most likely scenario. Dahal’s candidacy and the UML Central Committee decision on Tuesday to withdraw its candidate and stay away form election in case it fails to garner a two-thirds majority (401 votes) has made the scenario most probable. With the UML decision, unless the party changes it on Wednesday, NC candidate Poudel’s hope of winning the election may come a cropper.

UML, on the other hand, has little hope of winning the election as it will get votes from neither the Maoists nor the NC as both will obviously vote for their own candidates.

Given the scenario, Poudel himself sensed that “the House could go for a second round of polling because of the decision of the UML”, which commands 109 votes. He said so after filing his candidacy on the Constituent Assembly premises.

In such a situation, if any of the three nominees fails to secure 300 votes of the 599 members of Parliament on Wednesday’s election, the parliament secretariat will fix a date for the second phase of election. Caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal will continue in office until a new premier is elected. The second phase polls are likely to be held in the first week of April, according to an NC leader.

Khanal fate in the balance

UML Chairman Khanal strongly believes that he has an edge over the other candidates. Khanal expects to garner votes from the Maoists, Madhes-based parties and Left and fringe parties. In Tuesday’s meeting, Khanal said he would secure 427 votes from them. “I am confident Prachandajee will pull out his nomination and support me,” said Khanal after filing his nomination.

If the Maoists and the United Madhesi Democratic Front support the UML, Khanal’s dream to hold the most coveted post will come true.

However, it is not sure whether the Maoists will withdraw support to the UML as some Maoist leaders said Dahal’s candidacy was irrevocable.

Besides, the Maoist party itself is divided on supporting Khanal. A faction of Maoist leaders led by Baburam Bhattarai wants to take the middle path when it comes to supporting Khanal, while Dahal is comparatively loyal to Khanal rather than Poudel.

However, some UML leaders said Khanal’s consensus politics strategy would be harmful for him.

Furthermore, Khanal will be in more trouble if he fails to secure a two-thirds majority (support of the 401 lawmakers) before Wednesday’s voting.

A two-thirds majority will not be possible for the UML candidate without the backing of the UCPN (Maoist), the Madhesi Front and fringe parties.

Khanal will be ousted from the race if his nomination is withdrawn. “In case of nomination withdrawal, any candidate would not be entertained in the second phase elections. This is the parliamentary tradition,” said Speaker Subas Nembang.

However, party leaders claimed no one would block party Chairman Khanal from contesting in the second round. “His attempts are for consensus and nobody will stop him from forging consensus even if parties fail to form a majority government,” UML Secretary Yuba Raj Gywali said.

Maoists bank on Madhesi parties

The UCPN (Maoist) claims that it will emerge victorious and form the next majority government, if not a consensus one. The Maoist confidence comes from its belief that it will get full support from the Madhes-based and fringe parties.

Having confirmed that it would get neither the NC nor UML support, the Maoist party has turned to the Madehes-based and fringe parties, which are on the fence.

The Maoist claim holds some water, too. If all three parties stand by their position till the last hour on Wednesday, Dahal has the possibility of securing a majority if the Madhesi Front, the alliance of four Madhes-based parties comprising 83 votes, decides to back the Maoist party. The Maoists have 237 votes in the parliament. Besides, the fringe parties have 55 lawmakers in the House, though their vote is likely to be scattered among the three candidates.

Dahal, to that effect, held consultations with MJF Chairman Upendra Yadav and Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party chairman Mahantha Thakur. The leaders, however, did not give him a clear stand.

Earlier, the Maoist Politburo meeting picked Dahal as a party’s candidate in the election. The Maoist Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidya-led faction insisted that Dahal file his candidacy to block another Vice Chairman Babu Ram Bhattarai.

The Bhattarai faction has reasoned that a majority vote could be garnered in Bhattarai’s name. Earlier, the Madhes-based parties had vowed to support Bhattarai.

However, Dahal is still hopeful of political consensus. “I think that a new atmosphere of national consensus can be built at the last moment through my candidacy,” he said after filing his nomination.

“We are open to discussions and ultimately there will be consensus among the political parties.”

NC chances yet a boost?

With the Maoist party fielding its own candidate, NC stalwarts say that the chances of Congress winning the elections have become high. They believe Dahal’s candidacy virtually shattered Khanal’s hope of winning the elections. Under this condition, they say, UML has no

alternative other than to support the NC. Though the UML has announced that it will withdraw its candidate and stay away from the elections in case it fails to confirm a two-thirds majority vote by Wednesday afternoon, NC leaders believe the “UML will change its decision”.

The UML was considered to be the strongest contestant in that a section of the Maoists had opened the possibility of

supporting the party in case they failed to form their own majority government. “I’ve come to know that Dahal’s nomination is irrevocable, which means the UML has already lost the Maoist votes it expected. Since the UML is not going to win without Maoist support, it has no alternative but to support NC,” said NC Vice President Gopal Man Shrestha. “UML will support the Congress also because it received the NC’s support while electing Madhav Kumar Nepal to the post of prime minister last year.”

NC leaders say that everything is possiblein politics. “If the UML fails to get a two-thirds majority, there will be further talks between the NC and UML. We hope there are still chances that the UML will agree to support NC in that case,” Shrestha said.

The NC further claims that the party will garner support from the Madhesi Janadhikari Forum (MJF), which is not in the UML-led coalition. “We will have full support from the existing coalition plus from Upendra Yadav’s MJF,” Shrestha said.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

PM candidate nomination today

KATHMANDU, July 20: The process of election of new prime minister begins Tuesday when the candidates file their nominations in the parliament.

As per the election schedule, the candidature should be filed in between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. while the final list of candidates will be published after at 5:30 p.m.

The election will be held on Wednesday


Battle for new govt hots up

KATHMANDU, July 20: Political parties are engaged in internal parleys ahead of nomination of candidacy of prime minister (PM) in the parliament Tuesday.

The largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA) Unified CPN (Maoist) has called a politburo meeting to discuss party’s prime minister candidate and its possible alliance with other parties in forming a new government.

In the meantime, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and vice chairman Dr Baburam Bhattarai held a meeting Tuesday morning.

Both Dahal and Bhattarai are eying for the top executive post.

Bhattarai has already made it public that either the party chairman or he will file nomination for the post of PM.

Similarly, the second largest party in CA, Nepali Congress is holding an internal meeting to discuss strategies to get its PM candidate Paudel elected in the election to be held on Wednesday.

According NC spokesperson Arjun Narsingh KC, Paudel will file his nomination at around 3:30 p.m.

In the meantime, the CPN UML, third largest party in CA, is resuming its central committee meeting this morning at 11 a.m.

The party will decide whether to file nomination of its chairman Jhalanath Khanal for the PM election or not.

Similarly, United Madhes Front, an alliance of four Madhes-based parties, is holding a meeting to discuss their role in forming a new government.

The Front will come up with its decision on whom to support in the election of the PM.

The nomination for the PM candidate should be filed between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Prime ministerial race a tight affair

While political parties are all set to file their nominations in the prime ministerial race by Tuesday, officials at the Parliament Secretariat are in a fix over the date for the poll run-up if none of the candidates secures a majority in the election scheduled for Wednesday.

The contenders eyeing the country’s top post should secure 300 votes from the existing 599 lawmakers. As of Monday evening, according to leaders involved in talks, the picture was still “unclear” as to who will lead a new government.

Among the parties claiming the post, the Nepali Congress has nominated Ram Chandra Poudel as its candidate. The UCPN (Maoist), CPN-UML and Madhes-based parties are yet to name their candidates.

The Parliament Secretariat has fixed the nomination filing time between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Tuesday and it will publish the final list of candidates by 5:30 pm. The House is scheduled to start voting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

“If none of the candidates secures a simple majority, the House will fix a new date for the run-off election and continue vote until one of the nominees gets elected,” said Spokesman of the Parliament Secretariat Mukunda Sharma. The caretaker government led by Madhav Kumar Nepal will continue in office in such a case. Secretariat sources said there are complications to immediately hold the run-off poll due to the demand put forth by the NC. If the new prime minister is not elected on Wednesday, the party will ask Speaker Subas Nembang to conduct the run-off election after August 5.

“If the country doesn’t get a new prime minister on Wednesday, at least two weeks are needed to conduct the run-off poll,” said NC Chief Whip Laxman Prasad Ghimire.

In that case, the Business Advisory Committee of the parliament would fix the date for the second phase of election, he said.


We wont support UML: Bhattarai

KATHMANDU, July 19: UCPN (Maoist) Vice-chairman Dr Baburam Bhattarai has refuted a news report that top Maoist party office bearers decided to back CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal to be the next prime minister if the Maoist party failed to garner the support of other parties to itself lead the government.

* We´ll back Khanal as PM if we can´t form our own govt: Shrestha

"The office bearers have not decided to lend support to the UML in case we fail to lead the government, nor do they have the authority to take such a momentous decision,” Bhattarai told Republica on Tuesday evening.

Earlier in the day, while briefing journalists about the decision of the top office bearers, another Maoist vice-chairman Narayankaji Shrestha had stated that the party would push till Tuesday for a Maoist-led broad coalition and if the Maoists failed in that endeavor, they would back UML Chairman Khanal to be the next prime minister.

The Maoist vice-chairman added that the politburo meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning would take all the decisions including who should be the party´s candidate.

Ruling out the possibility of the Maoists backing the UML, Bhattarai stated that the Maoists would not field any “dummy candidate”.

“Either Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal or I will be the party´s prime ministerial candidate,” he clarified.

However, Shrestha defended his statement and said he did not mean anything different than Bhattarai. “Our decision was that we should lead a coalition including as many political parties as possible. If we fail, we will support a progressive force to push the agenda of secularism, republicanism, federalism and forward-looking changes. In this context, it is the UML,” he said.

If the Maoists field Bhattarai as prime ministerial candidate, it is likely to create a new power equation with the Madhes-based parties backing him and lead to a Maoist majority government, or possibly a Maoist-led consensus government.

Heated dispute likely at politburo Tuesday

Party leaders close to Bhattarai would vociferously demand at the politburo meeting Tuesday that the party bring forward Bhattrai as an alternative to Dahal as the party´s prime ministerial candidate.

“We will demand that the party immediately name Bhattarai as prime ministerial candidate as the chairman could not garner consensus behind his name,” said Maoist politburo member Devendra Poudel.

“Without the Maoists leading the government, the peace process and constitution drafting could not be completed. So Bhattarai could be the figure acceptable to all the parties to head a consensus government,” he added.

There is a power tussle in the Maoist party between Dahal and Bhattarai. Leaders close to Bhattarai say Dahal is playing all sorts of games not to let Bhattarai become prime minister and so he is for backing Khanal. “The country would already have seen a consensus government had the chairman decided to make Bhattarai prime minister,” said another politburo member, requesting anonymity.

However, leaders close to Dahal say that the party cannot name the prime ministerial candidate at the politburo meeting.

“We will name another prime ministerial candidate only if other political parties are ready to support us to lead the government,” said Maoist politburo member Shakti Basnet.


UML CC members against heading majority govt

KATHMANDU, July 19: A majority of Central Committee (CC) members of the CPN-UML at its CC meeting on Monday spoke against the party´s chairman, Jhalanath Khanal, leading a new majority government.

The nearly six-hour-long meeting was postponed for Tuesday morning after failing to take any decision.

They argued that the party cannot stake claim to leadership of a majority government right after forcing party senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal to step down as prime ministerial while his government still commanded a clear majority in parliament.

"Majority of the 100 CC members who spoke at the meeting stood against staking claim to leadership of a new majority government right after the resignation of a similar government headed by a senior leader of our party," Pradip Gyawali, chief of the party´s publicity department, told reporters after the meeting. In the 116-member CC, only 86 members can vote in case the party chooses to take a decision by vote. Others are alternative members who can only put forth their views at the meeting.

According to Gyawali, the party´s leaders will hold further rounds of talks with other parties to see if there is any chance for a UML leader heading a consensus government. "Only if we find sufficient grounds to ensure that will we field our leader for the race," he added.

Some leaders close to Khanal argued that the process of government formation should be started by incorporating as many parties as possible at the beginning and that could later be converted into a consensus government. Gyawali, however, ruled out such a possibility. "We can´t go for that option without guaranteeing the outcome," he added.

According to leaders present at the meeting, over 60 members clearly spoke against leading a majority government. They at the same time suggested to top leaders to stake claim to government leadership only if it is certain that Chairman Khanal can head a government of at least a two-thirds majority.

General Secretary Ishwar Pokharel, who is believed to be close to Khanal, also put forth a similar view at the meeting. "Chairman´s candidacy should be filed only after ensuring two-thirds of the vote in his favor," leaders quoted him as saying.

Senior leaders said there is a chance of filing Khanal´s candidacy through an announcement in advance that he would head the government only if he can garner a two-thirds majority.

But some of the members put forth counter-arguments, saying that supporting a Nepali Congress-headed government instead of utilizing an opportunity for the UML to head the government would not be a wise step either. Gyawali categorically ruled out any possibility of heading a majority government.


NOC claims profit, decides Rs 200m staff bonus

KATHMANDU, July 20: Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), the insolvent state-owned petroleum supply monopoly that still relies on loans and price hikes to finance imports, has decided to distribute Rs 198.8 million as bonus to its staff for fiscal year 2008/09.

The amount is equal to the cumulative staff salaries and perks for over 17 months. NOC has not yet distributed the bonus, though.

That is not all. NOC has also set aside an additional Rs 184.89 million for staff housing arrangements.

The decision on the bonus has been taken despite NOC incurring an accumulated loss of Rs 7.92 billion and suffering a negative net worth of Rs 7.63 billion as of the end of 2008/09.

The corporation had suffered a loss of well over Rs 22 billion over seven consecutive years till 2007/09. As of the end of fiscal year 2008/09, it had Rs 11.19 billion in outstanding loans to settle with the government, the Employees Provident Fund and the Citizens Investment Trust.

Worse still, NOC´s provisional financial statement for 2009/10 shows it incurring a loss of well over Rs 1 billion. It continues to rely on loans to maintain imports and supplies. Just three weeks ago, it had taken out an additional loan of Rs 800 million from the government for maintaining the fund flow.

"Clearly, the money for bonus and housing arrangements should have been used to service the loans and improve the financial health of the corporation," said a source.

However, NOC´s influential managers, who got the bonus endorsed by the board as well as by the recent annual general meeting (AGM), argued that staff were entitled to bonus because of a NOC profit of Rs 3.31 billion during the year.

Their claim is in line with the Bonus Act, which allows any corporation to distribute bonus of up to 8 percent of profit even if it has a cumulative loss.

However, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has already tagged this provision as faulty. But its efforts to amend it have not yet succeeded.

Senior MoF officials and consumer rights activists decried the NOC decision as foul play.

Consumer rights activists noted that the corporation showed a profit because it did not transfer the benefits of the crude price dip to consumers. "This (profit retention) was done in the national interest; to enable NOC to repay its loans. It was not meant for distributing bonus to staff," said Jyoti Baniya of Nepal Consumers´ Rights Forum.

During 2008-2009, crude price had plummeted from $ 147 to $ 40 per barrel, but the corporation retailed fuel at prices averaging at $ 75 per barrel.

NOC Chairman Purushottam Ojha and Managing Director Digambhar Jha had said then that charging consumers extra was necessary given the huge dues and loans repayable by NOC. "We will use the profit to clear those dues," they had stated.

Unfortunately for consumers, the corporation is using the extra money that they paid for their fuel to distribute a handsome bonus to staff once again.

"This has disclosed the character of the NOC board and management. The government must ask NOC to roll back the decision," stated Baniya.

Interestingly, NOC board members who endorsed its financial statement that clearly speaks about the bonus said they have no idea about NOC provisioning bonus for its staff.

Even Jha denied any bonus in his initial response. "We have not set aside anything for bonus. The AGM did not even mention the b of bonus," he told Republica.

But he changed his line as soon as Republica produced the financial statement and the AGM minutes. "We had to provision it because we made a profit during the year. But I will not distribute it," he later said.

Jha said he will not distribute bonus till the corporation´s cumulative losses end. However, sources noted that as the bonus has already been endorsed by the AGM, the corporation can go ahead and distribute it as and when it deems appropriate.

NOC´s Financial Health (FY 2008/09)

Net Worth Rs 7.63 billion (Negative)
Accumulated Loss Rs 7.92 billion
Outstanding Loans Rs 11.19 billion
Annual Profit Rs 3.31 billion
Dividend to Shareholders Nil
Bonus to Staff Rs 198.8 million

Present Status (FY 2008/09 estimates)

Annual Loss Over Rs 1.10 billion
· Still dependent on loans to finance imports
· Govt issued loan of Rs 800 million just two weeks ago to enable NOC to maintain supplies