My Republica - My Republica - Editorial Thu, 23 Nov 2017 04:01:54 +0545 en-gb SLC, 82, RIP Changed school education
With the publication of the results of this year’s School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations, the certificates of millions of Nepalis who have over the years passed through the dreaded “iron gate” will start to look outdated. Their children will one day scan the certificates of their parents and wonder if their mothers and fathers didn’t belong to the Stone Age. The embarrassed parents will, for their part, have no option but to silently gulp down their humiliation. Perhaps they will be reminded of the saying that change is the only constant in the universe. For the SLC exams will now be scrapped, along with the Office of Controller of Examinations. Henceforth, the school-ending exams will no longer be taken at the end of grade 10 but at the end of grade 12; and they won’t be called SLC exams. Starting this year, the old system of ranking students on percentage basis has also been ditched. In the results published on Thursday, the 615,553 students who appeared for SLC exams this year have been ranked on a sliding scale of letter grades, from A to E. The new certificates with neat letter grades will undoubtedly offer a curious contrast to the old ones with a messy jumble of marks.

Grumblings of luddites aside, these are much-needed changes. The new grade system and redefinition of school system to include grade 11 and 12 bring Nepal’s school education system up to date with the education system practiced in much of the developed world. This is important. Nepali students faced great difficultly when they applied to good colleges and universities abroad as their mark-sheets would be hard to interpret for foreign evaluators long used to the letter grading system. They are also accustomed to thinking of school as ending in grade 12. The same with prospective employers of Nepali graduates wanting to work abroad; they will now have an easier time evaluating Nepali CVs. With more and more knowledge workers from Nepal looking to work abroad in this globalizing world, their job hunt will now be made easier. Also, by doing away with the “fail” category, the grade system has with one stroke removed the stigma attached to those failing in SLC exams; every year three or four of them committed suicide fearing they would be branded failures for the rest of their lives.  These are the positives of the new system.

]]> ( Republica) Editorial Fri, 17 Jun 2016 20:18:29 +0545
Right to wrong Corruption in Nepal
The annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) published by the Berlin-based Transparency International, a global anti-corruption watchdog, is the most trusted barometer of corruption around the world. Year after year, it has ranked Nepal as being perceived by its citizens, largely based on their personal experience, as one of the most corrupt countries. In the latest index for 2015, of the 167 countries surveyed, only 37 countries were thought of as more corrupt than Nepal by their respective citizens. This does not reflect well on Nepal’s image. But just because a country slips down the CPI does not necessary mean it is getting more corrupt. It could be the opposite. Maybe more and more people feel this way since the media these days extensively reports on official corruption. Such exposure in turn makes government officials wary of engaging in hanky-panky. So, maybe, there has not been an increase in corruption but rather an uptick in media’s coverage of it. But even if this is true of other countries, it’s probably not true in our case. At least a part of Nepali people’s response in such surveys is based on their experience in dealing with dishonest government officials. Also, even the most egregiously corrupt people in Nepal seldom get punished.

Former All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) chairman Ganesh Thapa was accused of embezzling around £4m and implicated in bribery by FIFA. But although he lost his post as ANFA chief, RPP-Nepal later nominated him as a lawmaker under the party’s proportional representation quota. Few voices were raised in protest. Likewise, Nepali Congress leader Khum Bahadur Khadka, who was convicted in a corruption case by the Supreme Court, polled the second highest number of votes in the recent election for the party’s Central Working Committee. These were political appointments. But where do people seek recourse when even the judiciary is thought of as corrupt and opaque? Nepali judiciary regularly polls as one of the most corrupt state entities in the annual CPI. But instead of making it more transparent, the government seems intent on feeding the public perception of a corrupt judiciary. The government has just registered a bill in parliament that seeks to give continuity to the existing provision of keeping the property details of judges a secret. The bill says members of the Judicial Council and other judges should furnish their property details to the council within 60 days of the end of every fiscal year. However, such property details will not be available to the public. No good reason has been furnished on why the property details of judges, who by necessity have to be impeccably clean, have to be kept under wraps.  

]]> (REPUBLICA) Editorial Wed, 15 Jun 2016 20:17:16 +0545
Time for change Nepal-India treaties
The Nepali Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) is scheduled to hold its first joint meeting with its Indian counterpart on July 4th and 5th. In this connection, the four-member Nepali EPG has been consulting people from various walks of life—foreign affairs experts, former bureaucrats, politicians—in order to set the agenda for the joint meeting. The two groups as expert committees have broad mandates: they have been tasked with reviewing all bilateral agreements and treaties between Nepal and India. They will then make their recommendations to respective governments on whether to update or scrap such agreements. The most challenging task for the two groups will be to review the landmark 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Many people in Nepal feel that the ‘unequal’ treaty should be scrapped and replaced by a new treaty that is more in keeping with Nepal’s interest. At least part of the criticism of the treaty is justified. The problem starts with the plenipotentiaries who signed the treaty on the behalf of India and Nepal.

From Nepal’s side, putting pen to the paper was the last Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher. Doing the honors from the India’s side was Chandreshwar Prasad Narayan Singh, then the Indian ambassador to Nepal. How could India designate its Nepal envoy to sign such an important document? If the head of government in Nepal was signing the treaty shouldn’t his Indian counterpart, Jawaharlal Nehru, have also taken it upon himself to sign on India’s behalf? Wasn’t this a clear indication that India did not treat Nepal as a fully sovereign country? Other Nepalis have a problem with Mohan Shumsher himself. A descendant of the autocratic Ranarchy, in their view, should not have had the right to decide the fate of democratic Nepal. Besides such symbolic contestations the treaty has some substantive faults too. For instance the treaty says the government of Nepal shall be “free to import, from or through the territory of India, arms, ammunition or warlike material and equipment necessary for the security of Nepal.” This has been clearly interpreted by India to mean that Nepal can import arms only from India. So when Nepal wanted to bring some arms from China in 1989, India responded with a blockade of its key border points with Nepal. The Nepali side rightly contests that nowhere does the treaty say Nepal can import arms “only” from or via India. As a sovereign country, Nepal should be able to import arms from anywhere it likes.

]]> (Republica) Editorial Tue, 14 Jun 2016 20:10:49 +0545
Priced out

Post-budget inflation

In a mature economy the monetary policy of the central bank plays a big role in determining the level of inflation. If there is excess supply of money in the market and the price of goods and services rises, the bank pulls the money back to check inflation. If the money is in shortage, the central bank injects liquidity into the market to prevent deflation. But in an underdeveloped country like Nepal, where, according to the World Bank, the informal economy is around 40 percent of GDP, the monetary policies have limited impact on market prices. This is why the inflation-stoking recent government budget is so worrisome. Traditionally, both wholesalers and retailers in Nepal have made the salary of government employees the benchmark to set the price of their goods and services. This year, the salary of government employees was raised by 25 percent; the increase comes to a whopping 40 percent if we add new perks they will now be entitled to. On cue, the prices of daily commodities have also rocketed. Pluses are now Rs 30-50 more expensive per kg than before the budget speech. Likewise, sugar, which cost Rs 70 per kg before the budget now costs Rs 80 per kg.

]]> (Republica) Editorial Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:23:52 +0545
Where to, comrade? Relevance of Naya Shakti Nepal
Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti Nepal party was formally launched on Sunday amidst a cheering crowd at Kathmandu’s Khullamanch. According to Bhattarai, the promulgation of new constitution on November 20th, 2015, marked the end of an era of endless political squabbling and prolonged transition. With the new constitution in hand, Bhattarai and his new party believe, time has now come for Nepal to embark on the path of economic prosperity. “It is our responsibility to attain equitable prosperity,” says the new party’s published policy program, “by ensuring that the fruits of development reach all classes, regions, and communities equally”. Along with “equitable prosperity”, the four other priorities of the new party will be “inclusive democracy”, “good governance”, “independence/sovereignty” and “enhanced socialism”. Truly, Nepal could do with the sort of economic revolution that Naya Shakti envisions. But whether this is the right time to talk about such a miracle and whether Naya Shakti is uniquely placed to take Nepal on this path is doubtful.

]]> (Republica) Editorial Sun, 12 Jun 2016 20:08:04 +0545
Mend-fence mission

Foreign Minister’s India visit
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Thapa left for a three-day official visit to India on Friday. This visit is being seen meaningfully: it is the first time a top government official is visiting the southern neighbor after the cancellation of India visit of President Bidya Devi Bhandari and the abrupt recall of Nepal’s ambassador to India, Deep Kumar Upadhayay, both in May. During his stay in New Delhi, Thapa will attend the convocation ceremony of the South Asian University but more significantly he will hold a one-on-one with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj. There has been a lot of bad blood between Kathmandu and New Delhi in recent times, most notably during the four and half months of the Indian blockade. India has since been trying to raise the issue of ‘discriminatory’ provisions of the new Nepali constitution at various international forums, which has further added to the mistrust. India must desist from such undiplomatic efforts if it wants to restore its image as a trusted friend of Nepal. It does not behoove a rising global power like India to unnecessarily rake up a purely internal issue of one of its small neighbors at various bilateral and multilateral forums, for it hints of a deep sense of insecurity in the Indian establishment.

]]> (Republica) Editorial Fri, 10 Jun 2016 20:20:48 +0545
Tipping point Stalled political negotiations

The political leaders affiliated with the Federal Alliance, which includes Madhesh-based parties, deserve a pat on their back. Instead of choosing highly disruptive forms of protest like border blockade that not long ago caused great hardships to common Nepalis, they have now opted for more symbolic forms of protests. First they picketed Singha Durbar and then on Tuesday they started their week-long relay hunger strike at Khullamanch. Such peaceful protests give them moral strength in the eyes of common Nepalis and also lend credence to their demands. But the government of KP Sharma Oli does not seem to take these relatively peaceful protests seriously. It has issued repeated calls for dialogue to protesting parties. But it is hard to take these calls seriously. The alliance does not trust the leader of the government talks team, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa. Thapa is the chairman of the pro-monarchy RPP, which is also against federalism. Moreover, alliance partners argue, the government talks team should be headed by either Oli or Pushpa Kamal Dahal who are better placed to negotiate important constitutional issues.]]> (Republica) Editorial Wed, 08 Jun 2016 20:16:44 +0545
Lives on the line Shortage of doctors

The recently announced budget aims to have at least one medical doctor in every Village Development Committee (VDC) in Nepal. There are currently 3,276 VDCs in the country. Theoretically, arranging for one MBBS-pass doctor for each VDC should not be that difficult as Nepal churns out over 1,500 such doctors a year. If there was a mandatory requirement for every MBBS graduate to serve in rural Nepal for a couple of years, then there would be enough doctors to cover all of Nepal. But today's reality is that nearly half the VDCs in Nepal have been operating without any doctor. Since the government has also been unable to procure vital medicines for past two years, the health posts in these VDCs would be running short of life-saving medicines as well. Public health in Nepal is thus in a precarious state. It could get worse. At a time health experts have been warning of possible outbreak of communicable diseases in the temporary camps in the 14 earthquake-hit districts, all medical doctors deployed there after the earthquakes have returned from their workplace. There is no plan to replace them.

]]> (Republica) Editorial Tue, 07 Jun 2016 20:04:15 +0545
Eighth wonder School education reforms

The eighth amendment of the Education Act (1972), which was approved by the parliament on Saturday, could prove to be a watershed moment in the field of education in Nepal. First of all, it does away with the system of holding School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations at the end of grade 10; now the examinations will be held only at the end of grade 12. This makes sense. This reform will considerably reduce the undue pressure put on students to clear the traditional 'iron gate' of Nepali education. The exams at the end of grade 12, as those who have appeared in them will readily attest, are a piece of cake compared to the pressure-cooker stress of SLC exams. It will also bring Nepal's school system in line with the growing global trend that recognizes grade 12 as the end of schooling. Another salient feature of the eighth amendment is that it forbids public school teachers from being members of political parties. This had become important as many public school teachers were found to be shunning their classes in order to attend various political programs. Their political cover also gave them immunity against any kind of prosecution.]]> (Republica) Editorial Mon, 06 Jun 2016 19:29:59 +0545
Top priority Protecting environment

Speaking on the occasion of the World Environment Day on Sunday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli pointed out how it is tricky for an underdeveloped country like Nepal to strike a balance between development and environment conservation. He also spoke of how the new constitution guarantees the right of each and every Nepali to live in a clean and healthy environment. We agree with the prime minister that it will not be easy to meet our development goals by always keeping to the green track. To start with, the awareness that the natural environment we inhabit needs to be protected is low. But even when people know certain actions led to long-term and irreversible damage to our environment and to the fragile ecosystems therein—the mining of sand and aggregates from the ecologically important Chure range for example—environment conservation might not be their priority. The allure of short-term profits easily overcomes their environmental awareness. More or less the same logic applies to the polluting of our waterways and the polluted air that we breathe.]]> (Republica) Editorial Sun, 05 Jun 2016 20:05:30 +0545