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After the media and social media, ruling NCP now to muzzle its own members

Photo credit: AP

The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), riven by infighting and factional turf wars, has announced  restrictions on party workers from making comments critical of the party and party leadership. A meeting of the NCP secretariat chaired by party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal on August 26 announced that the party would disciplinary action against leaders and cadres if they were found publicly criticizing the party and its leadership.

The unprecedented decision comes a week after party senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal registered a note of dissent against party decisions and five days after he told media that Prime Minister and party co-chair KP Sharma Oli had refused to accept his good wishes for the trip to Singapore and accused him of “praying for his death”.

Party leaders say the move is necessary to curb unruly activities and promote internal discipline in the party, but many members argue that it is, rather, a tactic to dampen free speech and destroy democracy within the party.

The decision parallels recent government moves to push laws and regulations targeting curbing press freedom and penalizing dissent.

Nepal becoming a “communist state”, warns NC leader Deuba

Photo credit: CorporateNepal

Leader of the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC), Sher Bahadur Deuba, has accused the NCP government of trying to turn Nepal into a communist state by curtailing civil liberties and attacking the basic values of democracy. At a program in Lalitpur on August 28, Deuba said his party members and the public needed to be united in the face of relentless government attacks on the free press and human rights. He said that his party would soon announce a protest program against the government’s undemocratic activities. 

Journalist Lammichhane, arrested for abetment of suicide, released on bail

Photo credit: NepaleseVoice

Television journalist Rabi Lammichhane, who is accused of abetting a former colleague’s suicide, is out on Rs 500,000 bail, as ordered by Chitwan district judge Hemanta Rawal on August 26.

Lamichhane and two others—News24 journalist Yuvaraj Kandel and Asmita Karki alias Ruku, a nurse—were arrested on August 15 in connection with the death of journalist Shalikram Pudasaini. Pudasaini, who killed himself in Chitwan on August 5, had left behind a cellphone video in which he accused the three of pushing him to suicide. 

Tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets in major cities across the country demanding the release of Lammichhane, who became  a household name after the success of his television talk show Janata Sanga Sindha Kura.

Kandel was released after posting Rs 300,000 as bail, and Karki has been released on general date until the verdict is passed.

The Chitwan District Attorney Office has sought a fine of Rs 50,000 and five years’ sentence or both for the accused. The three have been charged under Section 185 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes abetment of suicide, but does not clearly state how this is determined. 

Supreme Court weighs in on NCell tax scandal, parliament debates Supreme Court

Photo credit: NCell

The Supreme Court on 27 August ordered the Large Taxpayers Office (LTO) to reevaluate Ncell corporation’s tax liability, saying that it had found “some discrepancies” in the office’s assessment of capital gains tax owed by the telecom service provider. The decision has drawn criticism from a variety of quarters.

A full bench of Justices Tej Bahadur KC, Purusottam Bhandari, Dambar Bahadur Shahi, Sushmalata Mathema and Manoj Kumar Sharma on Monday issued the certiorari order—an order issued by the court of its own volition to a lower court or an administrative body—directing the LTO to reevaluate the tax amount by including the interest and fines starting from the date the company was notified about its tax liability . 

In 2016, the LTO directed Ncell to pay Rs 62.63 billion in capital gains tax following the sale of Ncell shares by Sweden-based TeliaSonera to Malaysia-based Axiata. The company had already paid Rs 23 billion in June, 2017. On April 16 this year, the LTO issued a seven-day ultimatum to Ncell to pay Rs 39 billion in capital gain tax inclusive of accrued interest and fine. Ncell contested the legality of the decision and argued against the interest and fine, saying its outstanding liability is only Rs 14.36 billion, not Rs 39 billion. 

The decision triggered a debate in parliament about whether the parliamentary Committee on Law Justice and Human Rights should examine the verdict; committee members argue they should, since it contradicts earlier verdicts, and detractors argue that examining Supreme Court decisions could be illegal. 

The NCell case has been problematic from the start, and there have been numerous allegations that TeliaSonera was allowed to leave the country without paying taxes because of illicit deals made with politicians and officials. Critics also point out that making the buyer liable for taxes on the seller’s gains is a sure way to deter foreign investment

Fast track deadline extended, bloating already-high budget

Route of the Fast Track. Image credit: nepalarmy.mil.np

The deadline for completion of the Kathmandu Terai Fast track Highway linking Nijgadh with Kathmandu has been extended by two years. The Nepal Army, which is constructing what is described as a national pride project, now hopes to complete the 76.2 kilometer highway by early 2023. 

“The four years deadline given to NA for construction of the fast track is expiring in one-and-a-half years. It can’t be completed in the given time,”  Nepal Army Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey told media during a press conference on August 28. He attributed the delay to disputes over land acquisition, preparation of the Detailed Project Report — which was itself a source of rancor and disagreement — and other “recurring disputes”.

The project is now estimated to cost around Rs 180 billion, Rs 68 billion more than initial estimate presented by an Indian firm, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), an Indian firm, in 2015. 

Senior citizens can now fly for half-price, Tourism Minister Bhattarai’s PR blitz continues

PM Oli and Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism, Yogesh Bhattarai at the International Civil Aviation Organization’s conference in Kathmandu. Photo by Nabin Paudel/ RSS

Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai announced a 50 per cent discount on airfare for Nepali citizens over the age of 70. Bhattarai said on August 26 that all domestic airlines, which had been consulted while devising the scheme, would honor the discount.

The minister highlighted this scheme amongst 141 tasks he says he has set his ministry for the next 12 months. These include a campaign to urge Nepali citizens living abroad to send at least a friend to visit the country, to make Nepal 2020 a success. Minister Bhattarai has also promised to lay the foundation of Nijgadh International airport before the end of the year.

Ban on Nepali workers going to Malaysia could be lifted soon

Photo credit: Jake Nemirovsky

Nepal and Malaysia have agreed to hold a high-level meeting to more efficiently implement the labour deal the two governments signed in October last year. The two-day high-level meeting in Kuala Lumpur on September 10-11 is expected to end the standoff over visa processing fees that has stalled recruitment of Nepali workers.

Nepal stopped issuing departure permits to citizens going to work in Malaysia in May 2018, objecting to the high fees charged by the embassy of Malaysia and its subcontractors for visa processing. Nepali officials have said the work ban will remain in place until Malaysia agrees to cut fees, in particular by removing the sub-contractors. 

In November 2013, Malaysia outsourced visa processing to VLN Nepal, a subcontractor, and hiked the visa fee to Rs 3,900 from Rs 700. The embassy later subcontracted visa processing to three more companies, which would be responsible for collecting biometrics, stamping holograms, and carrying out the security screening of applicants. This means Nepali workers now have to pay close to Rs 18,000 to complete all the required paperwork. Nepali law requires employers to pay for  visa processing and tickets.

Qatar and Bangladesh get new Nepali ambassadors 

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on August 28 appointed Dr Bansidhar Mishra and Dr Narad Nath Bharadwaj as the ambassadors of Nepal to Bangladesh and Qatar respectively, on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers.

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