United Nations has blamed Nepal for imposing duty and lengthy customs clearance procedures on aid, stating that it was hampering delivery of relief supplies to earthquake victims.

Director of Operations for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs John Ging also urged Nepali authorities to waive tax on donated relief goods and ensure swift customs clearance procedures.

He is the same UN official who had earlier made controversial remarks, labelling Nepalese media reports on ‘low-quality foods’ procured and distributed by UN World Food Programme (WFP) to quake victims as “nonsense”.

Responding to a question at a press meet following the report submission, Ging claimed that reports in Nepali media regarding the WFP distributed foods were ‘blown out of proportion’. He stated that media showed television footage and pictures of rice and pluses which were found inedible even after WFP had segregated it for immediate replacement.

“Urgently needed aid for millions of people affected by the recent earthquakes in Nepal is being delayed from reaching communities due to customs procedures and taxation,” he said in a statement issued after submitting a report about his recent visit to Nepal at the UN Humanitarian Affairs Committee in New York yesterday.

“I highly appreciate steps already taken to speed up the import of humanitarian supplies,” he added. “However, backlogs of essential shelter materials continue at Kathmandu Airport and the Indian border due to bureaucratic impediments. This is delaying aid from reaching 100,000 families, who require urgent shelter assistance as the monsoon season begins.”

OCHA Director had visited Nepal from June 29 to July 1 and taken stock of the humanitarian response led by WFP for affected communities of the April 25 earthquake.

In his report, Ging stated that Nepal’s focus from providing immediate relief to longer term recovery and reconstruction “must not come at the expense of families who still require life-saving assistance”.

After almost two months’ tax-waiver on relief goods extended by international humanitarian agencies and others, the government decided to impose duty on aid after June 22.

An official of the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that waiver on taxation was lifted after many people tried to import goods for commercial purpose without paying customs duty in the name of relief materials.

The official underscored that checking relief materials at the ports of entry was essential to confirm if any sub-standard goods or inedible foods were entering in the name of victims.

Finance Ministry Spokesperson Ram Sharan Pudasaini told The Himalayan Times that the government could not waive tax all the time in the name of relief goods.

“Nowhere in the world does any country officer tax waiver all the time,” he stated. He, however, made it clear that the government could consider waiving duty on aid on a case-to-case basis.