EDITORIAL: Call off GuffGaff

If Berry or the embassy has anything to say, they could talk directly to the government, as suggested by MoFA

United States Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry’s planned weekly engagement with the Nepali people on social media has kicked up quite a stir, with many posts on the social media sites questioning if this is in line with diplomatic norms and principles. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), too, has shown resentment to Berry’s proposed engagement with the Nepali people, calling it unneeded, and has said “such engagement would only invite unnecessary controversy”. Quite the contrary, the US embassy in its statement issued on Wednesday stated this was part of its public diplomacy to engage with the people, understand them and their priorities, and build connections with them, something “we have been doing in Nepal for 72 years”. While there will always be a section of the people fully supporting the US envoy’s initiative, it risks ballooning into a major controversy, which is undesirable, given the tremendous goodwill the two countries have for one another.

The controversy started after Berry said in a video posted on the embassy’s official Twitter and Facebook pages on Monday that he was starting a weekly video series called ‘GuffGaff with the Ambassador’ to hear and answer questions from around the four million followers of the embassy’s social media handles. The embassy’s Facebook post read, “What would you ask Ambassador Berry if you had the chance? We are letting random people ask random questions?” The exchanges were to be shared in the weekly video series every Monday. The ministry and the people’s scepticism about Berry’s initiative stems from the fact that certain diplomatic missions in the past had crossed the line of diplomatic propriety and interfered in the internal matters of the host country. This was particularly evident at the time of the Maoist insurgency and during the writing of the new constitution when the country’s politics was passing through a period of instability. British Ambassador Andrew Sparkes got dragged into controversy over an article he wrote in an English daily in December 2014, in which he had urged Nepal’s legislators to “secure the right to religious conversion”. Following a thorough dressing-down by the government, he had to cut short his stint in Nepal. Head of Delegation of the European Union, Ambassador Rensje Teerink, too, was reprimanded by the government for her meeting with CK Raut, a Madhesi leader who had been running a secessionist movement in the country, in 2015.

In view of the possible ruckus that could arise in the future, it would do the U.S. envoy a lot more good to withdraw his planned weekly engagement with the Nepali people. When ‘random people ask random questions’, you never know what the queries might throw up. They could be a source of great embarrassment and trouble not only to the Nepali government but also to Berry’s. If Berry or the embassy has anything to say or wants to know anything about this country, they could talk directly to the government, as suggested by MoFA. The last thing this country needs is a host of other ambassadors in Nepal following suit to host talk shows on social media.

Illegal practice

Unscrupulous businessmen have started hoarding various brands of cigarettes and alcoholic beverages in anticipation of their hike in taxes shortly after the annual budget presentation in the Federal Parliament. The fiscal budget for 2019/20 is scheduled to be presented on May 28 as per the constitutional provision. It is customary to raise taxes and excise duty on cigarette and liquor items injurious to health. Anticipating the tax hike after the budget speech, sellers are hoarding these goods so that they can make a quick profit overnight. Some of the retailers have already started charging extra money on these items well before the presentation of the budget. There is already a short supply of these goods.

Hoarding goods for quick monetary gain is an unethical business practice. The Department of Commerce, Supply and Protection of Consumers, responsible for carrying out market inspection, must take legal action against the hoarders. All manufacturers, whole-sellers and retailers must abide by the laws so that the consumers can buy these goods at fixed prices. No extra money should be charged from the consumers than what has been printed on the labels. This can be done through strong market monitoring.