Besides officials in the provinces, the contents of the directive should also be binding on the politicians who stay in the capital
A new directive from the government stipulates that office-bearers and employees of provincial and local governments can engage with foreign missions only through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). This directive comes in the wake of Nepal having become a federal state with seven provinces, and high chances of foreign representatives hobnobbing with officials, such as the chief minister, ministers and the speaker, without the knowledge of the federal government. The new directive, published in the Nepal Gazette earlier this week, requires the agenda and schedule of the meeting with a foreign representative to be sent in writing to MoFA, which will decide on the request within 15 days. The officials are also barred from making official foreign trips without prior approval of MoFA. While abroad, they will not be allowed to make or accept any international commitment that is binding on Nepal. The directive also prohibits making remarks against any of the country’s friends and regional and international commitments made by Nepal. In short, anything the provinces do should come to the notice of MoFA.
The new directive has, however, drawn the wrath of certain officials of the provinces, who see it as going against the spirit of decentralisation and federalism. They are particularly irate that having to correspond with the centre on every issue involving foreign representatives will hinder development efforts in the provinces and local levels. For instance, they want federal permission to apply only for signing the final deal with a foreign representative, not during the pre-feasibility or feasibility study of projects run with foreign assistance. This sounds plausible given that a lot of projects — infrastructural and social welfare – are run with foreign assistance, both bilateral and multi-lateral. Nepal’s constitution stipulates that foreign policy, monetary policy, national security and major national projects are the domain of the federal government. The government could, however, decide how much leeway to give to the provinces within these realms so that issues of local development, foreign investment and cultural exchanges between countries are not choked.
The directive has been apparently brought to bring uniformity in the voices and views on Nepal’s foreign relations and prevent people in responsible positions from speaking or commenting out of turn on issues that could embarrass or put Nepal in difficulty. Apart from the officials in the provinces and local levels, the contents of the directive should also be binding on the politicians who stay in the capital. A case in point is the statement made by Prachanda, co-chair of the Nepal Communist Party that is now in power, on the US-Venezuela tiff, which drew the ire of the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu and demanded an explanation from the Nepal government. Still others have been found attending meetings abroad, which they should not have, putting the Foreign Ministry in an awkward position. Should the government strictly implement the directive, there will be less chances of untoward incidents occurring in the future. It will also make it less easy for foreign powers to meddle in Nepal’s internal affairs.
Free health camp
It is good news that thousands of women turned up to attend the free health camps organised by the Bajura District Health Office (DHO) during the current fiscal. Bajura is one of the poorest and remotest districts in Karnali Province, where early child marriage and early pregnancy are very common, resulting in uterus prolapse in most of the married women. DHO officials said the free health camps provided pregnancy tests and checkups for uterus prolapse and uterus cancer. Such camps were held in four rural municipalities over the year.
As per the DHO, most of the married women were found to be suffering from uterus prolapse and some even from uterus cancer, as they started child bearing at a young age and they did not have nutritious diet during their pregnancies. Until a few years ago, such women felt shy to share their problems with the health workers due to the social stigma associated with the ailments. The situation has now changed for the better thanks to the rigorous health awareness campaigns by the government and NGOs. However, the DHO still has a long way to go in improving the health condition of the rural women, who cannot afford better medical treatment because of poverty.
A version of this article appears in print on July 05, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.