As the spread of coronavirus pneumonia has created risks on multiple sectors, the government has come up with some measures to tackle those impacts of COVID-19 on economy and other areas expecting to maintain stability.
Against this backdrop, Minister for Finance, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Dr Yubaraj Khaitwada has talked to Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) about the government measures to combat COVID-19, economic relief packages and other things that the government has pushed forward.
“First of all the country is in a difficult situation. All the problems that we encounter are not created by ourselves. But, we have to face the problems created by others. All political parties, civil society, industrialists, entrepreneurs and the media should stand in a single point at this difficult hour,” Minister Dr Khatiwada told the RSS.
Calling the need for authentic news dissemination, the Communications and Information Minister said the social networking sites users also should give only correct information, adding no one should work to create fear and terror in the society.
“I don’t have to say anything about the responsibility of the press. The media outlets are the main medium for the news dissemination. We expect them responsible and support to the government,” Dr Khatiwada shared his expectations from the media.
The private media outlets are doing good job and the state-owned media are also expected to carry on news on factual basis without being influenced by any prejudices and limiting their products on the government programmes, he added.
Regarding the government decisions, the Finance Minister argued that the decisions were timely and for the control of coronavirus spread. We suspended the international flights and borders. But, if there were some Nepalis infected (with COVID-19) before the closure of flights and borders, he questioned, adding that the local levels are supposed to take information on the infected persons, if any.
The government is sincere towards the supply of basic essential goods so that the citizens won’t be victims for lack of those highly essential goods, he said.
Minister Dr Khatiwada was of the view that the government’s major strategy at this point of time is to ease the supply system without risking the lives of citizens and improving the gaps if any.
On the recent decisions of cabinet meeting, the government spokesperson defended the move to impose a ban on the imports of black pepper, dry dates, green peas and liquors arguing that Nepal has already imported those goods that is sufficient for years, not only for a single year. He also said that the bordering areas became the site for illegal trade of those goods which forced the government to impose restrictions on them.
He was of the view that the government decision will help save our foreign exchanges and added that import of sophisticated vehicles is also discouraged while calling for investing that amount in capital formation.
“You media persons should put your analysis on the taken decisions,” Dr Khatiwada said.
In a question on appointment of Nepal Rastra Bank’s governor, he said the government will decide after the end of the lockdown period.
Making it clear about the gravity of some key decisions taken by the Sunday Cabinet meeting to contain the spread and impact of coronavirus, the Finance Minister said the decisions featured some important steps that government had to be taken for the security and protection of vulnerable community such as grassroots people and daily wage earners during the crisis.
As he said, daily-wage workers are primarily facing two types of problems: first, their income source has stopped with lockdown and second they have no stock of daily essentials for future. In this context, the mobilisation of local levels has been sought to identify such community and take measures for preventing them from suffering hunger by ensuring their daily minimum food requirement.
But, contribution from individual level, social organisations, state level and even from the federation was necessary to set up a fund to manage two square of meals for such community, he stressed.
He went on to say that besides the government had realised that expectant mothers, new mothers, aged people, orphans, and persons with disabilities might need special protections and care at this moment, adding the government had made some special provisions for employees with minimum income.
With a growing health risk from coronavirus, a new trend has developed in the society: tenants are being told to leave the house for fear of infection and professionals like doctors, nurses and health workers face fears of being shunned by others and amidst these adversities caused by the crisis, we have called on house owners to show humanity, not to ask tenants to vacate rooms and to waive one month's rent and hope that they will heartily accept the urge which will be appreciated by the government. This is for the common good of all Nepali not for the government sole interest, according to the government Spokesperson.
"We have some issues related to health services ahead. Tax discount has been ensured in the import of medical equipment," he said, informing that the deadline for clearing the principle of debt and interest had been extended to till mid-July, the rate of refinance had been reduced and ceiling of a renewed loan had been increased to Rs 60 billion.
He further said 25 percent discount had been given in the electricity tariff in the consumption of up to 150 units in view of the possible shortage of cooking gas in this time of difficulty. ''On one hand, available electricity has not been fully used and on the other hand, the government is giving subsidy in cooking gas cylinders which causes the government Rs 290 loss in each cylinder. It has been realized that it would be better to promote the use of electricity to reduce the use of cooking gas. As a result, power consumption has increased.''
Besides, customs duty has been exempted in the import of induction stove. At this hour, we urge every Nepali household to use induction stove and increase power consumption. We have plentiful electricity for the domestic consumption. The government has promised 30-50 percent discount on electricity tariff for big industries for off-time production so as to utilize power going waste during nighttime, according to him.
On a query how the government would assure public regarding implementation of such crucial decisions, he said the ward office would be mobilized as a centre in identifying the needy and distributing reliefs while local level would act a coordinating role and state government would provide support. "We have made the local mechanism responsible in the people's representative system. Mobilizing the mechanism would also stem the chance for misuse of relief", he said.
Wards possessing higher number of population can mobilize volunteers and humanitarian organizations such as Red Cross and Scout, he said, adding the targeted beneficiaries could be provided with the services by mobilizing volunteers.
"Resource would be mobilized in a collective manner for that and it would be managed from federal reserve in case of inadequacy", he said, adding Nepal Rastra Bank has already made decision in regard to the banking system.
He again called for the house owners, schools and health services to waiver the rents and fees to who philanthropic gesture in difficult time.
On another query on private hospital's reluctance to comply with government directive, he said the Corona Control Management Committee which was formed on Sunday would monitor the issue. "The private hospital should also provide services; no hospital should remain aloof from this responsibility", he said the government has started managing health appliances, safety equipment and medicines. "The government would provide subsidy to the hospitals through the budget, policy and programme but their support is a precondition for this to happen".
Regarding extension of lockdown period, the minister said the government has decided to close the international border entry points (surface and air) up to April 7 (12.00 in the night) and keep the lockdown period up to the same time.
On a query regarding potential impacts of coroanvirus in Nepali economy, Dr Khatiwada said it is early to project the loss it has caused to the economy. "Most of our development works take place from mid-February to mid-May. It seems the opportunity is almost missed. Likewise the month of February and March is the season for tourists' arrival which is also doomed. The outflow to foreign countries for employment has also come to an end". This of course would limit our economic growth but we are assessing the effects of COVID-9 in our economy, he added.
"If we see other countries in the world the pandemic is estimated to cause drop of economic growth by 1 to 2 percent", he said.
He stated that saying six percent growth rate therefore comes to five or 4.5 per cent growth and it would make up to two per cent loss in this current fiscal year if the risk of coronavirus prolongs. Finance minister Khatiwada said the path of prosperity is not the matter of calculating by months, days and years, it is the matter of decades, adding that the country could gain momentum again. He added that the means and resources and capacity should be kept intact. Responding to the query about preparation of budget for next fiscal year, the Finance Minister said that preparation about the budget was underway and it would be unveiled in the statutory date of Jestha 15 ((May 28) even if corona or other any problems surface. He said, “We have been working in difficult situation in order to bring budget. Discussion is underway to give basic ceiling of budget to every ministry. Talks are being held on main programmes. Discussion on budget with National Planning Commission and ministries has been postponed. But ministries have made their own preparations.” He further said that there would be impact on remittance as well as two or three other sectors and there is no situation to remit money from abroad. Saying those who are abroad could not send money few months even if they return to work once coronavirus infection comes under control, minister Khatiwada said they have expected only Rs 800 billion as remittance. The Finance Minister shared information that the Ministry has been managing inflation by bringing liberal monetary policy. Extending gratitude towards those who supported the government during this hour, he said businessperson should be accountable. All should do ethical business, said Minister Khatiwada. Ethical business means business with some norms and values.
Likewise, he said that the people should voluntarily abide by the government steps that are aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19. Dr Khatiwada also called for self-discipline since this order was proposed to safeguard the lives of the citizens.
“This is the government directive for self obedience. This is for our own security,” he said, adding it was for preventing the possible outbreak of coronavirus.