MonitorsPublished on May 04, 2012
With hopes, if not indications, of an early revival of some form of consultative process on power-devolution in the air in Sri Lanka, there is an accompanying need for contextualising some of the well-entrenched political positions on arguments in the matter.
Sri Lanka: Contextualising 13-A
< class="heading1">Analysis

With hopes, if not indications, of an early revival of some form of consultative process on power-devolution in the air in Sri Lanka, there is an accompanying need for contextualising some of the well-entrenched political positions on arguments in the matter. Call it names, or call it by any name, the Thirteenth Amendment is in the statute book and will be the bench-mark for a future discourse, changes in perception and amendments to the Constitution.

For starters, the Thirteenth Amendment decisively concluded the argument on ’power devolution within a united Sri Lanka’ without revisiting the ’unitary State’ concept. Any deviation from 13-A since, either in the form of executive orders or greater reluctance on the part of the Executive flowed from circumstantial conspiracy identified with the shifting stand of the moderate Tamil polity of the time, and the steadfast attitude and approach of the LTTE. To conclude that it owed to the character of the ’unitary State’ or of the ’Executive Presidency’ is a travesty of the constitutional position, or ignorance, or both.

Post-war, all sections of the moderate Tamil polity in the country have sworn by a politico-constitutional solution within a united Sri Lanka. Even as former DMK Chief Minister of the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu, M Karunanidhi, revived the talk of a ’Tamil Eelam’, the TNA leadership swore by a united Sri Lanka in their discussions with the visiting Indian parliamentary delegation, nearer home. They are equally emphatic in their divided demands on power-devolution, with only re-merger of the North and the East throwing up questions. It is so within the Muslim and Upcountry Tamil countries, too, on empowering their people in politico-administrative terms. But no political party or group inside the country has challenged a ’united Sri Lanka’, post-war.

The post-war discourse on 13-A, or 13-A-Plus, or whatever has revolved mostly around Police and Land powers. There are also issues over shared-powers between the Centre and the Provinces under the Concurrent List and fiscal powers. The trickle-down effect of these powers downstream, to local government bodies has again been cropping up as a subject for discussion from time to time. All these are to be calibrated against the compulsions of contemporary Sri Lanka ? in relation to all stake-holders ? and a satisfactory way out needs to be found. ’Incremental devolution’ is the name of the game, and even withdrawal of certain constitutional concessions conferred after current negotiations could be considered at appropriate stages in the dynamic processes of Constitution-making and State-building. In modern contexts, both Constitution-making and State-building would remain an incomplete process at any point in time, and more so for erstwhile colonised nations.

The origins of an ’unitary State’ and ’Executive Presidency’, as they exist in the statute owe to the global thinking and inherent contradiction in individual cases after the two World Wars. If one went by the broad-spectrum definition of democracy as a concept. An all-powerful Executive Presidency is next only to a hereditary monarch, and thus alien to the concept of democracy itself. Yet, nations needed to balance between the exigencies of external threats and the inevitable need for internal empowerment of a people after inherent fault-lines started showing up. The ’Cold War’ era subsequently only strengthened the belief and consequent constitutional tools that sought to address external threats to the insulation of internal security concerns, which were few and often localised, too.

The quasi-federal ’Indian model’ was a successful example. Though Sri Lanka may not be as diverse and large as India, the internal contradictions were sharper still. Hence the ’Indian model’ became the lowest common denominator of marrying a ’unitary State’ structure with a federal administrative apparatus, with the responsibility ? going by the names of right and empowerment ? for the Provinces to reach out to people, whose expectations and aspirations at the grassroots-level a central authority was incapable of addressing on a daily basis. If anything, the ’Indian model’ itself provides for a strong Centre in times of national exigencies, which has not been contested politically beyond a point ? or, contradicted by through the process of judicial review.

Yet, that did not stop the higher judiciary in the country to devise internal mechanisms from within the existing scheme to check against ’majoritarian’ abuse of such powers. The term ’majoritarian’ in this context derived from a political philosophy and support-base of the times, but fading away, again with the passage of time, thus making it both politically possible and judicially necessary for reviewing the very concepts and their application. The ’dynamic process’ thus derived from extraneous circumstances, and is inevitable in the ever-changing socio-economic and societal-political milieu.

The alternative is to induce the nation into accepting a form of ’guided democracy’ of an identifiable two-party system, here again nations like Sri Lanka and India have refused to be drawn into. Where parties were fewer, as was the case with these two countries at Independence, interest groups existed within umbrella organisations. While the parent body weakened, owing to a systemic loss of focus, purpose and relevance with increasing passage of time, the ’interest group’ acquired the status of individual political parties, acquiring conceptual identities as regional and sub-regional groups.

The post-Cold War era has redefined the security requirements on the State apparatus, almost the world over. Much of the space occupied by the external State actor has been occupied by internal non-State player(s), with or without external motivation and aid. There is thus a paradigm-shift in the State’s approach to national security. The ’Indian model’ of the Seventies, based on which 13-A was drafted, too has undergone change. The current discourse in India is over empowering the Centre with greater policing powers than at the time of Constitution-making, which alone had been practised in letter and spirit since.

The current Indian debate centres on elements of separation of powers between the Union and the Centre, the powers of arrest and investigations sought to be conferred on Central agencies, existing and proposed one, in terrorism matters, including para-military forces with policing powers confined to assisting the civilian authorities under individual State Governments, when asked, and coordinating intelligence-sharing and gathering. Sri Lankan stake-holders would benefit from following the Indian discourse with some attention, for understanding the nuances as also the lacuna ? and, strike a right balance, when it comes to power-sharing on the Police front.

Similar arguments exist on the Land front too, where the 21st century concepts of environmental protection have caused the creation of clearance-houses at the national-level for developmental projects of every kind. These deviate vastly from the traditional understanding of ’Land’ powers under a federal or quasi-federal structure. This does not mean Sri Lankan Provinces should not enjoy the Land powers guaranteed under the Constitution. It implies that but for the decades-old war and violence the Sri Lankan scheme too would have evolved as others, to contextulaise these questions in contemporary terms, without living in the past.

A third major irritant as far as the Tamil polity is concerned relates to financial powers of the Provinces. While it is a commendable exercise of authority in any Province/State-based scheme, there is a need for the Tamil polity in particular to understand the demands on their Provincial Government(s), particularly in the North, in the near and immediate terms. They cannot tax their people in plight. Experience in the South Asian neighbourhood has shown that the Diaspora concerned has words for claiming credit when their respective nations grow, but seldom have they contributed to that development and growth in real and fiscal terms.

Here again, experience elsewhere, including in neighbouring India, has been for the Centre to fund local governments and other grass-roots schemes directly, side-stepping the existing mechanisms of the State Government, citing large-scale leakages and ’transmission losses’ as the reason. It has not helped reach out to the people than in ways they had been working earlier too, with the party or coalition ruling the Centre not even having adequate cadre-strength and commitment as in the past, to covert projects and programmes of the kind to poll-time support of the party in power.

If anything, corruption alone has been de-centralised in the various Centrally-funded social sector schemes in India, making it practically impossible and all the more cumbersome for a Central authority ? be it the audit or the investigative arm of the Union ? to account for the huge moneys purported to have been spent, or follow up on their findings. There are as many problems of accountability and responsibility on this score as in any other. Better or worse still, there are no short-cuts or off-the-shelf solutions to a nation’s woes, which are both localised and polarised, too ? but for which no problem would have existed in the first place. Thus, even when the funding is by a Central Government and the programme execution is by a local authority, the intervention of an intermediary State/provincial Government does help, particularly in terms of responsibility and consequent accountability.

A calibrated review of the fiscal powers of the Provinces in contemporary Sri Lankan context would be in order, if only over every decade, with adequate constitutional protection to strengthen the Provincial quotas under the scheme of the Finance Commission, again a creature of 13-A. Otherwise, too, in sectors like Education and Health, too, a new generation in India has begun reviewing the old ways of power-sharing, to consider if a greater and more pronounced role for the Union would be in order. In Sri Lanka, some of them were put in practice since the incorporation of 13-A and without explanation ? and conviction, either by the practitioners in Government or other stake-holders, be it at the national or provincial levels, clouded as the efforts were by the overwhelming presence and practices of the LTTE and the LTTE-backed sections of the Tamil polity and society at the time.

There is an across-the-board acknowledgement of the need for reviewing the power-sharing arrangement in the country, but there is little understanding or acknowledgement of the present-day predicaments and predilection of the State and the stake-holders. Limping back from an ’ethnic war’ it ought not to have fought, Sri Lanka can either frog-jump the processes that other nations in the neighbourhood and beyond went through before readying to debate new-generation compulsions, contradictions and contributions to Constitution-making in contemporary terms. Alternatively, they can painstakingly plod through the path that Sri Lanka had missed out in the interim, until it catches up with the rest of the world in its time.

If the Government-TNA discussions on power-devolution failed over the last year, it owed to a lack of understanding of the conceptual approaches each one was making, or deviating from ? without understanding and/or acknowledging this reality. If it was thought that at least a limited agreement would be reached on specifics, it was not to be. The Sri Lankan State stuck to conceptual issues without closing them as such. The TNA, burdened by the past, experience and experimentation, could not move beyond what was promised and not implemented, to introduce a new conceptual discourse, both within and outside.

This apart, the national polity ? and the international community watching the Sri Lankan processes keenly, particularly so after the Geneva vote ?- need to acknowledge the fact that despite having a five-sixth majority in Parliament that voted in 13-A in its time, the UNP Government of the day could not see through its implementation, the LTTE and the Tamil polity being only one of the factors. With a much lesser, three-fourth majority now, that too under a coalition of political parties and interest groups within a larger SLFP leader, there is much less than the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa can commit itself to, leave alone executing it, when it comes to that.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Analysis

Power-cuts spark protests in Punjab

Vinesh Kaushik

The major cities in Punjab Province of Pakistan are facing serious power-cuts. The textile hub Faisalabad, export and industrial centre Gujranwala, and Lahore are suffering from 13 to 18 hours of unscheduled power-cuts daily. Power shortage has increased to 6500MW which is around 50 percent of the estimated demand of 13,500MW. The power sector is affected badly by the Government’s failure to pay up the bills to companies that provide oil and gas to the power plants. The period from April to June consumes most of the electricity in a year. The Government’s promise to deal with the immediate crisis within 48 hours has proved completely futile; its failure has led to large protests across the province.

The acute power crisis has the adverse impact on economy as well. Pakistan suffered a two percent GDP loss last year. The power crisis forced exports to fall as factories remained closed for at least a month. Industries had suffered looses and had to cut down ongoing operations. This has resulted in cancellation of orders from foreign buyers and withdrawal of foreign investments from these industries. In few independent operating entities, electricity cuts have affected production by as much as 80 percent. Rs. 14 billion export-oriented textile industry, especially the powerlooms, which relies solely on electricity, has been worst hit by the crisis.

The issue has taken a political turn as well. The Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif alleged the current situation of power crisis as discrimination between provinces. PML-N, through Punjab Government, proposed a 22-point programme in National Energy Conference 2012 in Lahore, to overcome power crisis. It includes dealing with circular debt as it has been the central issue responsible for current crisis. Other proposals which are awaiting implementations include equal sharing of shortage between the provinces; pre-announced schedules of load-shedding and prioritising more efficient power generation projects.

With Government’s instructions to deal with immediate crisis, Water and Power Ministry had sought optimum gas supply to four Independent Power Plants (IPPs) as a solution. Per unit generation of power using furnace oil (Rs. 18.60) costs around four times that of gas-driven system. The Petroleum Ministry refused to provide an additional 152 million cubic feet of gas for power generation on the ground that they have already provided more than the previous year. The ministry proposed that if government needs an additional supply then it has to curtail gas supply to other sectors such as CNG, fertiliser or Industry. The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) announced the recovery of Rs 6.39 per unit fuel adjustment surcharge from the consumers on account on increased fuel cost. The authority also mentioned that Rs 77 billion is outstanding on account of fuel surcharges for the months October to January 2012.

Notably the dues to 28 Independent Power Plants (IPPs), which are running below 50 percent of their capacity, have risen to Rs. 330 billion. Government has an outstanding sum of Rs. 113 billion to pay among 18 IPPs.

The major concern is of circular debt which has emerged as the principal hurdle in meeting immediate solution to the crisis. Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO) claims huge outstanding amount from the Punjab Government and Independent Power Plants. Government announced that it is releasing emergency funds to settle outstanding bills. Also the Supreme Court’s recent judgement which rescinds the operation of Rental Power Plants (RPPs) on charges of corruption, non performance and mismanagement can be historic. The Rental power plants were set up to meet short-term emergency power requirements and can be installed within the small period of 4 to 6 months. The decision can worsen the existing crisis or may turn the country’s focus to the long-term energy solutions and divert the recovered amount from RPPs to some more elaborative power projects.

(The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Drones-attacks: Pakistan may boycott Chicago summit

The Pakistani Foreign Office qualified the recent US drone attack in North Waziristan as "a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty". Underlining the infraction of such attacks towards the international law, the Government declared that in order to force the US Government to stop drone attacks, Pakistan may boycott the Chicago Summit later this month and might delay the reopening of the NATO supply routes. This last measure is strongly supported by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council which considers that the dialogue with the US has failed.

On the other hand, the US officials point out the efficiency of this weapon and justify its use by the on-going war against Al Qaeda and on a broader basis by the right of self-defence. This conflict occurs during a weakening in the diplomatic relations between the US and Pakistan, and thus contributes to deepen the dissension between the two States.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribute, The News International, April 30, May 3, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Al-Qaeda is now weakened

US Government experts assert that the Al-Qaeda organisation is now unlikely to have the capacity to lead a mass-damage attack like the 9/11 one. Indeed, the terrorist organisation suffered numerous setbacks such as the rebellion in many Arab countries, the Arab Spring and the death of Osama Bin Laden last year.

Nevertheless, recent Al Qaeda plots of attacks on European countries have been discovered on Tuesday. This news suggests that even if Al Qaeda has been weakened, it is still able to organise attacks of a lesser scale.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, The News International, April 29, May 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">91 per cent of the Budget already used

The federal Government of Pakistan has already spent 91 per cent of the annual budget in nine months, which brings the budget deficit up to Rs1.38 trillion. The loans used to finance the budget disadvantage the capacities of borrowing of the private sector, and thus handicap the economic growth and the creation of jobs. Moreover, as well as the carrying out of monetary creation, the various loans took by the Government from banks, foreign lenders, domestic markets and Provinces fuel inflation.

Thus, the total expenditure and the inability of the receipts to offset it brought the Pakistani deficit at the highest level in the country’s history.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, May 4, 2012.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tamara rejects transfer, hits out at ministry

Sri Lanka has paid a heavy price for the lack of cohesion as it was essential to project an image of unity rather than that of discord as the country prepares for important appointments at the UN Human Rights Council, said Tamara Kunanayakam, the country’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva.

She mentioned this in a May 1 date-lined letter sent to External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris rejecting an offer to be transferred to another station.

"Your proposal to move me out only nine months after assuming duties as PR in Geneva, will suggest instability in our diplomacy and an ad hoc character, when, in a multilateral Mission, it is essential to display cohesion, unity and stability if we are not to be continuously on the defensive. If I were to accept your proposal, Sri Lanka will be the only country to have had four Ambassadors in three years, which is normally the minimum period of postings for envoys of other countries," Ambassador Kunanayakam said.

"Removing one of the very few Tamils heading diplomatic missions abroad will allow questioning of the bona fides of the Government’s commitment to reconciliation, will reinforce extremist elements on all sides, and validate the argument that mine was only a token appointment."She said it would convey the impression that those loyally carrying out instructions of the President and his Minister of External Affairs are being penalised precisely for this loyalty, whereas those responsible for compromising on principles, creating divisions, and undermining unity were rewarded.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, May 4, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rift in TNA over ’national flag issue’

A rift has emerged within the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over the hoisting of the national flag in Jaffna during the TNA-united National Party (UNP) joint May Day rally, informed sources said yesterday. The problem arose after TNA General Secretary Mavai Senathirajah made a media statement that he apologised to the Tamil people for hoisting of the national flag bearing the lion symbol in Jaffna.

Mr. Senathirajah was reported to have said that his party would appear for the rights of the Tamil minority and their distinguished identity. He had also been critical of party leader R. Sampanthan for hoisting the national flag.

Mr. Sampanthan had later criticised Mr. Senathirajah and justified his action in hoisting the national flag. Mr. Senathirajah and Mr. Sampanthan are members of the Federal Party, a constituent party of the TNA. It is learnt that other parties such as the EPRLF were not involved in this matter.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Minister and Acting Media Spokesperson Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana urged UNP Opposition Leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to persuade the TNA to resume the reconciliation talks with the Government, just as he has made Sampanthan hoist the national flag.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, May 4, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Hillary-Peiris to focus on LLRC report

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris on May 18 to discuss steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a US embassy spokesman has said. He said the meeting would also focus on the Us-sponsored resolution adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) demanding that the constructive recommendations by the LLRC be implemented.

The resolution urged the government to strengthen the democratic mechanisms in Sri Lanka to address accountability issues during the last stages of the war and to work out a political solution to the national question.

Officials at the Presidential Secretariat and the External Affairs Ministry are preparing an action plan to be presented to US authorities when Prof. Peiris visits the US. Foreign Secretary Karunaratne Amunugama said the ministry was only providing material assistance to prepare the plan. "We are ready for any queries to be raised by the US authorities. That is what we are doing now," he said.

Meanwhile, a European parliamentary delegation visiting Sri Lanka said that there were still questions about the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka from both the side of the government as well as the LTTE that were left unanswered. The delegation, led by Jean Lambert, during a five-day visit to Sri Lanka, said that the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) were extremely positive and a stepping stone for Sri Lanka.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, May 4, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Obama’s unannounced Kabul visit

The US President Barrack Obama arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit in the wee hours of May 2, to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The two leaders signed the long term Afghanistan-US strategic partnership- an agreement which is under-pinned by the national benefits, sovereignty and equality.

The signing of this long-term pact that is to determine the terms of the US-Afghan relationship from the end of 2014 until 2024 was warmly welcomed by leading Afghans as an affirmation of the US’ commitment in helping their country in times of need.

The deal signed overnight by Obama and Karzai does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does give the US the option of keeping forces in Afghanistan after combat troops withdraw by 2014.

President Karzai said ’respect to Afghan constitution and that the Afghan soil will not be used against any other nation are the main conditions of the strategic cooperation agreement with Washington.’

President Karzai also said NATO and the US remained committed to support Afghanistan against external threats. Moreover, this will also provide Afghanistan the much required support to guard against an incessant insurgency that shows no signs of being abated in the near future.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, May 3, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Blasts kill seven

Suicide-bombers attacked a compound housing foreigners mere hours after US President Barrack Obama left Kabul after signing the Afghanistan-US Strategic partnership. The attack involved a car bomb and the attackers disguised themselves as women , killing seven persons, a Gurkha guard and six passers-by, and wounding 17.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks and said that this attack was a reaction to Obama’s visit and to the strategic partnership deal he signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a pact that sets out a long-term US role after most foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

"This attack was to make clear our reaction to Obama’s trip to Afghanistan. The message was that instead of signing a strategic partnership deal with Afghanistan, he should think about taking his troops out from Afghanistan and leave it to Afghans to rebuild their country," says Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid .
< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, May 3, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">$ 150-m funding from World Bank

The World Bank reinforced its commitment to the long term development in Afghanistan on Saturday by vowing to provide $150 million annual funds to the Afghan government for the next three years.

This declaration from the World Bank comes in the wake of the realisation that economic growth and employment opportunities have been considered as the appropriate replacement to international donations which will reduce after 2014 when the NATO troops leave Afghanistan.This will be detrimental to the economic growth of Afghanistan which has been predicted to reduce from four per cent up to per cent after 2014, World Bank officials said.

The World Bank intends to oversee that the funds sanctioned shall be spent on the improvement of government administration so that they become capable of creating employment opportunities while providing for a stable and balanced flow of services,.

The World Bank is one of the largest donor organizations which has provided millions of funds to Afghanistan since 2001. This move of the World Bank is in keeping with the structural transition which is to be arrived at before the impending NATO withdrawal in 2014.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, April 28, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Second border haat

A second border haat at the India-Bangladesh border started functioning this week. The border haat was established in the Dolura-Balat border at the Sunamganj-Meghalaya frontier. Hundreds of people flocked at the launch of the market. Additional District Magistrate of Sunamganj Manish Chakma, who heads the border haat management committee has informed that trade has just started and other facilities will be set up.

India has requested to Bangladesh for allowing items like melamine and fish, which is still under consideration. For the time being trading will take place of items on the existing list.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 3, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Opposition agitation

The Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) street protest against the ruling Awami League government stressed into the week also as the mystery behind disappearance of M Illias Ali, organising secretary of BNP could not be unearthed. BNP has been staging street protest against the government after Illias Ali went missing in April 17. BNP has steeped up its protest movement.

The week experienced sporadic clashes between pickets and police, attacks on vehicles, arrest of opposition activists and anti-hartal demonstrations by ruling party men. BNP and alliance enforced a the nationwide dawn-to-dusk strike on April 29 which also followed in the next day also. Violence marked the strike in Jessore, Tangail, Rajshahi, Feni, Bagerhat, Barisal, Dinajpur and at places in the capital as police charged batons to disperse pickets who retaliated by hurling stones at the law enforcers.

Political analysts of the country are alarmed at the situation and feel that it would increase turbulence in the country’s politics. They opined that the present stances of political party might put the country into deep political turmoil.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 1, 2012-05-01.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Japanese investment up

Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada visited Bangladesh this week. During his visit he met many leaders including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni.

Okada said the Japanese investment in Bangladesh is increasing, but the problems of electricity, gas and administrative procedure are creating impediments to the investment. In response, Sheikh Hasina said that her government has been working to resolve the problems and sought investment from Japan.

Meanwhile, Japan has expressed its interest in funding the Dhaka metro rail project.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 4, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Inflation at 9.5 per cent

The consumer price index released by the National Statistics Bureau recorded the country’s inflation rate of 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 2012.

According to National Statistics Bureau, this was due to import of essential commodities during the last three months. The price of food items increased by 11.4 percent while non-food items increased by 8.39 percent between January to March this year.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 1, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MoU on fuel supply

A Memorandum of Understanding has been inked between the Indian Oil Corporation and the Department of Trade that will ensure uninterrupted supply of petroleum products to Bhutan. A MoU to this effect was first signed in 2005 and now renewed till 2015.

The MoU would facilitate in setting up the retail outlets in Bhutan. It will also help in levelling IOC’s investment processes in Bhutan while at the same time provide the department with trainings on safety and operational aspects. It would also help Bhutan in setting up regulatory mechanism.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 3, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Letter of Intent with foreign varsity

The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Conservation and Environment (UWICE) and the University of Montana (UM) have signed a letter of intent to support Bhutanese students in the area of forestry, wildlife biology and geography.

University of Montana will also encourage faculty affiliate status for UWICE faculty, in research and other technical exchanges with UM students and faculty.

UM will support in topics, such as GIS, biodiversity assessment and monitoring, governance issue, community forest, research design and statistics through short courses and workshops in Bhutan, and UWICE will support training, local accommodation, transport and cultural exchanges for UM faculty and two graduate students a year in Bhutan on official study-abroad educational programs.

UM had committed that, within the next five years, scholarships will be provided for two PhDs and one MSc, and its school of journalism will support Bhutanese graduate students in environmental journalism.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, 4 May, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Micro-finance to be introduced

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has received five applications for the establishment of micro-finance institutions in the country.With the central bank finalising the Financial Inclusion Policy (FIP), it is expected to enhance microfinance in the country, which will strengthen the agriculture sector.The Chairperson of the executive committee on FIP said the finalisation of the policy had come at the right time as it could help address the rupee crunch.

Along with the FIP, there are four regulations to support the implementation of the FIP such as e-money issuer’s regulation, regulations for deposit taking and non-deposit taking microfinance institutions (MFI) and a regulation for the establishment of an apex MFI.The committee mainly looked into four different aspects of microfinance such as a policy framework, intermediaries, supply and demand, and the need to coordinate it by establishing an apex MFI.

Until now, the credit information bureau has never collected credit reports of microfinance clients because it did not have access to data. As a result, the clients have no credit history.According to data available with the government the loans taken thought this route is in the range of Nu 30,000 to 50,000 with a interest rates vary from 3 to 10 percent from Indian money lenders and from 5 to 10 percent from Bhutanese money lenders.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, 28 April 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Hillary’s trip to focus on non-proliferation

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will next month visit India and Bangladesh after major meetings in China as the United States seeks to bolster ties in South Asia, the US State Department has said.

Clinton will pay her first visit as Secretary of State to Bangladesh on May 5 followed by stops in Kolkata and New Delhi "to review progress in the strategic partnership" with India, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

As previously announced, Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will meet in China on May 3-4 for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the leading forum for managing relations between the world’s two largest economies. She is also likely to focus on issues of non-proliferation.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, The Hindu, April 27, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN chief discusses security issues

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed regional security issues and ways that India could strengthen the U.N.’s work during talks on Friday with Indian leaders, officials said.

With its booming economy and growing power, India has been seeking a greater international role, including a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.It wasn’t immediately clear if Ban discussed that issue in meetings on Friday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.Ki-Moon also asked the leadership to continue dialogue with Pakistan.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, April 27, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cotton export restrictions lifted

India, the world’s second-largest producer of cotton, last month stopped all exports of the crop, saying it wanted to protect supplies for domestic mills.After outrage from Indian cotton farmers, the government eased the ban just one week later but stipulated that no new export registrations would be made to limit shipments.

Commerce and Textiles Minister Anand Sharma said on Monday the restrictions had now been waived."A decision has been taken to remove suspension of cotton exports registration (and) the registration of cotton exports will be allowed by the government," he told reporters in New Delhi.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, April 30, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India to host investors’ meet on Afghanistan

India will get more intimately involved in Afghanistan’s stabilisation process by hosting a conference of regional investors. Unlike the other conferences that take place around the world, examining the political, security and aid aspects of the post-2014 scenario, when the largely Western forces will have stopped their military operations, this conference will look at the investment opportunities in Afghanistan.

Announcing this at a news conference with Afghanistan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said Indian assistance to Afghanistan was neither "transitory, nor in transition".
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, May 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Oil imports from Iran to be cut

India’s two biggest importers of crude oil from Iran will cut shipments from the Islamic republic by at least 15 percent this financial year due to US pressure, a report has said.

Washington has been seeking to shut down Iran’s oil trade to put pressure on the Persian Gulf nation to abandon its disputed nuclear programme.

The Indian government has asked state-owned Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals and privately run Essar Oil to lower their imports in the current financial year, Dow Jones News Wires said late Wednesday.

The reported step comes ahead of a trip to India early next week by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during which India’s purchases of Iranian oil are expected to be discussed.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 2, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Foreigners cannot solve local issues: Gayoom

Former President of the Maldives and current interim President of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has said that no affairs of Maldives can be decided by a foreign party whether it be a foreign country or a foreign organisation.He said that a foreign party can be consulted to solve some issues but they cannot decide on the affairs of Maldives.He said that the counsel and recommendations of the foreign party in relation to some issues of Maldives can only be given any consideration when there is no possible harm and damage in it for the people or for the State.

Gayoom noted that some local and foreign parties have been talking about the recent changes in the country in a negative light. He said that they still continue In addition to this he said that earlier some foreign parties called for early elections but however their voice has died down over the days. He said that he met many top leaders of various countries during his recent to Sri Lanka. He added that none from them ever talked about holding early elections.

Maumoon stressed that the current Government is legitimate and that this was proven by the results of the four recent elections held. He said that all of the four elections were won by members of the coalition of the government.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Miadhu, May 4, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Didi moves poll panel on removal

Dr Ibrahim Didi, the former President of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), submitted an official complaint with the Election Commission (EC) after a hurriedly-convened national council voted out him and party vice-president Allhan Fahmy earlier in the week. He argues that the vote taken on Monday was not in conjunction with the version of the party constitution currently registered with the EC.

"The October 2010 amendments to the party constitution are not registered. It cannot be practised until it is lodged there. It is very clear in the Commission that is totally against regulations," said Didi. Talking to local media after handing in his complaint, Didi said: "As you know the Elections Commission acts as the parent organisation to all political parties, and so only the party’s basic regulation submitted and approved by the commission is effective.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, May 4, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Suu Kyi and NLD sworn in a MPs

Aung San Suu Kyi along with her colleagues from the Nation League for Democracy (NLD) were sworn in as Members of Parliament on 2 May. The NLD had initially baulked at taking the oath, specifically a sentence pledging to "safeguard" the army-created Constitution.But on 1 May the NLD had backed down after the President Thein Sein held firm over the oath, explaining it was the "desire of the people" to see her party in office after breakthrough April 1 by-elections.

The international community greeted Suu Kyi’s election as a step towards democracy and had urged Suu Kyi, to take her seat amid fears her refusal could stall the transition from military rule. UN chief Ban Ki-moon, welcomed her climb-down over the oath, expressing hope of further cooperation between the NLD and Thein Sein’s Government.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, 2 May 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ban asks West to lift sanctions

UN chief Ban Ki-moon who is on an official tour of the nation had urged western nations to drop their sanctions that they have imposed on Myanmar, in a show of support for the reformist Government.

Ban welcomed moves by the international community to reward sweeping changes in the country since the end of direct army rule last year, in a landmark speech to Parliament following talks with President Thein Sein. "Today, I urge the international community to go even further in lifting, suspending, or easing trade restrictions and other sanctions," he said in the first speech by a foreign dignitary in the fledgling legislature.

Ban’s is the latest in a string of high-level international visits to Myanmar amid a thaw in the army-dominated nation’s relations with the West, which has begun rolling back sanctions in response to reforms.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, 20 April 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Army clashes with Kachin rebels

Over a dozens of ethnic minority rebels and two Government soldiers have been killed in clashes in northern Myanmar, as fighting rages despite international calls for a ceasefire.The New Light of Myanmar the government’s mouthpiece said 29 members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) had died since April 27, while two Government soldiers were killed and 12 wounded. Three officials were also reportedly hurt.The New Light blamed the rebels for a raid on a military post on the border with China on April 27, prompting a counter-attack by government troops which it said had inflicted "heavy losses" on the KIA side.

The apparent troop build-up follows calls by visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon for an end to fighting, which has displaced tens of thousands of civilians. The rebels say their own forces in Laiza number about 3,000.The Government has agreed ceasefires with several other ethnic rebel groups as part of reforms since coming to power last year, raising hopes of an end to civil war that has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence in 1948.

But a series of meetings with the rebels fighting in Kachin, where a 17-year ceasefire was shattered last year, have failed to end the violence there.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, 4 May 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parties agree to national govt

All Ministers in the Baburam Bhattarai Cabinet resigned en massejust before midnight on May 3 to pave the way for the formation of a national consensus government within two days as per the seven-point deal signed on November 1 last year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayankaji Shrestha announced the resignations on behalf of all the Maoist ministers, while Minister for Physical Planning Hridayesh Tripathi made a similar announcement on behalf of Ministers representing the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF).

Top leaders also signed a five-point agreement, to form a national consensus government under the leadership of the Nepali Congress after completion of the draft of the new Constitution and before its promulgation on May 27. The parties have also vowed to reach an understanding on the remaining disputed issues of constitution within three days.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 4, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Four killed in bomb-blast

Four people were killed and 31 others injured when a powerful bomb exploded near a group of demonstrators at Ramananda Chowk in Janakpur on April 30. The Indo-Nepal border in Janakpur has been closed since the incident. The bomb fitted on a motorcycle went off at around 10:30 a.m. when Mithila State Struggle Committee (MSSC) was organising a sit-in program demanding an autonomous Mithila state in the new federal system.

All Government and private offices, factories and shops remained closed for two days after the blast to mourn the dead. Meanwhile, the MSSC announced an indefinite strike demanding that the government arrest the perpetrators and declare those killed as martyrs.

An underground armed outfit called Jantantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (Rajan group) has claimed the responsibility for the blast. In a Press statement, National Human Rights Council condemned the blast and urged the government to probe the incident and take action against those involved.
< class="text11verdana">Source:,, April 30, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">B’deshis nabbed with fake passports

Some 36 Bangladeshi nationals have been arrested in Kuwait for entering the oil-rich nation on forged Nepali passports. Upon interrogation, Kuwaiti authorities found that the forgers had earlier been deported from the country.

Local Al-Anba daily reported that the Bangladeshi nationals had arrived into the country on different flights. During interrogation, the forgers admitted to buying the passports from an unidentified person in Nepal, each costing the equivalent of between Nepali Rs 45,000-60,000.

Investigations showed that racketeers in Nepal and some senior immigration officials have been providing safe-passage to hundreds of Bangladeshi nationals trafficked to other countries, particularly in the gulf for the last few years, after Bangladesh was restricted by Gulf countries to limited quotas for the supply of migrant workers. This became clear after a massive increase in the number of Bangladeshi nationals entering Nepal by air over the last few years.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, May 2, 2012.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan: Pankhuri Mehndiratta;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India: Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Yann Cres;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

Read More +