Nepal’s Ailing Oli In A Soup As Row Erupts Over His Decision To Import Medical Equipment From China To Combat Covid-19

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Apr 10, 2020 01:19 PM +05:30 IST
Nepal’s Ailing Oli In A Soup As Row Erupts Over His Decision To Import Medical Equipment From China To Combat Covid-19Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 
  • Oli is seen as being close to Beijing and, hence, the controversial decision to import Chinese medical equipment is being directly attributed to him.

An aborted decision by the Nepal government to import medical equipment to combat the coronavirus pandemic from China has landed ailing Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli in a soup and emboldened rivals within the party to sharpen their knives.

Nepal’s Health Ministry had awarded the contract bypassing all norms and without any competitive bidding to a private company run by the sons of Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel and Oli’s chief adviser Bishnu Rimal as well as Prime Minister’s IT consultant Asgar Ali.

The multi-million dollar contract awarded last month was for the supply of 19 items, including personal protective equipment (PPEs), testing kits and reagents. The contract was cancelled early this month after a huge controversy erupted over the bidding process.

Grave concerns were also raised over the price of the equipment and their quality in light of many European countries rejecting similar imports from China.

But that was just the beginning of troubles for Oli, who underwent a second kidney transplant early last month. His health condition is stated to be fragile and he is on immunosuppressants.

The Prime Minister’s very high chances of getting infected by the coronavirus due to his health condition has kept him indoors and precluded his holding strategy sessions with aides to ward off the political challenge being mounted on him by his party rivals.

Oli’s principal rivals within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) — his co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal — have started gunning for Oli. Nepal has been extremely critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A second controversy erupted immediately on the heels of the one over the award of contract for import of medical equipment from China. An online news portal— — which broke the news about the awarding of the contract reported the news item being forcibly removed from the site by the website’s developers.

The portal alleged that the site’s web developers had taken down the news item on the instructions of Oli’s IT consultant Asgar Ali. Ali is co-founder of an IT firm that owns the accused web developing company.

The removal of the item triggered widespread condemnation from media bodies, including the Federation of Nepali Journalists. The federation’s general secretary Ramesh Bista issued a condemnation that reportedly had the blessings of NCP co-chair Dahal. The matter snowballed when Oli’s press adviser Surya Thapa called up Bista and allegedly threatened him.

The government then awarded a fresh contract (after the cancellation of the original contract) to the Nepal Army to procure the required medical equipment through government-to-government deal. But that too ran into controversy.

The Nepal Army has often been accused of being very opaque in matters of procurement of defence equipment and does not have the mandate or the capacity to select and procure medical equipment.

The government’s decision to engage the army has come in for severe criticism from even some ministers, who said that the last cabinet meeting did not even discuss the issue.

Ruling party leaders, including Surendra Pandey, Pampha Bhusal and Mani Thapa, have publicly criticised the decision. Many ministers have taken umbrage at having been kept in the dark and have alleged that the minutes of the cabinet meeting were altered at Oli’s behest by bureaucrats to insert the decision (to engage the army to import medical equipment).

These controversies have emboldened Oli’s detractors led by Dahal and Nepal to step up their covert offensive against the ailing Prime Minister. Party leaders have started demanding a meeting of the party secretariat to discuss these controversies and review the decision to engage the army for medical equipment imports.

But with Oli being unwell and his doctors saying that risks of his being infected are high and can be lethal, the Prime Minister can attend such a meeting only at the risk of his own life. This suits his detractors who would like to see resentment brew up against Oli and finally spill over.

Oli is seen as being close to Beijing and, hence, the decision to import Chinese medical equipment is being directly attributed to him.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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