KATHMANDU, April 3: Following allegation of irregularities in procurement of medical kits from China through a private company, the government has decided to entrust the Nepal Army for the supply of essential medical equipment at a time when the country is facing threat from the coronavirus pandemic.
A meeting of the Council of Ministers has decided to entrust the army to initiate the supply of medical kits through the government to government (G2G) procurement process from China.
Ministry of Defense has already communicated with the Nepal Army about the cabinet decision, said sources at the ministry.
"Defense Ministry is to procure the medicine, medical equipment and other medical kits essential for treatment and prevention of Covid-19, as well as to contain the disease from spreading after necessary coordination with Health and Population Ministry," reads the cabinet decision taken on Sunday.
The health ministry has already decided to terminate a contract with the controversial supplier Omni Group after finding that rapid testing kits supplied by the firm was substandard.
Widespread criticism over the faulty procurement procedure prompted Prime Minister KP Oli to grill the officials including Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal involved in the deal.
After concerns from other cabinet ministers, the government decided to choose G2G process entrusting the Nepal Army to initiate the process, said a cabinet source.
Although the government is yet to make the cabinet decision officially public, Republica has received a copy of cabinet decision taken on Sunday.
"It would be better if we can purchase the medical goods from G2G process. We had also approached both our neighboring countries for the supply of medical kits before as well but they appeared reluctant as they were already coping with the virus outbreak," said government spokesperson Yuba Raj Khatiwada after the meeting of the High Level Coordination Committee on Thursday.
Sources at the Defense Ministry said that the government is yet to prepare the list of medicines, equipment and kits to be purchased on the G2G model through the army.
The government has decided to entrust the military to deliver essential medical supplies amid criticism from various quarters for involving the army in jobs that should have been accomplished by the government bodies.
Questions regarding the competence of the Ministry of Health and Population have been raised after the government entrusted the ministry's responsibility to the Army.
A complaint has also been lodged at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) against Health Minister Dhakal for his alleged involvement in paying up to three times higher price than the price offered by other suppliers for bringing in the medical supplies from China and also for approving sub-standard medical kits. Interestingly, the anti-graft body doesn't have the jurisdiction to probe into the transactions made by the Nepal Army.
Meanwhile, the government has said that it won't allow entry of stranded Nepali nationals along the Nepal-India border until they go through a mandatory quarantine of 14 days managed by India.
Citing an understanding reached between Nepal and India to take care of each other's citizens who are stranded in the border areas, Khatiwada appealed to the stranded citizens to patiently wait for 14 days before entering Nepal.
"Our neighbors will take care of our citizens who are stuck in the border areas and our government will take care of their citizens," Khatiwada said. "The government appeals the stranded citizens to maintain patience for 14 days."