Nepal Police’s decision to deduct salaries for the Covid-19 fund unfair on its personnel, say criticsThe decision has been roundly criticised by many who say that it is unjust for police personnel working long hours at meagre salaries to have their salaries deducted.
The Nepal Police’s decision to deduct the pay of all officials above the rank of assistant sub-inspector to contribute to the government's fund to fight Covid-19 has been met with dismay, with many believing it could affect the morale of security forces.
The police’s decision, made on Wednesday, makes it the first institution to divert salaries towards the national fund, but it has not been a popular one. As per the decision, all ranks from assistant sub-inspector to the inspector general will contribute three to seven days’ salary to the fund.
The prime minister and ministers have also pledged to contribute a month’s salary while a majority of lawmakers have pledged 15 days’ salary to the government’s Coronavirus Infection Prevention, Control and Treatment Fund.
But police officials, incumbent and former, and members of the ruling Nepal Communist Party have described the Nepal Police’s decision as unjust for those who are on the front lines, after health workers.
Since the country has been under lockdown for the last two weeks, with an extension until April 15, police officials have been on the streets for hours on end, often without adequate protection, in order to ensure that people abide by the lockdown.
“The decision is quite demotivating,” a police inspector on duty at Koteshwor told the Post on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution for speaking out against a departmental decision. “We are surprised that the decision has been imposed on police officials who are on duty for up to 12 hours a day.”
The government on March 23 had set up the Coronavirus Control and Treatment Fund and called on all to contribute financially. But many say that Nepal’s fight against Covid-19 has not been wanting due to a lack of funds. A slow response and poor coordination among agencies are largely to blame for the slow response while corruption allegations against sitting ministers, including the defence minister who leads the committee for the control and prevention of Covid-19, have led people to lose faith in the government’s initiatives.
According to former security officials, any contributions to the government's fund should be voluntary, rather than mandatory, and that security personnel have the legal right to their full salary, especially in times of crisis.
“The practice of mandatory deduction from police officials’ salary should be stopped,” Hemanta Malla, a former deputy inspector general, told the Post.
Nepal Police headquarters, however, has defended the decision, saying it’s just a continuation of past practices.
Senior Superintendent Umesh Raj Joshi, spokesperson for the Nepali Police, said that the law enforcement agency has always been at the forefront when it comes to contributing to government-established funds in times of crisis.
“This is not the first time the police force has decided to deduct the salary of its officials,” Joshi told the Post. “We are aware of the ongoing criticism, which depicts the love of the people for police personnel in the field.”
Malla, the former police official, however, said that such mandatory practices need to stop.
“This is not a competition,” he said. “There is a tendency among the leadership to announce contributions from their staff whenever the government sets up a relief fund.”
Police personnel working in the field too questioned the rationale behind announcing a special allowance, only to have their own department deduct their salaries.
“The government is taking back the allowance it pledged to us,” said the police official who was on duty at Koteshwor.
Two weeks ago, the government had announced allowances equal to the salaries of police personnel directly involved in rescuing Covid-19 patients, under the Patient Receiving Team. An allowance equal to 50 percent of salary was announced for those on the team but not directly involved in rescues. Others deployed as a part of Covid-19 response team are entitled to Rs300 a day.
The Nepal Police’s decision also comes amid growing calls that lawmakers channel the money they get under the Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme towards preventive measures against Covid-19.
Some have even provided the example of the Indian government which on Monday endorsed an ordinance to cut the salaries of the prime minister, ministers and members of parliament by 30 percent and use that money to combat the disease.
Some leaders within the ruling party also called the decision to force police personnel to contribute wrong.
“Instead of decreasing the salary of ministers, lawmakers and high-level officials, the decision to take money from police personnel working on the frontlines and risking their lives is cruel, foolish and condemnable,” Bishnu Rijal, central working committee member of the ruling party, wrote on Twitter. “Has the state gone so poor that it has to rely on the salary of police personnel?”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 27, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,684,795 people with 352,225 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 150,793 with 4,344 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 772 cases with four deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.