Dr Matthew Offord, the British MP from the Conservative Party, also a member of Nepal All-Party Parliament Group, has been at the forefront of advocating for providing support to Nepal to combat the Covid-19. Nepal Live Today caught up with him to discuss a wide range of issues.
What actually motivated you to take initiatives for providing vaccine support and humanitarian aid for the people of developing countries like Nepal?
I have many constituents who have relatives, friends and associates in different countries around the world that not only includes Nepal, but also countries such as Sudan, Iran, Albania and Somalia where people need assistance. So my constituents have made representations to me. And with the United Kingdom government’s involvement with the COVAX scheme, I’ve been able to make those representations to the vaccines minister and make the case on behalf of my constituents, where we actually distribute vaccines to grace effect in places such as Nepal. I have urged the government in the UK to do just that.
We already have assisted the Nepal government. The government in the UK has worked closely with Nepal and it has provided a range of support, including 260 ventilators, 2000 pieces of personal protective equipment along with health experts. And these are all to help the country of Nepal to fight against Covid-19. I’m also pleased to be able to tell you that Nepal is receiving Covid-19 vaccines via the COVAX facility. The UK is one of the largest donors to that scheme. It’s delivered 1.8 million doses to Nepal so far, and there will be more doses on the way.
In the G7 Summit in June, the UK PM pledged equal global distribution of Covid vaccines. How can G7 nations, including the UK, support developing countries like Nepal?
The G7 decided to secure vaccinations for countries that may not have financial and economic power to secure vaccines. Over one billion vaccines will be going to lower income countries across the world. And I’m very pleased that Nepal was named as one of those countries. We can assist to ensure that the people of Nepal are able to receive the vaccines regardless of whether they live near the capital or not. The G7 played a great role in this. I think that was a great success.
You planned to visit Nepal back in 2020, did not you? When will you make it?
I planned to visit Nepal since the terrible earthquake back in 2015. But 2020 was Visit Nepal year. Many people, including myself, had intended to visit Nepal. That was not possible because of the pandemic, but I’m determined to get to Nepal. It is a country of not only great beauty of great people but also a very attractive location. In the future, not only myself, many other British people will be very keen to visit Nepal. I see a great opportunity for tourism and investment in Nepal. With so many diaspora in the UK, there are great opportunities for people to invest and to send payments to families and friends. The opportunities for trade between the two countries are very high. Nepal has a very special place in the heart of the British public. We do not forget the contribution that Nepal’s Gurkha community has made to the defense of the United Kingdom. There is a great deal of affection between our two countries.
The Gurkhas have been serving the UK since the 1800s. But Gurkha veterans have been in protest demanding equal treatment from the UK government. What would you want to say to the British government?
I would simply encourage the British government to continue to engage with the Gurkhas. And I would certainly continue with my representations on the issues. The Gurkhas have made a great contribution. They have supported us when we needed help. They should be fairly treated. The previous Gurkha pension scheme, which ran from 1948 until just before I was elected in 2007, was insufficient. Then it was decided that the differences between the Gurkhas’ terms and conditions to service, and those of British counterparts, would be eliminated. But for Gurkhas who continued serving after July, 1997, there was an offer to transfer to the armed forces’ pension scheme. But there was a cutoff in that. The reason for this was that when the UK became the home base for the brigade of the Gurkhas changes in immigration rules were backdated to July, 1997. And that meant there was an increased likelihood of retired Gurkhas settling in the UK on discharge.
The Gurkhas helped us when we needed them. We should not turn our back on them when we don’t need them as much.
The then government was not comfortable with that but I have a different view. I will continue to encourage the current UK government to engage with the Gurkha community. The Gurkhas helped us when we needed them. And we should not turn our back on them when we don’t need them as much. They are a great part of the British military force. And they are held in great respect by not only our troops, but also the people of the United Kingdom.
How do you see the integration of Nepali immigrant community in the UK?
Nepali communities have come together over many years and they not only support each other through initiatives that help their children, their education and housing and other public services. Representatives of that community have been involved in civic life as well. I am proud that we have representatives from the Nepali community. Lachhya Gurung has been Deputy Mayor of London Borough of Barnet. I hope one day, he will become the Mayor. We’re greatly proud of him. We hope that other people decide to follow his lead and get involved in civic life.
How do you think the UK-Nepal relations will evolve in the days to come?
I see greater opportunities for trade and engagement. The United Kingdom has left the European Union and we are accomplishing trade deals across the world. I’m sure that the bilateral trade between our two nations will be very important to the economies of both our countries. That would also ensure that the passage of movement of people between our two countries would be eased. Not only would there be greater steps towards tourism to places like Nepal, it would be a great opportunity to bring more currency within the country as people spend. That would enable us to become closer.
I see a great opportunity for tourism and investment in Nepal. With so many diaspora in the UK, there are great opportunities for people to invest.
I see different opportunities such as assistance through Millennium Development Goals. The UK has an aid budget which it actually distributes in places like Nepal. The priorities of the UK are on education of young people, improving the economy and the workforce in countries like Nepal.
What can Nepal expect from the UK in terms of assistance to combat the pandemic in the days to come?
We are starting to overcome the pandemic in the United Kingdom. That means that once we are able to protect ourselves, the United Kingdom will be able to assist in other parts of the world. Nepal is one of those countries that we’ve been very keen on. The United Kingdom has been very keen to assist and we will continue to do so. Then we will be able to provide more assistance as less will be needed in places like Europe. Then we can get things like ventilators, other equipment and, most importantly, the vaccines to Nepal in the short term. In the longer term, more assistance will be coming from all over the world. And then we can show that people are not only vaccinated, but we are able to prevent future pandemics.