By Ramesh Mathew/Staff Reporter
The outgoing Nepalese ambassador Maya Kumari Sharma yesterday denied that she had ever spoken to BBC about the working conditions of her compatriots in Qatar and termed a Guardian newspaper story on the issue as “a figment of the journalist’s imagination”.
Her comments came after the Guardian in a report referred to her interview to BBC Nepali Service, which quoted her as saying that Qatar was an “open jail” for labourers from the Himalayan country.
Sharma, who is in the eye of a storm after the UK newspaper published a series of stories on the issue of working conditions in the construction industry here, termed the reports as “wholly baseless”. “They could have come from the imagination of those who helped the journalist file the reports”.
Nepal has since recalled the envoy and she is expected to leave Doha in a few days. “I am unable to return now as most flights to Kathmandu are fully booked because of the busy festival season,” she said.
Speaking to Doha’s English newspapers yesterday, the diplomat said she believed the Guardian correspondent in Kathmandu might have filed the story based on the inputs given by a group of Nepali journalists, who visited Doha about six months ago. “They visited the embassy twice, in a gap of eight days . While I did not speak much on the labourers here whatever was attributed to me has come from their own imagination,” she said.
Asked if she had mentioned Qatar as an “open jail” at any stage , Sharma said she never said so and “it was the creation” of one of the journalists that visited Qatar.
“After they left , I came to know that they had visited a number of construction sites across the country and they might have met many workers,” she explained.
Sharma said it was clear from the footage of one of the incidents narrated by the Guardian journalist that his story was based on the versions of those journalists. “At least one journalist , who I could easily recognise, is seen with the Guardian journalist while he was interviewing the parents of a teenager who died apparently of a heart attack just two months after his arrival in Doha,” said the ambassador.
The ambassador said the scribes who visited Qatar were part of a major Kathmandu media group, which was running a “politically motivated” smear campaign against her right from the day she came to Doha. “Maybe they had some political reasons and that could be why they were targeting me,” said Sharma, who is the nominee of a prominent political party of the ruling alliance in Nepal.
Prior to her arrival in Doha, she was a top official at the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal.
The envoy claimed that after she raised the issue of low pay with the local authorities there has been a nearly 50% hike in the salaries of unskilled workers. “I do not know if all companies have implemented the revised salaries but many of them effected a hike in the minimum salaries of their unskilled workers from Nepal after I took up the issue some eight months ago”.
For about four years the unskilled Nepalese workers received a total salary of QR800 (including QR200 as food allowance). “Right now most companies are paying QR900 as salary and another QR300 as food allowance to their Nepalese workers,” she said while adding that even the revised salary is barely enough at a time when the living expenses have soared.
Asked if she had visited any labour camp during her nearly 18-month tenure in |Qatar, Sharma said she had visited one camp and conditions there were found to be good.
Maya Kumari Sharma: The envoy claims she has helped Nepalese labourers earn more salaries.