Millions in foreign currencies rotting away in Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha

The Lumbini Development Trust says Nepal has done nothing to manage the mone donated by pilgrims, despite numerous requests over the past six years. - TKP/ANN

KATHMANDU (ANN): Millions in foreign currencies collected at the birthplace of Buddha in Lumbini are being left to rot from lack of proper upkeep.

The donations of over 1.5 million tourists at the various shrines and monuments like the Mayadevi Temple and Ashok Pillar are in foreign currencies, and the Lumbini Development Trust is at a loss over how to handle them.

The foreign currencies have been in store for years under wet conditions, and the money has started to decay.

The government has done nothing to manage the collected amount, as trust officials say many currencies are from countries whose money Nepal’s central bank does not exchange. Even though the Trust has set up contribution boxes at various places, many pilgrims offer the money before the statues.

Currently, a total of Rs190mil (RM6.8mil) is in store.

The Trust had corresponded with Nepal Rastra Bank six years ago to discuss how to utilise the stored money.

“Lack of management of foreign currencies has been a trouble for us, ” said Saroj Bhattarai, a member secretary of the trust.

“Foreign coins get washed, but paper currencies lie neglected.”

Bhattarai said that the central bank has paid no heed to address the issue despite repeated correspondence.He added that the process of exchanging the collected foreign currencies is complicated; hence the trust is storing it for the time being.

“The paper currencies are rotting away. There have been talks about auctioning the currencies for sale, ” he said.

Shakya told the Post that the central bank has said it would take the money for exchange in Singapore, and in case the currencies couldn’t be exchanged there, they wouldn’t be returned.

“This has pushed us further into a crisis, ” Shakya said.

The Trust keeps a record of the total amount collected out of offerings presented by the pilgrims. Of the total Rp190mil, 91.6mil is from Myanmar, 67.4mil from Vietnam, and 25mil from Indonesia.

There are also currencies from Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Laos, Oman, Uganda, Bhutan, Congo and Afghanistan, among others. These are paper currencies. There’s no record of the total amount of coins because the central bank has declined to accept those, according to Shakya.

Officials at the trust said that it corresponded with the Siddharthanagar branch of Nepal Rastra Bank five years ago with all the documents, but Rajendra Bhattarai, director of the branch, said that the bank hasn’t received the statement that it wanted.

“For this kind of transaction, we have to coordinate with the Bank of Singapore’s foreign currency exchange department, ” said Bhattarai.

“If the currencies do not qualify for exchange, then they may be seized. So the Trust should come up with a decision on what to do if that happens.”

One official at the Trust said that the government can go through diplomatic channels to exchange currencies.

“The government is more concerned about appointing a party faithful in the Trust rather than managing the currency, ” the official said, requesting anonymity.

Likewise, Om Prasad Aryal, former chief of funds at the Trust, said that the lack of management of currencies received as offerings is entirely the government’s shortcomings

“I tried to get the government’s attention to the issue, but all efforts were in vain, ” he said. - The Kathmandu Post/Asia News Network

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