Sujeev Shakya

Articles & Publications

Global Citizen

Nepalis need to tell the world that things have changed

Aug 14, 2018-Last week, former United Nations Assistant Secretary General Kul Chandra Gautam released his memoir Global Citizen From Gulmi, in which  the former diplomat recounts his  journey from the hills of Nepal to the halls of United Nations. Here is a story of a Nepali who walked for 12 days to reach Benaras to attend classes or spent more than a week to get to Kathmandu, before attending the prestigious Dartmouth and Princeton universities in the United States. In one of the chapters, he recalls how it took him two years to get a passport despite presenting his scholarship documents—it’s a window into the Panchayat days, during which isolation ran deep and privileges were limited to a few. Gautam’s incredible journey has inspired many of us. Now 70, he continues to make multiple trips each month globe-trotting and making his mark as a board member in prestigious international organisations.

No accountability

Without doubt, there are many challenges in the country, but for Nepalis, the best excuse has been to blame the government for everything and not own up to  their own responsibilities. As Gautam argues, perhaps, Nepalis from an entire generation went from being a child to a being an adult with family responsibilities having married at a lower age. Young people in many other countries do not get an opportunity to understand their own likes, dislikes, and what they would like to do. Absence of reading habits, disinterest in cultural heritage, and religious conservatism pushed people to simply do what others are doing.

There was also no accountability at the top. Members of the royal family graduated—often as the top student—from the university whose chancellor was the then king himself. Now in a democratic set up with Prime Ministers holding the position, one may not have to question the qualification of a university chancellor. Now more than ever, transparency is imperative in our system, because until now, no one has had to work hard because they weren’t held accountable for their actions.

With the focus on asset accumulation, and wealth being the primary barometer of judging a person in the society, it was never considered important to question corruption. Wealth accumulation became the ultimate aim and a few who could not do so became activists and started challenging the system—but without transparency in the work they do. Therefore, with guilt we started pushing inward looking socialism agenda to find all excuses of not integrating into the global world by calling them propagators of capitalism. This mindset has isolated Nepal from the world, forcing Nepalis to leave the country in search of economic empowerment and career choices that are free from the myopia of those in power at home.

Thinking global is a culture; it has nothing to do with being a Nepali in Nepal or living elsewhere. There are hundreds of thousands  of Nepalis across the world today who are proud to be Nepalis, but have decided to settle down in foreign countries or take up another citizenship. These Nepalis connect with Nepal at a different level. They understand the richness of our cuisine. They promote Nepal as one of the most beautiful destinations in the world to visit, and recommend those to the outsiders at every opportunity they get. They want their children to come to Nepal and learn about its culture and heritage. These are the global citizens from Nepal, who, for opportunities and ambition, marched out into the world, but continued to carry the sense of pride for having come from Nepal—or for being a Nepali.

As a country, we don’t do enough to teach our kids and students what a great country they come from. Sure there are problems, but the discourse, at some point, has to shift from what can be done instead of what has not been done yet.

Show gratitude

Nepalis need to tell the world that things have changed. During Gautam’s book launch last week, Valerie Julliand, UN Resident Co-ordinator said that in the years since Gautam left his home, all the deficiencies through the Sustainable Development Goals lenses in the village Gautam hailed from has been met—there is water, electricity, roads, schools, health centres etc. There has been significant transformation, but we’re not willing to talk about it.

Finally, there has to be sense of gratitude. It was admirable to hear Gautam thank the people who mattered most in his journey. We often tend to forget to thank the people in our lives. Perhaps, the next recalibration of Nepal’s future will depend on how quickly we stop taking things for granted . The successful global citizens never forget where they came from, and who helped them get there.

Transformative Reforms

The Nepali people have to move from being transactional to transformative

Jul 31, 2018-Speaking at the Neftalk organised by the Nepal Economic Forum last week, US Ambassador Alaina B Teplitz reflected upon her tenure and just had one big message for Nepal. Nepal needs to move to transformative reforms. After visiting more than 40 districts and staying engaged through social media, opeds and in person, she could garner the understanding about the sort of change Nepal needs to embark upon. This kept me thinking. I have tried to put some of my earlier prescriptions and the current context into three distinct areas.

Thinking big

Last week, we realised that some our remittances were stuck at our local bank. We were told by the bank that apparently as per central bank instructions, all foreign exchange income was to be declared. With many assignments outside Nepal, we do have foreign exchange earnings with contracts under the purview of Nepal Rastra Bank. So why multiple declarations and at multiple times? If we cannot handle basic commercial remittances, how can we think of managing the billions in inflow of investments that is required to make the Nepali growth story that has been sold by this current government happen?

When government folks, or now even folks in the private sector learn of numbers in contracts, their first reaction is: What is the benefit I am getting? Headlines in newspapers and social media channels still get filled with news of ATM machines and bank branches being opened. We still make a donor’s $1 million dollar programme a big deal with all the ministry folks spending hours in its inauguration or presentation.

The recalibration of thinking big is a big exercise; we need to start. At a recent programme that also had government folks, my question to them was this: If we were to give them $5,000 that they had to spend in an hour in a store of their choice in Nepal by buying just 10 items, will they be able to do that? Nepal is now a $30 billion formal economy and another one and half times informal, making it a $75 billion economy. We need to be able to think like a $75 billion economy with the government spending of $7-8 billion dollars each year.

In Nepal, planning is alien in our day-to-day life. We do not plan what meal we want to have in the evening and rush to make last minute purchases before cooking. We do not know how much we are going to spend in a restaurant when we go out for a meal, and run out of cash many times. When we go to an auto expo, we have no budget thoughts for what is the price point of the car one wants to buy; therefore, we land up buying a car for which you cannot later afford the equated monthly instalments. We cannot plan a journey for a meeting despite Google maps being there, we call the office for directions. We cannot plan holidays for our children and make last minute decisions. When we budget and plan something for a house we are building or a wedding that is to happen, everyone knows the end result will be nothing one had thought of in the beginning.

So how can a country where its citizens do not plan or don’t believe in planning have a plan for its government? We have not been able to use the money that is available due to poor planning. The more than

$4 billion committed after the earthquake never even got requested. International aid spending in some years has been a dismal 30 percent. As Pierre Jacquet, president of Global Development Nepal, who was in Kathmandu last week to speak at an event on aid effectiveness said, effectiveness of aid is always linked to the capacity of the recipient country. More aid has never led to higher economic growth. If a country’s development strategy is not right, aid will flow to the wrong places. Very simple but profound statements.

After six months in power, the current government is yet to provide us with a picture of what will be the key contours of the Nepali economy when they go to elections in 2022. In some countries where I have done planning exercises with legislators, we have got them to think about their re-election speeches after five years. That kind of working backwards is used to build plans. Therefore, every Nepali elected leader needs to think what their re-election speech is going to be like, and what accomplishments they are going to be able to sell to their voters.

Mark on the mirror

Many a time when I am giving a talk, I use the analogy of a guy like me with no hair giving lectures on how to prevent hair loss. In Nepal, we see this happening everyday. People who talk about corrupt leaders are the ones inviting them to their social functions. People who talk about keeping the city clean and lecture on it maintain dirty homes with filthy rooms. People who lecture on gender empowerment have never washed dishes in their lives. People who complain about leaders and others wanting privileges are the ones who want to be in the first row at programmes and complain if they do not get acknowledged in speeches. As Mughal-era poet Ghalib said, we continue to try to wipe the mark on the mirror each day when the mark is actually on one’s face.

Nepal’s future transformation will be dependent on whether we can make the big transformation of just being able to walk the talk and question each aspect of our everyday life. As I am writing this piece in a hotel in Pokhara, I have been witnessing the movement of a minister or two with hundreds of people that are moving with them creating a commotion every time they come and leave. I am just pondering that until the minister realises that his popularity is not judged by the number of his hangers-on, or the people swarming around him realise that hard work and not being within visual distance of a minister will grant success, the big transformation will be difficult. Hope someone will lead the way!

Messy Nepal

There is confusion, chaos and frustration amid a period of supposedly stable politics

Jul 17, 2018-As the fiscal year ends, people are left with frustration over how money has been poured into sand in the last month. Billons of rupees went into buying goods and services from folks who have either paid their way to the politicians or are controlled by the politicians themselves. This is called Asare Bikas or development in the month of Asar, the last month of the Nepali fiscal year. Nepal, like being the only time zone in the world that has a 45-minute time difference which is a nightmare for fixing global conference calls, takes the cake for being the only country in the world where the fiscal year does not sync with any global calendar. Read more

Recalibrating Nepal’s foreign policy

The government must seriously deliberate on matters of foreign polices to take the country to greater heights

Two important events occurred last fortnight. First, the Prime Minister visited China as the leader of a government that enjoys a two-thirds majority. Second, the eminent Persons Group (EPG) submitted a single joint report recommending alternatives to some of the disputed issues including the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India. Yet, despite these achievements, the pertinent question remains: do we understand foreign policy? Read more

नेपालको निजी क्षेत्रकै निजीकरण आवश्यक छ

वाम गठबन्धनको सङ्घीय सरकार गठन भएको सय दिन पूरा भएको छ । सरकारले यस दिन आफूले गरेका केही कामलाई सकारात्मक भनी प्रचार गरिरहेको छ । यसबीच सङ्घीय सरकारको नीति तथा कार्यक्रम पनि सार्वजनिक गरिसकेको छ । यसै आधारमा सरकारले जेठ १५ गते बजेट ल्याउँदै छ । परिवर्तित नेपाली राजनीतिक घटनाक्रमबीच आएको सरकारको नीति तथा कार्यक्रम जनअपेक्षाअनुरूप छ त ? यसको कार्यान्वयन कत्तिको चुनौतीपूर्ण छ ? यिनै विषयवस्तुका साथै हालै मात्र प्रकाशनमा आएको अर्थतन्त्रसम्बन्धी नयाँ पुस्तक ‘अर्थात् अर्थतन्त्र’ पुस्तकबारे पुस्तकका लेखक तथा आर्थिक विश्लेषक नेपाल इकोनोमिक फोरमका अध्यक्ष सुजीव शाक्यसँग आर्थिक अभियान राष्ट्रिय दैनिकका टीपी भुसालले गरेको कुराकानीको सार : Read more

Learning from Rwanda: There is a lot to learn from this African country that never ceases to surprise people

It was five years ago that I visited Rwanda for the first time, and it was full of surprises. The three key lessons I took away from my first trip was that, one, do not be scared to think big. Two, you may not be a rich country but you can still be clean and orderly. Three, you always eye the global stage. Five years later, it is amazing how much this country that is two-third the size of Bhutan and whose population is one-third that of Nepal, has been able to achieve. Read more

संकुचित समाजवाद

जबसम्म गुणस्तर नहुनुलाई समाजवाद हुनुसंँग जोडिन्छ, तबसम्म आर्थिक वृद्धि र विकासको गति तीव्र गर्न गाह्रो हुनेछ ।

नेपालमा समाजवादको ठूलो चर्चा छ । संविधानमा पनि हामीले समाजवादलाई नै अँगाल्यौं । राजनीतिक भाषण, नीतिका कुरामा पनि समाजवादलाई नै अगाडि सार्ने गर्‍यौं । टन्न पैसा बनाएर बसेका व्यापारीहरूले पनि आआफ्नो सिन्डिकेटमार्फत समाजवादको डम्फु बजाउने गर्‍यो । Read more

Environment blues: Tokenism on World Environment Day has created massive environmental challenges

There was a story in this paper on Sunday headlined ‘Kathmandu to plant over 1,500 saplings to observe World Environment Day’. This is another headline that everyone knows pretty well that serves as another deed of tokenism. Today on World Environment Day, it would be good for all the folks who made headlines by planting trees to actually know whether the saplings have actually grown. The city of Kathmandu is full of saplings protected by iron structures with names of banks, companies and organisations proudly attached to them that have never grown into trees. We have ensured that this phenomenon has spread well outside Kathmandu. Like many ceremonies we go through in life each day, planting trees and making speeches on the environment is yet another one. We do it without internalising the need to understand what all this means to our lives. Read more

Lessons from Narayanghat | Sujeev Shakya

The cities that have received government attention and funding have fared worse than cities developed by entrepreneurs.

It is always great to get out of Kathmandu Valley. The Dabali is an open space initiative from Jiwan Kshetry and Indra Dhoj Kshetri with a well-stocked library opened just two months back in Chitwan. Over the weekend, it was wonderful to interact with minds that are not stuck in what has gone wrong but what can be done right as I discussed my book Arthat Arthatantra with the audience. Read more