Sujeev Shakya

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लगानी भित्र्याउने मौका

नेपालमा केही हप्तादेखि लगानीको गफ बढेको छ । चैत १५–१६ मा हुनलागेको अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय लगानी सम्मेलनको तयारी चलिरहेको छ । यसलाई सफल बनाउन सरकार लागिपरेको छ । नेपालमा ठूलो रूपले सहयोग गरिरहने विश्व बैंक, एसियाली विकास बैंकका ठूला पदाधिकारीहरू आउंँदैछन् ।

यी सबले यसलाई नेपालका निम्ति केही गर्ने अन्तिम अवसरका रूपमा हेर्दैछन् । नेपालको विदेशी मुद्राको स्थिति र तरलतामा देखिएको संकटको निवारण विदेशी लगानी नै हो । यसर्थ लगानी गफ अत्यन्त महत्त्वपूर्ण भएको छ । गत तीस वर्षमा विदेशी लगानीकर्ताहरूको होडबाजी किन भएन भनेर बुझ्न आवश्यक छ । यी समस्याको निवारण गरिएन भने यथास्थितिमा कुनै परिवर्तन आउने छैन ।

विदेशीले चन्दा दिँदैनन्

नेपालको राजनीतिक संरचनाको सबभन्दा ठूलो कमजोरी भनेको राजनीतिक दलहरूले व्यवसायीसँग खुला रूपमा चन्दा लिन सक्दैनन् । संसारभरि राजनीतिक दलहरू व्यवसायीहरूले दिने चन्दाबाट चल्ने हुन् । धेरै देशले यो परिपाटीलाई पारदर्शी बनाएका छन् ।

नेपालमा भने चन्दा लिनेदिने र गोप्य राख्ने चलन छ । पार्टी बैठकमा यसबारे कुरा हुँदैन । पार्टी चलाउनेहरूले यसको फाइदा उठाएका छन् । आफ्नो जीवन राजनीति गरेर बिताउने तिनलाई पार्टीले तलब दिँंदैन । तसर्थ चन्दामै कमिसन खाएर जीविकोपार्जन गर्नुपर्ने बाध्यता छ । तिनले चन्दा कति उठाए, कति आफूसँग राखे र कति पार्टीलाई दिए, यसको लेखाजोखा कहिल्यै हुन्न ।

विदेशी लगानीका कम्पनीहरूले चन्दा दिन सक्दैनन् । लेखालाई पारदर्शी राख्नुपर्ने बाध्यतामा हुन्छन्, यिनीहरू । चन्दा दिए के भनेर खर्च देखाउने ? नेपाली कानुनले यसलाई खर्च मान्दैन, करले त झन् यो खर्च कटाउन दिंँदैन । अब कसको खल्तीबाट दिने त चन्दा ? राजनीतिक पार्टीहरूका बैंक खातामा सोझै रकम पठाउनराष्ट्र बैंकले दिँदैन ।

नेपाली समाजमा भ्रष्टाचार गर्नेलाई अन्य देशमा झैं तिरस्कार गरिँदैन, बरु त्यस्ता व्यक्तिका अनुयायीचाहिँ बढ्दै जान्छन् । विदेशमा कुरो अर्कै छ । एउटा अमेरिकी सल्लाहकार कम्पनीमा आबद्ध मैले ६–६ महिनामा घुस विरोधी अनुपालन तालिम (एन्टी–ब्राइबरी कम्प्लायन्स ट्रेनिङ) लिनुपर्छ र प्रमाणपत्र नवीकरण गर्नुपर्छ ।

मैले राजनीतिसँग सम्बन्धित व्यक्तिहरू (पोलिटिकल्ली इन्फ्लुएन्सल पिपल/पोलिटिकल्ली एक्सपोज्ड पिपल) सँग काम गर्दैछु भने त्यसको विवरण खुलाउनुपर्छ । नेपालमा भने व्यक्ति विशेषले राजनीति गरेर व्यवसाय चलाउँदैछ कि व्यवसाय गरेर राजनीति, छुट्याउन नै गाह्रो छ ।

यसर्थ नेपालमा दिगो रूपमा विदेशी लगानी भित्र्याउने हो भने राजनीतिक दलहरूको चन्दा संकलनको परिपाटी नै पारदर्शी बनाउने नियम कानुन ल्याउन जरुरी छ । के कटुसत्य हो भने— लोकतन्त्रमा पार्टी हुन्छ, पार्टी चलाउन पैसा चाहिन्छ, पैसा व्यवसायीहरूले दिन्छन् । विदेशी लगानीकर्ता ल्याएमा चन्दा आउँदैन, त्यसैले चन्दा असुल गर्न सकिने स्वदेशी लगानीकर्तालाई संरक्षण दिनुपर्छ भन्ने धर्ना छोड्नुपर्छ ।

सिन्डिकेट अवरोध

कुनै पनि व्यापारीलाई विदेशी लगानी किन भित्रिन सकेन भनेर सोध्यो भने, उसले सरकार र त्यसका निकायहरूलाई दोष दिन्छ, ‘हामीले गर्दा’ भन्दैन । यथार्थ के हो भने विदेशी लगानी भित्र्याउन सबभन्दा ठूलो अवरोधक निजी क्षेत्र र व्यावसायिक संघ–संगठन हुन् ।

मःमःको व्यवसायमा बाहेक अन्यत्र सिन्डिकेटहरूले नै देश चलाइरहेको कटु सत्यबारे मैले धेरैपटक लेखिसकेको छु । यी सिन्डिकेटलाई सुपर संरक्षण दिने महासिन्डिकेट कानुनी पेसा, परामर्शदाता, लेखा, इन्जिनियर, डाक्टर र अन्य पेसाका आआफ्ना सिन्डिकेटका माध्यमबाट विदेशी सेवाप्रदायकहरूलाई दशकौंदेखि रोक्न सफल भएका छन् ।

नेपालमा अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय गुणस्तरको सेवा वा सामान विरलै पाउने गरिन्छ । विदेशी लगानीकर्ता आयो भने त प्रतिस्पर्धा गर्नैपर्‍यो ! सिन्डिकेट बनाएर मजासँग धेरै मोलमा कम गुणस्तरका सामान र सेवाको व्यवसाय गर्न गाह्रो हुने भयो। यसैले विदेशी लगानीकर्ताको विरोध गर्नैपर्छ ।

नेपाली कानुन व्यवसायीलाई हेरौँ । अंग्रेजीको अल्प ज्ञान भएर पनि तिनले अर्बौंका प्रोजेक्टका कागजातमा काम गर्न पाइरहेका छन् । राम्रा, नाम चलेका विदेशी कानुन व्यवसायीहरू आए भने ठूला लगानीकर्ता विदेशीकहाँ नै जाने भए । लेखापरीक्षकको, इन्जिनियरहरूको सवालमा पनि त्यही नै हुन्छ । नेपालका ऐनहरू नेपालीमा मात्र भएका र सरकारले अंग्रेजी अनुवाद पनि नल्याएकाले, अनुवाद गर्ने आफ्नो व्यवसायबारे सीमित–संकुचित सोच राख्ने व्यवसायीहरूले कसरी खर्बौंको सोच राख्न सक्छन् ?

नेपालमा लगानी भित्र्याउनु भनेको प्रतिस्पर्धाको परिपाटी तयार गर्नु हो । राजनीतिक धारमा बसेका, राजनीतिमा अडेर बसेका सिन्डिकेट र महासिन्डिकेटका कारण जनताको रिस, नयाँ पिढीका उद्यमीहरूको निराशा बढ्दै गइरहेको छ । यो यही नेपाल हो, जहाँ राजसंस्थाको अन्त्य जनताले गरेका हुन् ।

त्यसैले व्यवसायीहरू जति आफूलाई प्रतिस्पर्धा गर्नतिर लागे, त्यति वेश । विदेशी लगानीमा अवरोध र सिन्डिकेटको राजनीतिमा बिताउने समय आफ्नो व्यवसायमा बिताए आफूलाई प्रतिस्पर्धी बनाउन सकिने रहेछ । अहिले मै ६ देशमा काम गर्ने नेपाली कम्पनीमा आबद्ध छु भन्न पाउँदा गर्व लाग्छ । नेपालीले पनि विदेशीहरूसँग आफ्नो देशमा मात्र नभई विदेशमा पनि प्रतिस्पर्धा गर्न सक्दारहेछन् त ! सोच बदलौँ ।

गरिबीका दलालहरूको विडम्बना

नेपालमा सरकार र निजी क्षेत्रका विषयमा त धेरैले चर्चा गर्छन्। दातृ संस्थाको विषयमा कमै कुरो निस्किन्छ । सरकारी सेवाबाट अवकाश भएपछि जानुपर्ने ठाउँ त्यही भएकाले पदमा छँदा किन नराम्रो भन्नु भनेर प्रशासनका मानिस त्यसबारे खुलेर बोलेको हामीले सुन्न पाएका छैनौँ ।

सिन्डिकेट र महासिन्डिकेटवालालाई पनि बीच–बीचमा आउने विदेश भ्रमणको अवसर, आफ्नो संस्थाका निम्ति दिने अलिअलि सहयोग हेरेर चुप लाग्नैपर्‍यो । अलिअलि लेख्नेहरू पनि कुन बेला कता काम आउने हो, मन दुखाउने काम नगरौं भनेर चुप लाग्छन् । तसर्थ हामीकहाँ गरिबीलाई व्यवसाय बनाएर बस्नेहरूको कुरै हुँदैन । नेपाल अहिले पनि मध्य–आय मुलुकका रूपमा चिनिने सामर्थ्य राख्छ, त्यसो गर्ने बित्तिकै गरिबीका नाममा चलेका धेरै आयोजना बन्द हुनेछन् ।

विडम्बना के हो भने गरिब मुलुक भनेर चिनाउँदै गर्‍यो भने विदेशी लगानी आउँदैन र नेपाली समृद्ध भइरहेका छन् भन्नुपर्‍यो भने गरिबीका नाममा आएको पैसा बन्द हुन्छ। अहिले एसियामा अफगानिस्तान र नेपालमात्र अल्पविकसित देशका रूपमा बाँकी छन् । अफगानिस्तानले वर्षको ३ करोड डलर याने नेपाली ३ अर्ब रुपैयाँभन्दा कम पैसा ल्याउनेलाई विदेशी सहयोगकर्ताका रूपमा भित्र्याउने गरेको छैन । नेपालमा दुई बाकस लुगा दान दियो भने पनि मन्क्रीसहितको कार्यत्रम हुने गर्छ ।

विदेशी लगानी भित्र्याउने हो भने कुन र कस्ता दाताहरूलाई नेपालमा काम गर्न दिने भनेर निधो गर्नुपर्‍यो । हामीलाई समृद्धिको उत्प्रेरक चाहिएको छ, गरिबीका दलालहरू होइन । हाम्रा होटल र रेस्टुराँहरू विदेशी लगानीकर्ता र व्यवसायमा लीन भएकाहरूले भरिएको हेर्न पाउनुपर्छ, गरिबी बेचेर खानेहरूको जमातले होइन । संसारमा कुनै पनि मुलुकले विदेशी सहयोगबाट काँचुली फेर्नसकेको छैन । विदेशी लगानीले भने धेरै देशको अर्थतन्त्रमा आमूल परिवर्तन ल्याएको छ ।

सानो कुरामा ध्यान दिऔँ

लगानी भेलामा नेपालले ‘कति पैसा उठायो’ होइन, ‘के–के गर्ने भयो’ तिर ध्यान दिनुपर्ने हुन्छ । ससाना कुरामा ध्यान दिनुपर्छ । हाम्रा ऐन–नियमका मस्यौदाहरू अंग्रेजी भाषामा पनि ल्याउनुपर्‍यो । नेपालले आफ्नो समयमा यो १५ मिनेटको अन्तराललाई अन्त्य गरी ३० मिनेटमा ल्याउनुपर्‍यो, कन्फरेन्स कल मिलाउन कति गाह्रो ! अंग्रेजी भाषालाई पनि मान्यतादिनुपर्‍यो, नबुझ्ने भाषामा कोही पनि व्यापार गर्न चाहँदैन । सिन्डिकेट तोड्न लाग्नुपर्‍यो । नेपालका निम्ति यो लगानी भेला अन्तिम मौका होला । सबैले नेपाललाई ‘लास्ट चान्स’ दिएका छन् । खेर नफालौँ ।
https://www.kantipurdaily.com/opinion/2019/03/22/155322688035252639.html

Be the change

Behavioural transformation is the key to societal transformation

Like every year, this Women’s Day too was marked by a public holiday in Nepal, with 20 other countries around the world who celebrate International Women’s Day as a government holiday. But in Nepal, holidays  usually mean just another day for the menfolk to hang around, perhaps open a bottle or two, snack and engage in a game of cards. For the women, this means another extra day of work in the kitchen. Here, everything becomes tokenism. Those shouting slogans of ‘Buddha was born in Nepal’ would not know which year Buddha was born or what he stood for. Nor people who shout Mount Everest is in Nepal would be able to recognise the mountain in a picture or point it out in a map. Similarly, in a shallow expression of love, posting pictures on social media on Mother’s and Father’s Day have become trendy, too.  The same goes for feeling that compulsion to say something about Women’s Day. The way I see it, it is like colouring one’s hair: you do it because everyone else seems to be doing it!

 

Citizenship discourse

This year on Women’s Day, a powerful message on social media came from Subina Shrestha’s tweet. Shrestha, a journalist, wrote on her Twitter, “I have a dream, that one day a woman can walk with her child and she won’t be asked who the father is. I have a dream that no child, born out of a Nepali woman will be stateless.” This tweet of hers  echoes the sentiment of many who have been fighting a society that pushes politicians to keep archaic laws of discrimination against women intact.

The challenge of this patriarchal conservative approach comes from the demographics of our leadership. In a country where 70 percent of people are under 35 years of age, the leadership unfortunately across all fields is  from the small 3 percent of men above 65 years of age. It’s saddening to note that a mere 3 percent of men above 65 control the rest of the country. These men have no incentive to think about making changes in society,  as they have ensured their children are settled comfortably in foreign lands, or worse, have passed on their conservative beliefs onto their children too.  They do not really care about legal changes in the country.  And those who are only just joining the discourse  and are being forced to rethink the laws they helped create are there because problems are knocking at their door. Problems like their daughters getting married to a non-Nepali.

Conservative families try to fend off the possibility of their daughters getting married to foreigners by getting them married at an early age and spreading the gospel that they have to bear children before they hit 27 years of age. But with the liberal education and exposure Nepali children are getting today, it is tough to sell such dogma.

 

Beyond tokenism

Some time back, my young friend visiting Nepal was discussing  an interesting family situation. She was with her aunts and cousin sisters where intensive discussions were taking place on the ills of chaupadi in villages. Educated women, some of whom had their education abroad, were lamenting on the poor state of Nepal. However, not engaging in the discussion was her sister-in-law who was not allowed to enter the dining area as she was menstruating. This mindset of wanting the world to change but not wanting to change is strange.  But this is the precise reason why change does not happen.

I had written earlier in a column about a supposed male activist who while working on gender equality does not pour a glass of water for himself to drink; instead, he  asks his wife to do so. Given such double standards, it is imperative to take the discourse of empowering women and treating them as equals beyond mere tokenism.

Our culture,  as it is practiced, forces discrimination. A woman cannot be performing rituals like a man. Even when I was ordained as a Buddhist monk temporarily, it was appalling to see senior octogenarian nuns queue after temporary novices for meals. Even in a practice that is supposed to promote equality practices such discrimination. In cultural and religious practices, I have been questioning why is it that a woman has to wear whites and live a treacherous mourning period for her husband after his death, but a man does not have to do the same when his wife dies. People who propagate for change while writing reports, speaking at seminars and wanting to change others do not make any attempt to change practices at their own homes. I have seen supposed progressive actors in Nepal’s development referring to young women colleagues as “nani” or little girl.

Working in an organisation that tries to replicate the country’s demographics, I have been fortunate to be part of a practice where more than half of my co-workers are women and 70 percent of them under 35. Increasingly, organisations will be successful only if they can replicate the demographics of the country they operate in. Scandinavian countries have gone beyond tokenism. Equal income level there is not a myth but a reality. By making that possible,  they have been able to transform society by ensuring that gender equality is a work in process. In Africa, Rwanda has taken a great stride forward.  With women taking 67 percent Parliament seats, they have successfully outnumbered men. What’s more, there are more women in leadership positions, too. Citizenship issue is a structural change that will happen, but providing equality to women in terms of opportunities and status is the big transformation. A lot needs to be done in this regard. Given that, women’s day celebration should move beyond mere tokenism.

http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2019-03-12/be-the-change.html

Now or never

Nepal has one last chance to convince foreign investors it seriously means business

When Prime Minister KP Oli made his speech at the Kantipur Conclave, many were surprised as he talked the language business people and investors like to hear. He did not bring in politics, he was not there talking about what he had done, but he talked about how Nepal had few options but to push for foreign investment. The message was reiterated at the session where I was in conversation with Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali. It was refreshing to hear the foreign minister talk about how economic diplomacy would be the future of Nepal’s foreign policy. Khatiwada sounded clear about what we are going to say at the World Economic Forum in January 2020. The country is gearing up for the Investment Summit on March 29 and 30 next month, and it would probably be the last chance Nepal has to really make a strong statement of its intent and then follow it up with action.

Action to follow words

The fact that a government that has a hammer and sickle on its flag, the word communist in the name of its party and cooperatives as one of the pillars of economic growth puts it in a position where it has to continuously say what it is not rather than what it is. It is not that communist governments have not been able to attract foreign investment, but democratically elected communist governments have not demonstrated it can be friends to foreign investors who have a good track record in terms of governance and transparency. The easiest reference in South Asia comes from the state of West Bengal in India that was ruled by communists for three decades. The state became a laggard as it failed to court foreign investors like other states that brought in investments that created jobs. That led to the state forcing large-scale migration to other states in India and other countries, which is not very different than the story in Nepal.

The current government needs to understand that it begins from a position of doubt which makes it definitely more difficult to convince foreign investors. There is no long queue of people wanting to invest in Nepal. On the contrary, Nepal competes with hundreds of countries that are trying to court foreign investors by providing sops, great service and, most importantly, keeping the promises they have made of not changing the laws or rules of the game. Nepal’s credibility, unfortunately, has been poor with problems in foreign exchange repatriation, approval processes, visas and work permits even though the law provides a very liberal framework. Therefore, a lot of action is required to ensure that the commitments made are actually happening in practice.

Like in many countries, domestic businesses form a formidable force that oppose foreign investment. Some countries pursue a selective process, but in the case of Nepal, this is a big challenge as businesses that function through legitimate cartels in the garb of associations don’t want the government to open up to foreign investment. For instance, in the new draft of the Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act, the negative list has increased, not decreased. How can a country think of bringing in large-scale investments without allowing international legal, accounting and consulting firms to open shop in Nepal?

All political parties have a challenge regarding this issue. Their sources of funds, especially for elections, are businesses that operate under cartels. Surely, with stricter anti-corruption practices the world over, it will be difficult for genuine foreign investors to contribute to election campaign funding. So promoting foreign investment means it is throttling its own sources of funding. However, Nepal is at a crossroads where it needs to take a major decision: Will it dismantle the cartels and make way for foreign investors or keep them to protect their own funding sources at the cost of the country’s economic growth? If it cannot dismantle the cartels, there is no way it can convince foreign investors to come. Perhaps discussions on funding political parties have to begin again on how to create a legal framework for businesses to legitimately make contributions to political parties based on several models that have worked elsewhere in the world.

Don’t throttle growth

We also need to understand that Nepal is a $30 billion economy, and different from the headline news produced by reports that are produced with 2011 data when Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product was two-thirds of that at $20 billion. Even if we take the last International Monetary Fund growth projections, it will grow at 6.5 percent, therefore, we need $2 billion this year just too keep the growth happening. To push it further, we need more money in the system, and there is no country in the world that has tried to grow without foreign investment. North Korea tried, and we know the results.

The current liquidity crisis has nothing to do with foreign exchange mismanagement or consumption; it is simply that the country needs more working capital to meet its regular growth as the Gross Domestic Product number has expanded. If we do not bring in foreign investment, we will not be able to meet this growth. This means an increase in unemployment and migration. This also means that the cartels will continue to flourish, increasing equity gaps between economic classes and geographical regions. Extortion and donations will be a way of life when there are no international firms operating. And why not pay them as part of doing business and fleece the customers? There will be no competition from the outside world. The consequences of throttling Nepal’s current pace of economic growth by keeping it closed may lead to bigger issues that people have not comprehended. Let us not forget that the Maoist insurgency began at a time when Nepal’s then governments tried to rein in reform to appease the interest of business cartels.

Perhaps, at the upcoming investment summit, Nepal has the final chance to tell the world it means business; the genuine ones are going to give one more hearing and never more.

Banking on a plan

The liquidity mess requires a deeper understanding

In their bid to stem the depletion of foreign reserves, the Nepal Rastra Bank has been particularly busy passing directives that keep restricting foreign exchange. Since they have never learned to plan, it is hardly surprising that they resort to knee-jerk reactions. ‘Experts’—many of whom drive super-luxury vehicles—are taking to social media to issue advice on how Nepal needs to curtail the import of luxury goods, including automobiles.

The suggestions being offered seem to suffer from immense oversight—best captured by the classic fable ‘blind men and an elephant’. In Nepal’s case, it is time to address the glaring elephant in the room and retreat from our tendency of ignoring the bigger picture: Nepal needs a more effective management system to support its growth.

It need of nutrition

When a former colleague shared with me that his rapidly growing business landed a big order worth multiple times his current turnover, I told him, ‘This is not good news.’ I pointed to the challenges of finding the money to fund his working capital. It is the same situation for the country. While we were busy talking about political uncertainty and selling poverty, Nepal suddenly moved to become a $30 billion economy. In this emergence, simply to manage a growth of 5 percent, it needed an additional $1.5 billion in investments a year. Now imagine when this grows to $50 billion and $60 billion to reach $100 billion by 2030.

Money is needed to supplement our growth—just as nutrition is needed for a growing child.  This is an important lesson to quickly learn as it is far from a short term phenomenon; if we continue at this rate, our qualms will only multiply. There can be no knee-jerk reactions. A much overdue, sustainable and forward-looking liquidity management plan is required.

I also hear people lambasting banks for their high interest rates, cartel-like behaviour and the high gap between paid deposit interests and loan charges. But we seem to have misplaced the problem: It is the businesses and traders that own the banks who should be addressed. For higher returns to these shareholders, banks have to behave the way they have to. Further, the same people who own banks are also investing in co-operatives, an informal priority sector of the government that is not regulated.

So when money in the formal sector dries, it is well known that the informal sector has plenty of money available at higher rates of interest. There is no shortage of liquidity in the informal sector. Let us not forget the minimum ten percent of graft money in government contracts that continues to flow into this informal sector.

Point to solutions

Therefore, what is required is a complete transformation in the way bank owners can be regulated in terms of their involvements in the informal market. Further, inviting few large international banks to operate in Nepal with a fresh set of licenses will serve to resolve behavioural issues in the long run. In the past three decades, following rapid liberalisation of economies in the early 1990s, there is no country in the world that has been able to manage economic growth without foreign investment and technology transfer. The examples of countries that have followed different approaches, namely Iran and North Korea, have no great stories to tell. In Nepal, where nationalism fervor is always used to explain why we have converted the phrase FDI to ‘Foreigners Don’t Invest’, we really need to understand that to sustain Nepal’s growth, $6 to $10 billion a year is required—and we do not have the domestic capital formation to handle this. We need real FDI to be able to bring in the money that will be invested to create jobs in a country where 500,000 people enter the job market each year.

For inclusive growth across provinces and to address the urban-rural divide, large infrastructural projects are the only answer. Perhaps, in the upcoming Investment Summit, Nepal can tell the world what they are doing to attract foreign investment rather than making a jamboree in the form of announcements and commitments from investors that never seem to move beyond rhetoric and paper. World over, it is seen that the consistent flow of foreign currency from investments can only ensure that the foreign exchange reserves are maintained.

On this note, it is important to explore avenues for further investments from Nepalis abroad. When the NepalLeaks was published, I continued to write in social media that it is important to distinguish between those who circumvent the law to make investments abroad and the graft money that goes out to return to Nepal. The second category surely warrants naming and shaming—along with identifying the political figures and parties who operate these nexuses. But for the first category, opening up Nepal to the world is a clear answer. We need to get rid of the draconian law that prohibits Nepalis from investing abroad. With nearly 3-4 million Nepalis outside Nepal, it is quite natural for Nepalis to be interested in investing abroad.

Allow selective investment through approvals to begin with.  Billions of dollars of dividends from investments outside Nepal are very much needed. If two decades ago, we had started building a framework for Nepali institutional entities to invest in stock markets outside Nepal, why are we shying away? We can learn from how conservative India opened up in late 1990s for its companies to invest outside and are now managing currency reserves more effectively through dividends that flow back to the country.

The liquidity crisis is not a short term phenomenon and a solution will not emerge sporadically. The economy’s signs of growing pains need to be better managed with nutrition in the form of careful planning and solution-driven foresight.

 

http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2019-02-12/banking-on-a-plan.html

विदेशमा लगानी किन रोक्ने ?

माघे संक्रान्तिमा तरुल खाँदा किन हो कुन्नि तरलताको कुरा मनमा आयो । शायद तरुलजस्तो जमिनमुनि बसेका अनेक डलरको सम्झनाले हो कि ! नेपाललिक्सबाट यी तरुल इन्द्रचोक र कति छिमेकी मुलुक हुँदै स्वीट्जरल्यान्डमा बास बसेको थाहा पाइयो ।

कतिचाहिँ भूउपग्रहको माध्यमबाट ब्रिटिस भर्जिन आइल्यान्डमा गएर फेरि त्यही भूउपग्रहको माध्यमबाट नेपाल फर्केछन् । यी १५३ वर्ग किलोमिटरका टापुहरूमा ३५ हजार मानिस बस्छन् । तर तिनले संसारको लगानी चलाउने निपुणता हासिल गरेका छन् । कतिले मलाई सोध्ने गर्छन्, के यी तरुलहरू विदेशिएर तरलता अभाव भएको हो ? अलिअलि असर होला, तर नेपालमा तरलताको विषयमा छलफल जरुरी छ ।

कसको बैंक, को बैंकर

‘अर्थात् अर्थतन्त्र’ किताब लिएर देशका विभिन्न ठाउँमा मैले छलफल गर्दा एउटा सवाल उठ्ने गथ्र्यो । व्यवसायीले बैंकहरूलाई ब्याजदर उच्च भयो, बैंकहरूले धेरै नाफा गरे भनेर गाली गर्छन् । कतिले चोर, डाँका पनि भन्छन् । मेरो जवाफ रहन्छ– बैंकको सेयरमा लगानी नगर्नेहरूले हात उठाउनुपर्‍यो । केही हातमात्र उठ्छन् । बैंकहरूले बेसरी नाफा गरेरबोनस र लाभांश बाँड्दा ङिच्च हाँस्छन् । त्यसबखतसेयरधनीहरूले बैंकलाई नाफा धेरै भयो, लिने ब्याज र दिने ब्याजमा अन्तर धेरै भयो भनेनन् । यी प्रश्न ठिकसमयमा नगरेकाले नेपालमा बैंकहरूबाट लगानीकर्तालाई दिने लाभ उच्च बनाउने प्रतिस्पर्धा भयो । यसबाट अर्थतन्त्रमा ठूलो असर भयो । अरु देशमा पनि घरमा सबभन्दा धेरै गाडी हुनेले ट्राफिकको गुनासो गर्छ । सबैले गाडी संख्या घटायो भने त जाम कम भइहाल्छ ।

नेपाल त्यो केही देशमध्ये एक हो, जसमा व्यापारीले बैंक पनि चलाउन पाउंँछ । धेरै देशमा यस्तो छैन । पसले मानिसले दिमाग पसल चलाउने जस्तै लगाउने भयो । तरकारी किनबेच जस्तै बैंकको सेयर किनबेच गर्नुपर्‍यो । बैंक ठिकसंँग चले–नचले के मतलब ! एटीएम मेसिन चले–नचले केको लिनुदिनु ! कार्ड चलाउँदा रेस्टुराँमा सजिलो कि गाह्रो, के मतलब ! बोर्डमा बसे भत्ता आउनुपर्‍यो, लगानीकर्ता भए बोनस सेयर आउनुपर्‍यो र कर्मचारी भए बोनस आउनुपर्‍यो र भएछ भने विदेशतिर ट्रेनिङमा जानुपर्‍यो । बैंकको सेवा र ग्राहकले पाउने सुविधा ठिक छ कि छैन, बुझ्ने कसलाई चासो वा फुर्सत ? धेरै बैंकका लगानीकर्ता सहकारीतिर पनि लागेका छन् । नेपालको समाजवादको परिभाषामा बैंकभन्दा सहकारी महत्त्वपूर्ण । यसलाई सरकारी अनुगमनबाट पनि छुट छ ।

तरलताको विषयमा बैंकहरूको रुचि धेरै हुनुपर्ने हो । यसमा अनुसन्धान र विश्लेषण जरुरी छ । बसको जस्तो सिन्डिकेट बनाएर र भत्काएर हल हुने छैन । ५० खर्बदेखि १०० खर्बको भ्यालु भएका बैंकहरूले जसरी सिंगल माल्ट ह्विस्की खान राम्ररी सिके, अब बैंकभित्र इकोनोमिस्ट र इकोनोमिक युनिट कसरी राख्न सिक्नपर्‍यो । सुरु–सुरुमा नेपालमा स्थित थिंकट्यांकहरूसंँग सहकार्य गर्ने हो कि ?

चालु पुँजी चाहियो

हामी नेपाली ससाना कुरामा लाग्दालाग्दै देशको अर्थतन्त्रको साइज दस वर्षमा दोब्बर भएको थाहै पाएनौं । हामी जग हालिसकेपछि बाथरुम कहाँ निकाल्ने भनेर सोच्छौं । जति व्यवसाय बढ्यो, त्यति धेरै चालु पँुंजी चाहिन्छ । ३० अर्ब डलरको अर्थतन्त्र ५ प्रतिशतले मात्र बढ्दा पनि डेढ अर्ब डलर अर्थात् डेढ खर्ब रुपैयाँ चाहिन्छ । त्यो नेपालको पुँजीले भ्याउँदैन, नत दाताको सहयोगले ।

त्यसका लागि विदेशी लगानी चाहिन्छ । गत तीस वर्षमा विदेशी लगानीबिना अर्थतन्त्रलाई उच्च वृद्धितिर धकेल्नसकेको देश संसारमा छैन । नेपालले जुन राष्ट्रवादको नाममा विदेशी लगानीलाई अप्ठ्यारो बनाउने गरिएको छ, त्यो सोचबाट निस्कनु पर्नेछ । लगानीका निम्ति गुठी भोजजस्तो लगानी मेला गरेर मात्र हुँदैन । कानुन, प्रक्रियामा भएका समस्यालाई हटाउनुपर्छ । सिन्डिकेटले बाधा–अड्चन ल्याएको छ भने त्यसलाई भंग गर्नुपर्छ । म:म: व्यवसायमा झैं जसले पनि व्यवसाय सुरु गर्नसक्ने र नचले बन्द गर्नसक्ने हुनुपर्‍यो ।

नेपालमा लगानी गर्न कोही लाइन लागिरहेको छैन । हामी अरु देशसँंग प्रतिस्पर्धा गर्दैछौं। लगानी भित्र्याउन देश बाहिर पनि धेरै प्रयास गर्नुपर्छ । विदेश भ्रमणमा जाँदा पार्टीका सम्पर्क समिति, नेपाली विद्यार्थी र सयौं नेपाली संस्थामा गएर भेट्नु र भाषण दिनुभन्दा लगानीकर्तालाई भेट्ने गर्नुपर्‍यो । दूतावासमा तीजको पार्टी गरेर लगानीकर्ता आउने छैनन् ।

विदेशमा लगानी गर्न प्रतिबन्ध लगाउने ऐन संशोधन गर्नुपर्छ । नेपालीले बाहिर गरेको

लगानीबाट आउने फाइदाले तरलताको समस्यासुल्झाउन सहयोग गर्छ ।

नेपालको विषयमा बोल्न सक्नुपर्‍यो । सहयोगको भिखभन्दा लगानीका अवसरहरूबारे चर्चा गर्न सक्नुपर्‍यो । त्यसका निम्ति पढ्नपर्‍यो र प्रस्तुति कसरी गर्ने हो भनेर सिक्नुपर्‍यो । भाषण मात्र दिने बानी गर्‍यो भने कुराकानी गर्न र प्यानलमा बसेर कुरा गर्न कति गाह्रो हुँदोरहेछ भन्ने बोध मानिसलाई भइरहेको छ । त्यसका निम्ति भाषामा निपुणता पनि चाहिन्छ ।

विदेशी टाई लगाउन सिक्यौं, विदेशी कमोडवाला ट्वाइलेट चलाउन सिक्यांै, विदेशी लेबलका मदिरा पिउन सिक्यौं र विदेशमा छोराछोरीलाई पढाउन सिक्यौं, ग्रिन कार्ड र पीआर लिन पनि सिक्यौं । तर किन अंग्रेजी भाषा राम्ररी बोल्न–सिक्न समस्या ? अंग्रेजी बोले नेपाली बिर्सिइँदैन । अंग्रेजी भाषाको ज्ञानलेनेपाली अझ निखारिनेछ । नेपालमा पैसाको तरलता बढाउन विदेशी लगानी चाहिन्छ । त्यस निम्ति हामीले नेपाललाई मार्केट गर्न सिक्नुपर्छ ।

विदेशमा लगानीले फाइदा

लुकी–लुकी रक्सी खाने र खाइरहेको छ भनेर थाहा पाउने समाज छ । लुकी–लुकी विदेशमा लगानी गर्ने र थाहा पाएर पनि नपाएको जस्तो गर्ने समाज हुनु आश्चर्य भएन । विदेशमा नेपाली लगानी दुई किसिमको हुन्छ । एउटा कानुनी रूपमा गर्न नमिलेर बिभिन्न बाटोबाट गर्न बाध्य हुने लगानी र अर्को नेपालमा कर छलेको तथा भ्रष्टाचारबाट आर्जन गरेको रकम विदेशमा गरिएको लगानी वा नेपालै फर्काएर ल्याउने पैसा । दोस्रो प्रकारको लगानीलाई कानुनी प्रावधानमा ल्याउन गाह्रो छ ।

किनकि यसमा राजनीतिक पैसा हुने गरेको पाइन्छ । सिधा हेर्ने हो भने नेपालमा दस प्रतिशत कमिसनतन्त्र छ, वर्षमा यो गैरकानुनी पैसा ६–७ हजार करोड हुने गर्छ । यसको एक चौथाइमात्र बाहिर गयो भने पनि धेरै हुन्छ । लगानीका लागि जाने पैसालाई जान दिनुपर्‍यो, तर राष्ट्र बैंकको स्वीकृतिमा । विदेशमा लगानी गर्न प्रतिबन्ध लगाउने ऐन संशोधन गर्न प्रस्ताव एक दशकअघि तयार छ ।

यो प्रस्ताव अनुरुप ऐन संशोधन गर्नुपर्छ । नेपालीले बाहिर गरेको लगानीबाट आउने फाइदाले तरलताको समस्या हल गर्न धेरै सहयोग गर्छ । भारतमा पनि यो संकुचित मनसाय नब्बेको दशकमा बदलियो । अहिले टाटा कम्पनीले चीनमा लगानी गरेर वर्षको १२ खर्बको व्यापार गरेर रकम भारत भित्र्याउँछ ।

नेपालको अर्थतन्त्र पहिलेजस्तो होइन । यो गरिब मुलुक पनि होइन । यसको समस्या छिटो–छिटो बढ्ने बच्चाको जस्तो हो । धेरै कुरामा ध्यान दिनुपर्छ, विशेषगरी पोषणको । तरलता अर्थतन्त्र वृद्धिका निम्ति चाहिने पोषण हो । यो पार्टीगत, जातिगत कुरा होइन । न यो एनजीओको गोष्ठीबाट समाधान हुने समस्या हो । यसलाई नेपाली अर्थतन्त्रको समृद्धितिर कसरी लाने भनेर नयाँ लेन्सबाट हेर्न जरुरी छ ।
https://www.kantipurdaily.com/opinion/2019/01/31/154890358014265128.html?author=1

The art of conversation

Speeches and the long-held need to preach are passé’

Following Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s return from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, many people, especially governmental counterparts, celebrated his performance.

This annual kumbh of business, corporate and political leaders is regarded as a place of prestige for those who are ‘serious’ about business and investment. This is the first time in 30 years that Nepal landed a spot at the event, with Prime Minister Oli speaking in two sessions. Of course, we had our singing nun, Ani Choying Dolma, in one of the sessions too. All facts seem productive upon cursory examination.

But when delving deeper into the videos of the prime minister’s various speaking engagements and reading his actual transcripts, a few things come to mind. Are our expectations from our national leader so poor that even a mediocre performance is worth lauding? Or are we simply judging his performance against his predecessors, many of whom were known for their embarrassing blunders during foreign visits?

The big question, therefore, remains: What is our benchmark for our leaders at such speaking engagements? It seems to me that we rarely engage in intentional measures to ensure that our leaders are well-versed in the importance of delivery and conversational exchange at these events. When attending meetings and other events around the world, I continue to see how we Nepalis tend to bulldoze through performances at high speed as if we are engaging in a puja or ritual; simply following the steps instead of thinking about the larger picture.

Little interest in global affairs

A year ago, at an informal interaction before Prime Minister Oli took up his position, I had mentioned the need for Nepali leaders to represent the country in global arenas rather than spending time within their 77 district committees. At that time, many who were present simply gave me a look. Our myopic interest in our political echo chamber—which extends to the tea corners of villages and cocktail bars at high end hotels in Kathmandu—has shut us out from the rest of the world.

During the crux of the World Economic Forum, I saw a tweet from senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit questioning why old and new media were paying very little interest in the prime minister’s engagements in Davos. I was just checking how many people perhaps watched the video of the two sessions of Prime Minister Oli; it was dismal. In a country where popular songs cross over 5 million views and mediocre Nepali political programmes garner hundreds of thousands of views, it was sad that what he said in Davos (and perhaps more importantly, how he said it) was not much of interest to Nepalis. The many Nepalis across the world, who would otherwise take a dig at anything that is happening in the country, remained relatively silent.

The delivery of speeches, especially on platforms with global political implications, is a well rehearsed, intentional and strategic act. International governments invest copious amounts of money in ensuring that their politicians are versed in the fundamentals of delivering speeches and engaging in conversations at these events. In this context, it is important to ensure that the Nepali delegation returns with an introspective attitude.

At the end of the day, they must reflect on their performance at the event. Our invitation to this year’s conference marks a major step in entering the global arena in the future, but it should also prompt the question: How are our politicians preparing for their appearances at international conferences of such magnitude?

Conversations versus speeches

The art of listening to conversations in Nepal, like in many parts of South Asia, is often overlooked and undervalued. For generations, religion and feudal culture mandated the prominence of relaying speeches or preachings instead of engaging in deep discourse or meaningful dialogue. The necessity to ask questions, especially directed towards the speaker, is often regarded as taboo. Therefore, programmes largely follow a bleak routinised model: People come, speakers preach and the event is adjourned.

It is a largely held belief that the most important person simply speaks and is not expected to listen. How often have you been to an event and found a fellow audience member taking notes? At all World Economic Forum sessions that the prime minister appeared in, we see other panellists, including Abdullah Abdullah, chief executive of Afghanistan, frantically taking notes.

Despite our many political transformations, the act of delivering speeches remains stuck in the 20th century. We are seemingly perpetuating the feudal phenomenon of listening without questioning.

 

http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2019-01-29/the-art-of-conversation-20190129070656.html

Revelation by reflection

Nepal needs incremental changes from the bottom to change; the top down approach has not worked

The New Year, which always seems to arrive sooner than expected, presents a fitting moment to pause in retrospection. In Nepal, though we have the privilege of celebrating multiple New Year celebrations, the culture of deep reflection and resolution-making is often dismissed as unimportant. Our strategy largely revolves around pushing things to the next year and later drowning in missed deadlines and opportunities.
Reflection is an important aspect of meaning-making. Numerous studies have highlighted its importance in success. A study led by psychologists Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23 percent better after 10 days than those who did not reflect.  Keeping the spirit of reflection in mind, this piece highlights several resolutions for Nepal for the upcoming year.
In Nepal, ‘time’ often appears to be an obscure concept. Events rarely start on time and deadlines are often contorted to appear as ‘suggestions’. This year, the government personified these ideas. Deadlines were consistently missed and stagnation seeped through all federal levels. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, perhaps, could lead the way in challenging this culture in the upcoming year. By committing to time and remaining true to deadlines, his leadership can inspire a rupture in this seemingly perpetual ‘leave it for tomorrow’ attitude that we continue to promote in the country.
The year has also bore witness to many instances of violation of basic norms and ethics.  There have been plenty of examples of misuse of public funds—from parliamentarians pocketing the salary of their staff, to excessive paid junkets and lavish religious events sponsored with public funds. Criticism towards the president’s lavish spending has also reminded many of the Monarchy. The president must lead by example by traveling with less fanfare and desiring no expensive privileges.
Like previous years, lots of skeletons have come out of the closet: be it gold smuggling, construction scams, telecom scams, tax evasion or the judiciary being embroiled in grafts. This year, let us see that these big cases are actually investigated. And, most importantly, let us see culprits going to jail and not getting out on a Rs. 50,000 fine. This will surely send a good signal to the world that the corrupt-days of the Nepali judiciary and parliamentarians are history.
The discourse on whether federalism is good or bad and should (or will) happen or not also needs to end. Our duty as law abiding citizens following the provisions of the constitution is to work together to make federalism work. Every citizen can play a role but the folks in the government have bigger roles. They must ensure that the plethora of pieces of legislation need to be passed and institutional structures be put forward.
The political system of Nepal was run during a transition period by a political cartel fittingly termed as the All Party Mechanism (APM). This year, we actually have an opposition in our parliament and provincial assembly. It is important that the opposition parties understand the powerful role they have in a democracy. Unlike previous years, this is a government that will run for another four years and if the opposition does not do anything, they will be again out of business for another five. Thereafter, it is time for relaxing with excellent geriatric care, not being in politics.
In 2018, we saw the liquidity crisis taking different shapes and banks carteling (and de-carteling). The Nepal Rastra Bank was trying hard to convince people to take steps-which is a similar approach to prescribing contraceptive pills to cure malaria. We need more trained economists in corporations and banks. There are many young Nepali economists who are waiting for the right opportunity to show what they can deliver. There are think tanks that are more than happy to help the institutions. Let’s leave the guessing game to soothsayers with parrots at Ratna Park. There are so many others just waiting to exercise their full potential.
In 2018, the proposed Integrity policy-which was led by a government that belongs to a party that is entrenched in the business of development—has raised mixed signals. We need to ensure that if  there are not for profit organizations or INGOs that do consulting, get them under the Companies Act.  Let us get the Trust Act and other frameworks for Family trusts and foundations. Let us ensure that accountability is practiced and governance prevails. May be start with small things like not billing alcohol consumption as chicken chilly while submitting bills. The Social Welfare Council (SWC) should be made contemporary in its thoughts and action. There is a lot of global philanthropy money along with the multilateral and bilateral available if Nepal behaves well and can spend the money it gets on the right things.
We also need to understand that when an economy grows, it needs more money to fuel further growth. Managers of poverty programs do not get this well and therefore, they start pushing restrictive and prohibitive measures which will further aggravate the problem. We need to understand that when a business grows, it needs more working capital to take care of its growth. Even a 6.5 percent growth means close to $2 billion, we need money to fuel this growth.
Another sector that could benefit from reflection is the economy. There is an urgent need for economic reforms. Capital from around the world is waiting for good opportunities. Investment Summits may work, but past performance does not give any indication that we know how it works.
Lastly, we need to ensure that we pause a little before we start on the blame game. When we point fingers at others, three are pointing at oneself.  Before talking about corruption please do ask, do you go to temples and make unfair wishes? Before blaming bankers for high interest rates, do you now enjoy super returns from banks as shareholders? Before complaining about services, ask how you deliver the service? Nepal needs incremental changes from the bottom to change; the top down approach has not worked.
http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2019-01-01/revelation-by-reflection.html

Unraveling threads of similarity

Beijing and Kathmandu have a lot more in common than we think

Narratives about the relationship between Beijing and Kathmandu often enunciate cultural and historical differences rather than highlight our threads of similarity. But for those who look closely, these threads, which link China and Nepal’s religions, cultures, and histories, are not just written in our ancient literature but are also written into our streets.

I stumbled upon the latter during an exchange with a cab driver while on a recent trip to Beijing. When I told him where I was from, he responded with profound excitement.  Rummaging through his local knowledge, he explained in detail how his city was built by Araniko, one of Nepal’s most famous architects.  During my time in Beijing, the cab driver’s excitement lingered with me as I noticed how Araniko’s work was written into the city. For example, a plaque at the White Pagoda at Miaoying Temple acknowledges it was ‘built under the supervision of Nepali architect Arniko in 1271.’

Rather than focusing on difference, it is important to approach Nepal and China’s relationship with a variety of lenses. Through this approach, we can better understand our shared ancient history and leverage these threads of similarity to strengthen our cooperation and conservation efforts.

Bahas of Beijing

Courtyards have been a prominent hallmark of the now inner cities that comprise Kathmandu valley. Bahas are courtyards that house places of worship dedicated to Gautam Buddha and follow the Vajrayana tradition of worship. The word is used in the Newa language to explain the conglomeration of monasteries or vihara. The bahas have essentially become a way of living as it has historically fostered the continued congregation of people from various walks of life.

When Arniko, at the behest of Emperor Kublai Khan, travelled to China to design the monastery and city of Beijing, he might have taken the contemporary living systems from where he came from as an inspiration. In this context, walking through the Siheyuan of Beijing felt a lot like navigating Kathmandu’s bahas. Siheyuan, which literally translates to ‘four sides of a courtyard with the garden in the center’, were ubiquitous in some parts of Beijing. The hutong or narrow lanes connect the various courtyards in striking resemblance to Patan’s bahas. The chatter among residents, the sense of knowing each other and the lingering warmth of the historical places felt so similar to Kathmandu streets.

The more one explored the inside courtyards of Beijing, the more similarities one could find with the courtyards of the Kathmandu valley. The structures of lions and tortoise along with other animals that line entrances, the frescos on the walls, or the beautifully detailed wooden gate structures, doors and windows—the place bore much resemblance to things back home.

It’s interesting to note that many of these old courtyards have also aged in ways similar to their counterparts back at home. While some have given in to house multi-storied large structures, it’s clear that both countries recognise the historical and social value of these architectural designs and are actively working to preserve them in innovative ways. In both countries, the usage of exposed bricks in courtyard areas illuminates a sense of ‘historical modernity’—which has grown increasingly popular as a tourism strategy. In both countries, some traditional courtyards have been converted into boutique hotels. I encountered this in during my stay at the Red Capital Club. The hotel, owned and operated by Social Entrepreneur Laurence Brahm as part of the chain of Shambala Serai hotels, provides a modern peek into history. I was reminded of the many similar initiatives by Nepal-based private actors to restore Patan’s traditional houses into boutique hotels. According to Brahm, these kinds of restoration efforts will appeal to tourists who are seeking high end experiences in local contexts and will disrupt the traditional models of tourism.

Shared histories

The history of Nepal is largely learnt and understood through western writers. Newa culture, which primarily defined and contributed to the history of Kathmandu Valley, is largely based on oral tradition, and consequently, it is difficult to retrieve a clear description of history from it. Further, the ban imposed on the Newa language and Buddhism in the 104 years of the Rana regime ensured that whatever little would have remained in the mid-1850s, in terms of oral tradition, vanished as much as possible.

Now, Nepali scholars studying in China are discovering a wide range of literature in various Chinese languages that fill some of these historical gaps.  With archival processes in China improving and old texts and documents being made more accessible, researchers with the required linguistic skills will undoubtedly uncover more of these historical and cultural threads of similarities.

As we discover more threads of similarity between Beijing and Kathmandu, a promising next step is to leverage the technology and research driven museums in China to help in the efforts of learning as well as conservation.

The central exhibition at the Beijing Palace Museum showcased Buddhist sculptures from the SWAT valley of now Pakistan to the North east India, Tibet and China. There were many pieces from Nepal too. Nepal never believed in having good museums, as selling pieces to collectors was seen as a more lucrative endeavor than keeping it in museums. The notoriety of many people close to power in engaging in theft and trade has deprived the current generation from witnessing some of the most magnificent pieces of art. This would also ensure that this subject does not become monopolised by a few agencies who portray themselves as guardians of conservation around the world.

Above all, with more people-to-people interaction, further cooperation will be fostered. This would perhaps give us more deeper understanding between the connections we share—be it through a deeper exploration of the physical designs of the bahas and the siheyuan or a closer look at our entangled ancient histories.

https://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2018-12-18/unraveling-threads-of-similarity.html

Moving beyond paper

Everything looks promising on paper until we get to work

Amidst much fanfare, the current government launched the social security programme aimed at formal sector workers. The mechanism governing the scheme relies on employers contributing 11 percent, employees contributing 20 percent—and, with the result of these contributions—the contributor providing social security in the form of healthcare, pensions and other prescribed benefits. The current scheme aims to cover about 3.4 million people—about 12 percent of the population—working in the formal sector.

By design, no scheme is ever wrong; the intent is always right. But in Nepal, a prerequisite to gauging the effects of our own scheme first depends on our understanding of the government’s capacity and the intentions of the politician-bureaucrat-business people nexus. Successive governments in the past seventy years have failed to implement schemes according to their intended design. There are no examples to substantiate the belief that this one can be delivered, and there are three major points to support this argument.

A bad start

First, the current administration’s flamboyant and self-aggrandising approach to announce the scheme itself demonstrated that their interests were only superficial.

Despite having successively extorted well during the insurgency days and raised plenty of funds to support their electoral processes, the political forces directed government agencies to force private companies to cough up funds for the campaign. The scheme’s introductory campaign resembled the ones we see in other South Asian countries—especially in the Indian states that border us. If there was good intent, the campaign could have been made into an educative one. The same money could have been utilised to explain the scheme across all forms of communication and train people who will be involved in the implementation process.

Poor past record

Second, the government’s past record—across all the many permutations and combinations of political parties and leaders—has been poor when it comes to managing money. No government has ever been able to spend all their allocated money and manage funds properly.

Furthermore, some acts and legislation seem to exist only as enigmas. The old Labour law and Company Act provided for 5 percent of money to be set aside for Employee Housing. Yet no one in the government can actually explain what this provision did and how many companies complied. Similarly, there is a provision in the Bonus Act that stipulates that excess amount after distribution of bonuses need to be deposited into a National Level Welfare Fund. Till now, no one is aware of the whereabouts of this fund and nobody can identify its manager.

Similarly, for the two big government-owned funds Employee Provident Fund, on visiting the website, the last annual report that appears is five years old. At that time, for a roughly close to $2 billion fund, the returns seem to be less than one percent. In the case of the ‘Citizens Investment Trust,’ the website mentions a ‘Return of Investment of 8.28 percent for the fiscal year 2017-2018.’ This figure is less than the interest on deposits offered by any bank.

Whenever issues about money or fund management by the government arise, people working in the government do not trust their paymasters. The lack of transparency around the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and the mismanagement of various schemes, projects and programs by the government,gives little room for the people to believe this new Social Security Fund will be managed well.

Problematic private-sector

Thirdly, the cartel-ridden Nepali private sector has always exercised its knack for creating loop holes to circumvent governmental rules and regulations rather than cooperating with state officials to make things work. Employer-employee relations in organisations with large labor forces has been poor.  For instance, in factories or hotels close to the Indian border, rather than trying to work with the government on framing more effective legislation, they would rather hire workers from India, who often do not have any voice. The fact that the Nepali private sector organisations—along with some international agencies and consultants—were involved in designing the new enterprise-unfriendly labor laws speaks volumes of how they treat this issue.

The way out

If the current administration is keen on extracting the kudos of work well done by previous governments, they must be ready to take the flak if it is not successful either. Without the following four steps, the latter situation will be avoided. First, find global fund managers who have the competencies to manage billion dollar funds and hire them on an incentive fee structure basis. Also ensure that there are Nepali firms and individuals that are plugged into the process so that it can be sustainable and locally-driven in a decade.

Second, make the process transparent; investing in educating people on the process rather than on its publicity is required for citizens to grasp the scheme’s importance. Start with an interactive website in multiple languages of Nepal to explain to people what this scheme means and what they need to do about it. When the informal sector has to be tapped in, the base becomes more ready.

Third, the private sector and government needs to work on this jointly and government should be ready to start working beyond super-cartels. Surely, bilateral and multilaterals can always help in this process.

Finally, we need to identify a champion like Kulman Ghishing to run with this and make it work. This individual, along with the global fund manager, can ensure that social security really becomes not a lip service but produces real benefits for citizens. This will result in a major recalibration of Nepal’s growth story: something really worth the fanfare and celebration.

https://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2018-12-04/moving-beyond-paper.html

Reversing reforms

Nepal is stepping back further rather than moving forward

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) released its annual report measuring the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ a couple of weeks ago. The fact that Nepal has slipped a few more places does not really seem to bother anyone. Many people in leadership perhaps even do not know what this report is all about, and furthermore, as it is in English, fewer of them care. However, emerging markets use the way they have climbed steps in the Doing Business report to lure more investors and increase investor confidence. Perhaps slipping places in the report is actually a reflection of the mindset and action of the current administration that, since close to a year, actually enjoys a two-thirds majority in parliament. The government is also the first in the past three decades to actually push whatever it wants to—be it advocating for reforms or reversing reforms. Seems they have preferred the latter.

Reduction in dollar payout
A big news item last week was that the central bank, Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB), reduced the amount of foreign currency one can obtain for travel from $2,500 to $1,500 and reduced the limit on ‘Letter of Credits’ for imports. The reason was that close to $200 million was exchanged during the first couple of months of the current fiscal year when departures included a large number of Nepalis going out during the Dashain holidays. It still puzzles everyone why a $30 billion economy with a $10 billion foreign exchange reserve becomes worried when $200 million goes out the door. Even if we take $100 million a month, we are talking about $1.2 billion a year. Rather than increasing the limit to reflect increased per capita income, inflation and affluence of Nepalis, they have gone back.
Such decisions are an indication of how the central bank views the economy, system, processes and their own importance. Everyone knows how people close to politics and power can wiggle things for themselves;common people who go by the book are the ones that suffer. It is very well known that most bureaucrats and people in politics have little future invested in Nepal. Most of their children are studying outside Nepal and will take up the future abroad. Repeated research has shown that only a small proportion of this segment actually returns. So why should someone who has decided to babysit their grandchildren in the UK, the US or Australia actually decide to open up the economy and usher reforms? Sycophants who can go back to political masters with such decisions indicating how they have kept the country intact from outside influence and ensured that capitalism will not influence the economy and pursuit of socialism surely get rewarded.
No English please
The other big problem that we see is that in the name of implementing the constitution, every document now has to be in Nepali. So tomorrow, if there are a couple of billion-dollar companies owned by foreign investors operating in Nepal, they also cannot use English as the language of choice. The legal community is happy as it has allowed the business of translation to flourish. There are only a few who oppose this as the cartels that control nearly 90 percent of the economy, apart from the sale of momos, are never interested in foreign investment, and they do not care. While one breed of first time young entrepreneurs are suffering as they have been educated and exposed in English, the language of their comfort, a vast majority of other young entrepreneurs are undeterred. Many people who get on the stage at events are basically perpetuating what their fathers and grandfathers created, and they are happy to depend on family insiders that will be more than happy to deal in Nepali. In government offices, using English is seen as being subject to outside influence and again propagating globalisation and capitalism. Therefore, the usage of the Nepali language, however impractical and regressive it is, will benefit the cause of socialism and, of course, make a few people more equal than others.
There are pundits who apologise in public for having to speak in the English language as they have committed to only speak Nepali. These people will tell you how many countries in Europe, China and Japan have embraced their language, and that is what we should do. However, they do not realise that there is not a single emerging market that has shunned English as a business language and pushed economic growth. Developing a bilingual, and now with federalism, a multi-lingual culture is the only way to open up the country to investors that will push economic growth. We should not forget that for Nepal to just reach its $100 billion Gross Domestic Product target by 2030, it needs $8 to 10 billion in investments per year; and that will only be possible through foreign investments and opening up the economy. Rather than the myopia of limiting foreign exchange, allowing Nepalis to invest outside Nepal will bring bank foreign exchange in terms of profits and dividends. Speaking at the FinTech conference in Singapore last week, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), appealed to all member central banks to open up and be ready to regulate e-money. In Nepal, this would surely be comparable to explaining to hooch drinkers the different ways in which single malt whiskey ages or is sourced. Everyone who has a genuine interest in Nepal’s economy, and not just a personal interest in keeping one’s job intact, should really start thinking what the impact will be if reform is not pushed but reversed.