The heady concoction of euphoria and uncertainty post-loktantra has created a political high. We have leaders coming above ground and fire-brand interviews have dogged the print and the electronic media. The task of seeking pocket money from India is over and so is testing the strength of parliament through a plethora of political resolutions. However, no one still knows where the economic agenda stands.
Are we as a country going to shun the right to property? Is a distinction between inherited wealth and acquired wealth going to be made and taxed differently? Are we going to be so pro-labour that enterprises may just choose to shut down? Are we going to reform tax laws? Are we going to have authorities that will help companies exit through the new insolvency act? Are private social service delivery institutions in healthcare or education going to be allowed?
Are we going to leave prices of petroleum products to the market or will the state continue to bear losses? Are we going to allow boosting private capital through state-of-art capital markets? Are we going to signal that earning money is good or bad? Are we going to work towards having a better company registrar's office? Do we have an agenda for the multilaterals and the bilaterals to look at and decide where to help? Are we going to pursue a decentralised fiscal policy or a centralised one? Are we going to allow Nepali companies to raise capital outside Nepal and become trans-regional or global players? Do we have a plan to heal the wounds of the families and dependents of 13,000 plus people killed during the past ten years?
The questions can fill pages and as this Beed continues to raise them in this column every fortnight, perhaps there are no answers. Pushpa Kamal Dahal's reference to darkness and the appalling state of affairs at his first legit appearance hopefully extends beyond the symbolic light bulb. We are yet to hear him speak on an economic agenda, we are yet to understand the key ten economic issues that the Maoists would like to see implemented. He has an opportunity to emerge as the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya of Nepal but will he choose that or go the Prakash Karat way?
The past 50 years has shown how we have never had an economic agenda and continued to squander economic opportunities. It began with adopting a half-baked-faulty-Nehruvian model and till recent times a completely anti-enterprise labour law that killed productivity and comparative advantage. Economics have just been paragraphs in election manifestos, which are nothing better than lip service. The multilaterals and bilaterals have chosen to fill in with a constantly changing set of priorities that shifted with the people who arrived to fill their 'hardship' positions in Nepal. Billions of dollars of assistance have resulted in very little positive intervention. The private sector ,which should have filled the vacuum by providing thought ful leadership, has been more interested in politics, be it via the plethora of trade bodies or through a direct role in governments.
We need to create economic prosperity. We need more millionaires and billionaires to create more jobs, tax revenues, opportunities and philanthropy. We need an economic agenda that allows creation of wealth without being shameful about it. If there was no Bill Gates, there would have been no foundation, therefore no dollars pouring into the needy sections of the world.
If there is no wealth there will be nothing to be shared so the issue of inclusion and inequality will be meaningless. All debates on an empty stomach are useless. Hopefully Nepal will not have to continue this debate in tourist-less hotels or in the dark tents of a poor country.