Nepali Times Asian Paints
Economic Sense
Nothing new,nothing about economics



SEEN IT BEFORE: Campaign strategies are following the same time-honoured lines.

The cocktail circuit of Kathmandu which so beautifully belches negativity after every drink has started to shift its discussions from why the constituent assembly elections will not happen to the inevitable doom that will descend after the constituent assembly elections happen.

The discussions range from taking Nepal back to pre- or post-1990, to Maoist takeover of the nation, to Nepali Congress aborting the process at the last moment. As Nepal has some of the most liberal alcohol sale and consumption laws in the world but no national gambling program, probably these self-appointed Cassandras will never shut up.

The parties seem to be serious about campaigning but, nine years on since the last election, campaign strategies have not advanced much. It's still all about trailing around door to door, wining, dining, coaxing funds and generally the same old procedures we first learnt two decades ago. Even our political gurus in down in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have changed their campaigning ways, but we are still happy to assume that our voters are illiterate, easily beguiled, and willing to sell their votes for a few glasses of raksi or some crisp rupee bills.

The demographics have changed. We have more young voters, who are wired to the world and have different expectations. However, it seems that none of the political parties have heeded this transformation.

The agenda for Nepal cannot be political only. What use of federalism if there is no plan for how taxes will be collected in the federated states and what powers they will have regarding expenditure? How will the state governments or the autonomous regions interact with business? Will there be enough autonomy to provide different tax sops? Who will collect VAT and Income Tax and how will the taxes collected be channeled to the various local governments? Who will be responsible for building infrastructure - the centre or the federated states and the autonomous regions? Will donors be able to work directly with the regions and states or will they still have to go through the centre? Can different regions have different labour laws or operate special economic zones? Will there be different telecom operators with circle-based licenses or will telecom and IT still be satellites of Kathmandu? Will the states be allowed to give hydropower licenses and have a say over transmission and distribution? Will education and health policies be decentralized? The questions are never-ending.

These issues are important and need proper research from experts in statecraft, history, economics and social sciences, as well as debate in the assembly, living rooms and teashops. But at the moment no one has much of an idea - much less a clear policy - on how economic growth will be achieved, how infrastructure will be built or how jobs will be created. While some members of the business community will probably make it into the upcoming assembly, they will most likely only be those who joined the government during the royal regime.

The election debate needs to shift from vague promises and word-games to concrete discussions on how to build the future economy of Nepal. Some people seem to be expecting the elections to achieve little more than the coronation of a new dictator or guarantee of the political succession of ruling families.

Those who are happy to complain and doomsay with their import whiskey or rum in hand should think about something positive they could say for a change.Considering that these are often amongst the most educated and cosmopolitan in the country, why don't they put their wits into thinking about new paths for Nepal's future, rather than throwing mud at everyone?

Otherwise, for decades any elections we have will come together with the familiar backdrop of power-cuts and queues outside gas stations, and parties struggling even to get their manifestoes printed in time.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)