MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
But all three desi eateries have one thing in common: nearly all their service staff are from Baglung and most are cousins. It is their easy-going and hard-working nature that make it easy for the Nepalis to find jobs here. So many Baglunges work abroad that Baglung is called a Lahure district.
Unlike many Nepali immigrants in Australia, Europe and the US, Nepalis working in Asia tend to keep sending their savings home. Nepal's relatively healthy balance of payment and foreign currency reserves are mostly the creations of the NWAs?Nepali Workers Abroad. Remittances kept the national economy afloat during the Lost Decade of the Maoist insurgency. The contribution of remittances to economic development isn't new. The Chinese, Koreans and Japanese used the savings of their skilled workers abroad to create a capital base for expansion of trade and industry.
The experience elsewhere in Asia, however, has been less inspiring. The remittances of guest workers from the Philippines and Sri Lanka have done little more than boost conspicuous consumption back home.
Beneficiaries of hundi transfers from West Asia in Kerala build palatial beachfront houses. In Bangladesh, recipients of remittances buy gold jewelry. Lavish parties for extended family members of the workers toiling in the Gulf region are quite common in Karachi and Lahore.
Land prices in Baglung are some of the highest in the country. Every other shop in the bajar is a jewelry store, English schools are popping up everywhere. The money sent home has done little to improve infrastructure or create jobs. Baglung seems to have embraced the Kerala Model?spend generously on food, shelter, education and health, but stay away from risks of investing in productive sector. All their savings go into buying land, not only in Baglung and Pokhara, but also in Kathmandu.
Baglung is exceptional in sending a very large proportion of its most productive people?educated youth in their prime?to work abroad. But it's no exception when it comes to the use of the money they send home. After the family starts eating noodles instead of corn bread for breakfast, and drinking beer in the evening, the desire of a migrant worker's family is to take ageing parents to private nursing homes for treatment of asthma, gout, poor eyesight and bad teeth. Then to the jeweler's to buy heavy rings and necklaces. Once these needs have been fulfilled, the hunt for a suitable plot of land begins.
Investment in land is risky. Unlike gold, plots of land don't have a standardised pricing mechanism. Real estate is worth only what the next person is willing to pay for it. At least some workers in Japan are aware of the real-estate bubble burst. They worry about their savings in Nepali banks and finance companies. The least the government can do to secure their savings is to closely monitor Nepali financial institutions that have invested heavily into real estate.
NRNs can take care of themselves quite well. NWAs, however, need assistance to cope with the shocks of global recession.