Nepali Times
State Of The State
Local effect of global crisis


Industrialist Binod Chaudhary has a flair for flamboyance. In his salad days, he cut a disc of Nepali songs, married outside the caste and publicly admired flashy and abrasive millionaire Donald Trump. Chaudhary created the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) to counter the populist FNCCI and made to Forbes. He wangled a UML nomination to the CA under the Madhesi quota. Last week, he asked the government to take appropriate protective measures to shield the Nepali economy from the consequences of the global financial crisis.

Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai is Chaudhary's contemporary. He excelled in academics, married a peer, organised peasants and prepared the blueprint for armed struggle. From the Institute of Engineering in Pulchok to being minister of finance at Singha Darbar, it has been a long journey for the Bahun from Gorkha.

Bhattarai pooh-poohed Chaudhary's concerns?and in reply told the assembly that Nepal was protected from the effects of global crisis by its backwardness. Nepal may have been spared the initial shock of recession in the US and Europe, but no country is beyond the reach of global capital. What Bhattarai should have said is that there is nothing we in Nepal can do about it because our economy is so backward.

But the crisis does provide an important opportunity to review the trajectory of the national economy since the mid-1980s when Nepal embraced the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and laissez-faire with the enthusiasm of a novice. In an Orwellian twist of the term, 'reform' became the shorthand for giving a freehand to business. A fragile state, weak regulations, ineffective oversight, liberal import regime and easy credits in the late 80s to the 90s transformed brokers into merchants. When the financial sector was privatised, shrewd businessmen became their own bankers, insurers and guarantors. The 'domestic capitalists' that Maoists say they support, built cardboard castles of dealerships, local agency and commission businesses.

Nepali Workers Abroad (NWAs) keep the hollow structure of profitability afloat with a constant inflow of their savings into the national economy. Should remittances slow for any reason the whole edifice of a 'free market' in the country will crash under its own weight. The finance minister needs to do more than shift responsibility to an ad-hoc panel.

It's too subtle to notice, but early warning signs of an impending crisis aren't difficult to discern. Banks have stopped lending money to buy land. Operators of petrol pumps want higher margins as sales prices come down. Blackout hours go up with no sign of new investment in hydropower. Water wars have begun in Dhulikhel. Nothing seems related, but everything is related.

The country will have to cope with intensifying financial, food, energy and environmental crises in the days to come. A corpus for possible bailout of weak financial institutions and small depositors, higher allocation for food-for-work programs and building emergency grain stock, consolidated fund for clean energy and a taskforce for environmental catastrophes need to be formed immediately.

These are some of things Baburam and Hisila Yami can begin without waiting for endorsement of their decisions by the UML, MJF or NC. If prices of petroleum products are kept stable, savings can help ameliorate immediate exigencies.

Revolutionaries create crises to change trajectories of national policy. The Maoists have been served one on a platter. It needs to be used for real reforms this time and not more neo-liberal experimentation.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)