Nepali Times
Strictly Business
In a mismanaged state



If management is about looking ahead and carrying out actions today to prevent problems from coming up, then it's time to declare Nepal a mismanaged country.

Since 1951, we've had our fill of elaborately drawn-out five-year plans. But since we execute little of what we plan, problems mutate into disasters and we then get busy playing the blame game.

Even when the evidence of mismanagement is plain for all to see there is a reluctance to frame Nepal's broader failures in terms of anagement.

Civil society pundits would rather use the euphemism 'failure of governance' than be caught saying that Nepal's same-old politicians have failed us as the nation's managers.

Almost 100 years after electricity was first introduced in Kathmandu, this nation of glaciers and rivers suffers from crushing daily 16-hour power-cuts. Why? When elected leaders repeatedly fail to plan for the rising demand for electricity, why doesn't that strike us as a man-made disaster?

Lanes meant for buggies in the Rana era are clogged as pavement-less roads today, with motorcycles jostling for space with cars and buses. The Valley's first urbanisation plan was made in 1972, yet we carry on as if crowded streets and squalid urban sprawl must continue to define our surroundings. Holy rivers have turned into open sewers.

Yet we put the blame on politicians in general terms, but never make their lack of management skills an issue to consider when sending them back to the parliament again.

One reason why it's hard to talk about the lack of management skills is that management remains an odd discipline. Indeed, most otherwise well-educated Nepalis don't know what to make of it.

Universities may offer a degree in management, but rarely do they teach the nuts-and-bolts of management. The craft of management can be honed only through intensive, multi-year apprenticeship in the real world, just as it is in law and medicine. At best, business courses dwell on functions of management such as finance, marketing and sales.

And the thinking is that if one takes a bundle of such courses, one somehow emerges as a manager. That is as helpful as saying that the best way to master swimming is by waddling in a tub.

Besides, when it comes to management, everyone thinks that their prescription skills are well above average. Even the self-conscious preface of "I am not a manager, but . . ." does not stop confident-sounding amateurs from doling out patches to problems that require fine-grained judgment on multiple levels, on balancing resources and ersonalities with timing and results. With most articulate people thus assured of their own superior managerial know-how, honest, searching conversations about actions that achieve results for most Nepalis become rare in the public sphere.

This rarity offers an opportunity to smart young politicians in the Constituent Assembly to start seeing their career arc as being national managers. To reduce power-cuts, they should be asking: What have we learnt from previous mistakes? How can we effectively deploy large pools of capital to generate power within a few years? How much will it cost, who will get the benefits and how will we find the money to pay for it all? If plans go wrong, how will we get back on track? Who should be held accountable for the results?

Granted, asking those questions alone will not solve the problems. But they change the emphasis from discussing problems to finding solutions. And finding solutions to problems (i.e. good management) is what we should demand all the more from our politicians.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)