Nepali Times Asian Paints
Economic Sense
Looking ahead


The Beed was told yesterday that predicting stock prices is about looking forward and not to past trends. One wonders whether this is a lesson we can apply more generally in Nepal: look forward, not backward. Reading some of the news pieces from last week confirmed my hunch.

Civil servants had a day off to celebrate Civil Servants Day, adding to an already long list of holidays. How can they bear to look at themselves in the mirror? They probably don't, which is why they're more self-congratulatory than critical. My favourite Fire and Ice Pizzeria announced its closure due to union issues. If we cannot retain existing foreign investors forget about luring new ones! Here is a great eatery that had the potential of being franchised in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and it has had to close because of a few haggling staff members. The Central Bank is considering capping bank CEO packages. How regressive! If banks perform, it's because the management and shareholders are paid well. A better way to cut costs would be to have more efficient and transparent performance-based bonuses and removing the offices of all non-executive chairpersons and directors from banks. The Securities Board is taken to ransom by some promoters who want to sell their shares and a group of self-proclaimed selfless investment protection groups that do not want the Securities Board to follow the law. A bunch of former diplomats get together to discuss economic diplomacy and as elsewhere in the nation, time does not matter. Waiting for the minister, the program starts an hour late and attendees who have been invited do not know whether they are to speak or not.

The list is endless.

What should we take away from these stories? Our government and bureaucrats may be terrible, but that shouldn't keep private organisations and citizens from doing their part. Look forward, not backward. Americans waited eight years for Bush to go, but such leaders didn't serve as clogs in the wheels of the economy. It's only in Nepal that we cover up our own inefficiencies by blaming something we know we can't change overnight. Why can't businesses discuss e-commerce with India alongside regular trade? Armed with a credit card valid in India and Nepal, one can transact on Indian portals. Can we regulate this? If there are Indian calling cards that can be used from Nepal, how does that impact Nepal's revenues? Can we think beyond getting Vanaspati ghee through? Should not bank directors and shareholders be reviewing customer feedback reports and fixing their non-functional helplines?

While we should do our best regardless of the bureaucracy, the bottom line is that it needs to go. Now that we can buy sim cards over the counter, we don't need bureaucratic permission to make phone calls. ATM cards have eliminated the need to pay to take money out of one's own bank account. If we could register our companies online, it would save us the whiskey money we're made to pay at registration offices.

In short, leveraging technology and thinking about the future can only take us ahead. Isn't that where we want to be? l

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)