Radhesh Pant's appointment as the CEO of the newly-formed Nepal Investment Board came as a breath of fresh air for people in the business circle. However, Nepal's politically partisan environment has meant that his appointment is already embroiled in controversy.
On paper, Pant, a seasoned banker, is among a handful of Nepalis who fit the job description and his past credentials confirm that he is capable of attracting new investors. But there is an inherent downside of being appointed the head of a government-created enterprise.
Most government-created enterprises are formed through a similar process: a multilateral donor agency comes up with a bright idea of starting a public-private enterprise; the idea then goes through months or sometimes years of gestation period; at some point, the parliament sets up guidelines for the enterprise and the government then promises to recruit the "most qualified" person.
Problems emerge once the head of the enterprise is appointed. The government slowly starts to interfere in the functioning of the enterprise, often in blatant violation of the guidelines. Within a few years the promising CEO is forced to quit and is replaced by political sycophants. As a result the enterprise becomes just another lucrative employment centre for political party cadres.
Nepal Tourism Board is a prime example of such a convoluted process. The Investment Board and Pant are also highly susceptible to political games. Their success will depend on how Pant goes about creating a professional culture within his organization and how well he keeps up with investors' expectations.
The investment sector relies heavily on three variables: perceptions, consistency and reliability and a diverse, competent, and professional staff is best suited to deliver these goals. Pant as CEO will need to pay careful attention to the hiring process. Staff can be locals or foreigners but their appointments should be entirely based on their qualifications, not their political affiliations. Only by controlling the type of people who work in the institution will Pant be able to deliver positive results, keep investors happy and avoid unwanted interference.
Pant must also be able to gain confidence of investors and maintain their support for an extended period of time. His top priority should be to address the concerns that investors already have about Nepal from political instability to the enforcement of contracts to labour union disputes. However, the board alone cannot solve such serious issues and will need political and public support from the PM's office as well as the media.
As Pant gets ready to undertake his responsibilities his peers, as well as young Nepali professionals will be closely scrutinizing his performance. Here's wishing him success because Nepal desperately needs to attract investors and develop its power, infrastructure and agricultural sectors.
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