Nepali Times Asian Paints
Strictly Business
Get back to business


Working with Nepali entrepreneurs a few years ago, my then colleagues and I developed a shorthand to identify Nepali businesspeople. There were those we called 'the FNCCI types' and there were others who were 'non FNCCI types'.

The FNCCI types were card-carrying Kathmandu-based members of the Federation of Nepali Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI). Often these were physically overweight businessmen (and they were always men!) who had-since the heyday of the Panchayat-benefited from close ties to various power centres. If you studied their foldable business cards you'd realise that these people, with various titles they gave themselves, had their hands in every pie, regardless of whether such an arrangement made business sense.

Once you got to know them, you found that they disliked open competition. They were always ready to form cartels or obtain monopoly privileges. They clamoured for market protections. They yearned for a dictator to enforce order and stability in the country. And more tellingly, they spent more time using the FNCCI as a platform to launch their political careers on the side than for running their own various businesses. Given a microphone, some would even turn into economists-eagerly offering solutions as though what was true of a, say, beverage business was true of the economy as a whole. The press called them 'captains of industry' and collected advertisement rupees. The donors found it convenient to see them as the face of the Nepali private sector-funding anti-corruption workshops and local development efforts, sponsoring study tours to other countries and giving grants to improve industrial relations.

The non-FNCCI types on the other hand did not have it easy. Often these were younger, hungrier, scattered and politically unconnected single-business owners who had no choice but to pour all their energies into making their businesses grow. Not having easy access to Kathmandu's upper class, they found it hard to convince the banks to give them loans, relying on their own savings and private borrowings to start and sustain their enterprises. They did not know how to charm the donors or court the press. So they spent their time fixing the nuts-and-bolts of their businesses rather than running around pretending to be policy-makers-in-the-making.

Indeed, they showed no ambitions beyond making their businesses commercial successes despite repeatedly facing a hostile bureaucracy, unclear laws, governmental arbitrariness and infrastructure-related problems. In a competitive economy with a level playing field, the focus that these non-FNCCI types had would have served them well. But in Nepal, unless they were connected to global customers, they had to either play second fiddle to the FNCCI types or somehow find a way to become FNCCI types themselves.

Given this perceived dichotomy, can the new-even if unanimously (s)elected-FNCCI executive committee do anything? Yes, but only one of these two things: First it can cling to its past, blame various political crises for making things difficult for businesses and use the Federation as a platform for a few to launch themselves into second careers as the state's hand-picked politicians. Or it can take a difficult but ultimately rewarding path of single-mindedly staying true to its mission of 'facilitating Nepali businesses become globally competitive'. To do that, it needs to stay on course to aggressively remove barriers to doing business in Nepal and push for relevant laws, standards, compliance issues and markets so that the size of the pie becomes bigger globally for all Nepali businesses. Anything else, no matter how lofty-sounding, would be just a distraction-an excuse really for rich and bored businessmen to while away their time fancying themselves as future ministers who can somehow set this country's financial mess straight.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)