From a service-based industry like the Soaltee Hotel to a production-based one like Surya Tobacco, Prabhakar Sumshere JB Rana is an industrialist who, once involved in a venture, is completely dedicated to it and ensures that it will be a success. Rana, who is also involved in an industry linked to the royal family, is being talked about as a possible diplomatic appointee. Deshantar spoke to him about Nepal's politics and economy.
What do you think of Nepal's current financial state?
There are internal and external reasons the economy is in trouble. The 11 September terrorist attacks in the US had a global impact. We have numerous internal reasons as well-instability, bad governance, political fighting. There has been too much of all this in the 12 years since the restoration of democracy, and this has directly affected the economy. There is a problem in the tourism sector, industries are full of problems, and many have already closed down. Even service-oriented industries such as banking and the financial sector are in trouble. Nepal's financial state is in tatters.
On another point, Nepal's budget is based on aid and help. At the recent Development Forum, donor nations were not satisfied with Nepal's performance. Even if the government is spreading the rumour that donors have pledged cash as evidence of their commitment to Nepal, how is this possible? So much money is being channeled to shore up the state of emergency, which has hurt development activities. The bottom could fall out of Nepal's economy. We hear overdrafts have been needed to pay civil servants' salaries. Without political stability development is impossible.
What is the main hurdle?
The people have repeatedly given the Nepali Congress, considered the oldest party, a majority vote. We say the constitution has made the people sovereign. But parliamentarians have ignored the sentiments and wishes of the sovereign people, and devoted themselves instead to infighting. When can the people really exercise their power in an underdeveloped country? The Nepali Congress has dishonoured the people.
So there have been mistakes at the political level.
Our political leaders lack vision and direction. We could learn about civil service, education or business from, say, Sri Lanka. If the political leadership there missteps, the people, who are educated, vote them out. The current president and the government are from different parties. Despite dealing with a civil war for years, their economy remains strong. In the last two months, Sri Lanka's tourism sector has done very well.
The British ruled in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and though it left behind administrative rules in all three, and India and Pakistan have more resources, Sri Lanka is better off today because of education. Educated people look for appropriate leaders and also serve their country.
Can we say that in underdeveloped Nepal, the current political system is a failure?
Democracy means a people's government, the political parties belong to the people. If the people do not direct them right, or if the parties work outside the people's interests, democracy has failed. After that, the administration or the army might rule, but that is different. For multi-party democracy to work, civil society must play a strong role in controlling the leaders, but they have failed. After 40 years of public life, I can say we are only intellectuals in name. We sit in our rooms, playing cards and debating. We don't stand up and say this is not right, or we do not want this.
For example, the income tax declaration scheme everyone was talking about recently. If taxpayers don't pay up, where will the government get money to run the country? Are we to beg forever? Paying taxes is a responsibility, an obligation. But I have my suspicions about the means by which the government tried to raise income tax. I hear the middle class was totally against this scheme. And without the middle class, no government can run.
We lack leadership in government, in civil society, and in the commercial and industrial sectors. Leadership requires clarity of vision-this is what I want, this is how I will operate. The government today offers no vision, which limits its administrative efficacy. Civilians have concluded that political leaders cannot work. The common people have no hidden personal agenda, which is why such a large section of society has felt compelled to point out the flaws in the government's attitude. Nepal is an unsuccessful nation.
Is this a result of the restoration of democracy?
I don't think it is only that. Surely there were failures even prior to the last 12 years. But rectifying them needs uncommon effort. And right now, people do not have the slightest hope that their leaders can do this. Because of not just education, but the information revolution, even the poorest know what is going on, and that this kind of leadership cannot run the country. The emergency was passed with a two-thirds majority, but look at how irresponsible our leaders are. Even now, they are going to cut a cake here, a tea ceremony there, sometimes the opening of a film. Even the nation's capital, with the army and police walking down every street, could be shut down. How are people to feel safe? Some even supported the bandh, saying that if the government cannot work, why should they support it?
What is the solution?
If we don't find one, we will sink. We're already on our way down. To solve it we need a leadership with vision. More than that, we need commitment. Uganda was in a far worse situation 30 years ago. We got democracy at about the same time, but today Uganda is a success story and Nepal is not. We need to realise that too many cooks spoilt the broth.
How should Nepal go forward?
We're in a globally competitive market. We need to concentrate on things where we might have an advantage. Like Nepal, Uganda is agriculture-based. Even the soil is similar, they can grow anything. They used this advantage systematically, and are today successful African nation and a global example. We have around us powerful nations such as India and China. That isn't a disadvantage-it means we have large markets that we just haven't been able to exploit.
Are only political leaders to blame?
We have this habit of blaming each other. We cannot just blame the political leaders. Leaders from other sectors have not been able to pressure the political leaders. After all, we live in the same country. People outside politics must understand this.
We have developed two negative aspects. One is this habit of begging-from everyone and anywhere. I think corruption started with this. After one could not beg and get more, corruption was the last resort. I doubt there are any honest political leaders. We hear that not even lower-level workers do their job without asking the boss for money, because they know how much money their bosses makes.
Do you see any administrative system that can bring the Maoists to political mainstream?
What the army is doing is temporarily defeating them and telling them join mainstream. It is not possible to kill every last one of them. They took the wrong step in taking up arms to make their voices heard. But it is still possible for them to give up arms and come to the table for talks.