Nepali Times
Economic Sense


Who says Kathmandu is boring. It is positively hopping with action these days, preparing for the SAARC Summit. An event like this allows Nepal to showcase its hospitality industry as well as the sensitivity (or otherwise) with which we preserve our culture and heritage. For instance, there are cleverly preserved antique lampposts (sans lamps) inclined at various degrees and covered with cursory coats of paint. The city is a canvas-potholes are being covered and sidewalks plastered, and positively Cubist white lines being drawn through roads. Yes, a lot is happening.

As with so many other things your Beed has drawn attention to in this space, the Trade treaty being just one of them, this is another example of the Nepali love of doing things at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute. We have come to the conclusion that this reflects two possible aspects of our national psyche-either we are brilliant with deadlines and work best under pressure, or we are plain complacent. A less sanguine view, though, is that we are so engrossed in the vicious circle of moneymaking through convoluted nexuses that we simply succumb to the dictates of people who gain by making haste. It is an awful thing to say, but it appears that Nepali mediocrity in thinking and doing has stooped so low that no one bothers to even comment about this blatant misuse of resources. Are we just resigned to the fact that these events are moneymaking opportunities for people and things will get back to normal once the circus leaves town? The shopkeeper who has been evicted and the hawkers who have been thrown off the sidewalks know it is just a long holiday for them, but they can always return.

This SAARC madness and other fits like it are among the reasons for Kathmandu's growth as an unplanned urbane jungle. If it were not for this event, squatters and hawkers in many areas would have converted their spaces into permanent homes. We conveniently forget how in some similar time shack owners were evicted with promises of compensation along Exhibition Road, turning a potential hub for exhibitions into lanes of shops. The squatters for their part simply moved on elsewhere. The various agencies that have allowed haphazard constructions for decades are now calling foul and want to take action against the erring structures. Sure, the buildings are being pulled down, but that is a short-term solution. Those who constructed them are not being penalised, and there is no sign that building regulations will b enforced more strictly in the future.

Millions of rupees have been poured into patchwork repairs on roads, pavements and other places, all for the short run. We need to have preventive and regular maintenance so scare resources are spent better. We need stringent construction guidelines that are enforced, and we must devise ways to manage the proper functioning of our city's systems. We need, above all, to have regulated a marketplace that gives all players a level playing field, and help shacks that survive by paying protection money into retailers that pay rent and electricity.

What sort of a future are we creating for ourselves? Hasty last-minute decisions always cost the country dear. From the way we negotiate treaties to the way we handle enterprise labour relations to even the way we dig our roads and install electric poles, a lot needs to change. For the greater good, we need to learn, otherwise it will always be like this, with a few making good off the stupidity of the system.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)