Nepali Times
State Of The State
Minding business


We worship wealth in Nepal, but when it comes to generating it, we are laggards.

The business class here lives off rent from fixed assets and connections with the ruling clique. Cartels and exploitation of labour are the norm. Get-rich-quick methods are the way to go and long-term investments an anomaly. Almost all big businesses are family-owned, clan-run, and conservative to the core. The defaulters' list of public sector banks reads like a who's who of Nepali business.

The top layer of business have flirted and celebrated the rise of Chairman Gyanendra, and is now trying to subvert a possible SPA-Maoist rapprochement.What other explanation is there for their pre-Tihar behaviour? The business community has no right to resort to forced closure, wildcat strikes and tactics of intimidation.

Nepali entrepreneurs' profiteering tendencies didn't develop in a vacuum. Government policies regard profit as the primary motive of business, and job creation as an outcome, not driver, of growth. This must change if business is to contribute to national integration and economic development.

The economic agenda of the mainstream parties is hopelessly donor-driven, based upon long-discredited jobless growth models from the IMF and World Bank. The Maoists seem to not know how they want the economy to grow. Soft-spoken commissar Deb Gurung's business babble about the primacy of domestic trade and industry doesn't make much sense in a country self-sufficient only in the production of franchised soda-water, licensed alcoholic drinks, monopolised tobacco, and localised junk food. We need instead to democratise business through the promotion of micro and small enterprises.

The Grameen experiment and microfinance in Nepal both began in the early eighties. Comparing the two can offer useful lessons to economists entrusted with charting a new economic course for the country. The former flourished in a country not entirely controlled by elitist businesses, the latter floundered under the weight of fixers promoting shady foreign banks.

Grameen Bank and its founder Mohammad Yunus have been awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for the grassroots work they did to help lift millions out of poverty. The similar Small Farmer Development Project (SFDP) here operated under the Agricultural Development Bank continues to falter.

In the court of history, the Maoists will also be held responsible for the havoc their misguided ideology has wrought on fledging microfinance and small businesses. This impoverished the poor and helped the parasitic rich prosper. Had microcredit schemes benefited from the lucrative money transfer business of the remittance boom, we would have maybe fewer ATMs in cities, but more banking facilities in small towns and rural areas.

The fundamental premise of the Grameen model is also important-belief in the ability of the individual to lift herself out of poverty. Professor Yunus concluded that the future of small businesses in developing countries will have to be led by women, if the poor are to be empowered and get out of the poverty trap. Almost four-fifth of Grameen stakeholders are women.

Like the deities of two other forms of power celebrated this festive season-Kali of coercion, and Saraswati of wisdom-the goddess of wealth is a woman. It's impossible to break the vicious circle of poverty, ignorance, and timidity without empowering women. May she bless those who worship all her earthly forms.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)