Nepali Times
Moving Target
What peace dividend?


Even in the best of times, Nepal's business climate could never be called friendly. Poor infrastructure, avaricious authorities and endless red tape are among the many problems Nepali entrepreneurs routinely overcome in the course of conducting their affairs.

The suspicious attitude entertained towards commerce by the bureaucracy must be assuaged with bribes, licenses often hinge on large kickbacks, and chronic shortages of essentials like electricity, fuel, and common sense add to the woes. Whatever economic progress has been achieved over the past decades was despite government policy, not because of it.

The advent of the New Nepal looks to insure those hardships and hurdles will soon be remembered as the 'good old days'. Hopes for a peace dividend are already dashed as it becomes painfully obvious the end of war has made things worse for business. Maoist extortionists are operating with impunity and Party-affiliated trade unions are ejecting previous union representatives in factories and hotels. In many cases, their antagonistic approach to relations with management eventually renders their demands irrelevant, as the company shuts down and the jobs disappear.

The three-day strike called by the business community last week was a potent expression of the deeply felt frustrations and anger at continued Maoist depredations. Faith in the government's ability to rein in such illegal activities is at an all-time low, and any belief the comrades are people who keep their word has dissipated.

Nepal's ability to attract foreign investment, seriously hindered over the past twenty years by instability and the politics of fools, is now held hostage to Maoist ideology. Who in their right mind would consider investing in a country where one of the major political parties openly condones beating business owners to extract donations?

Blaming others for one's mistakes is a time-honoured custom in local politics but the recent exposure of widespread extortion rackets run by the Party has taken this national tradition to new depths. Politburo members reacted defensively to the front page news and their justifications contain troubling insights into the party perception of commerce and its workings. Hisila Yami, ever at the forefront of shrill polemics, disingenuously blamed the victim for his own beating and stated he got what he deserved, ignoring the inconvenient fact kidnapping and torture during 'tax collection' is not yet legal. Pushpa Kamal Dahal placed the blame squarely on mythical royalist bogeymen, while labelling hoteliers "infamous abusers of labour" for good measure.

Economic theories based on ideology, tiresome at best, are intolerable when the entire economy is in free fall. As the politburo debates the inevitability of dialectical materialism and how many capitalists can fit in a re-education camp, more factories are closed by the intransigent demands of their union, more people lose their jobs, and the vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment and lack of prospects that caused this conflict is perpetuated.

The mayhem inflicted on the nation to gain a third of parliament for the comrades shattered the hopes of an entire generation. Adding insult to injury-seemingly a Maoist trademark-any chance for peacetime economic progress is effectively stifled by their blatant hostility to all private forms of economic activity.

One doesn't have to look far to see what works. India provides an excellent example of how a few intelligent government policies allow the people's entrepreneurial genius to flourish and drive the economy. Considering the Maoist leadership conducted their war from the safety of Delhi, it is astonishing that they remain oblivious to the remarkable progress India has accomplished since economic liberalisation. This suggests a tragically blinkered approach, so steeped in textbook ideology as to wilfully ignore reality, and does not bode well for Nepal's future.

Demonising business, instead of welcoming the job creation it fosters, is so Cold War old-fashioned as to be downright kitschy. At least Marxist fears of exploitation by foreign companies can be soothed now that Maoist invective ensures that Nepal stays firmly off investors' maps. The so called 'national capitalists' the party welcomes (i.e. tolerates) will certainly reduce their exposure by moving assets offshore instead of investing in the future, with continued stagnation the result.

The civil war cost the country hugely in lives wasted and opportunities lost. As the comrades play out this next stage of their ideological fantasy one wonders how much longer the people must wait for the benefits of peace.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)