Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Going nowhere


Is there anywhere in the world with as many queues as the Kathmandu valley? Everywhere you look, they are there, right in front of you. Those snaking monsters, hundreds of cars long, which disappear round the block only to eat their own tails in the wait for petrol. Those people standing in line half the day for their cooking gas and kerosene. And in the dry months ahead, we'll see another set of queues, manned patiently by those waiting for their daily share of water.

No-one queues like us. If you aren't in a traffic jam, you don't feel like you're a part of the city anymore. The stream of traffic inching its way down to Kalanki from the valley rim can be three miles long or more. At Koteshwor you're lucky if it's half that.

And who can get to Bhaktapur in 10 minutes? It's only 8km away for goodness' sake.

People queue visibly and uncomfortably to get a mobile connection. But the invisible queues to get an electricity connection are probably among the most expensive. Even diplomatic missions are getting in on the act: night owls on their way to bed will see nocturnal queues expanding in the early hours. Are visas any cheaper at 3AM?

Even if you're loaded, even if you have bags of spare cash to fling around, the queue for a new car can last for months. And at the airport, our snarling queues have earned lots of column inches in the global press. What's even worse is that when you finally get to the head of your fifth queue, you are robbed by those nice men in uniforms. With more airlines signing up every week, TIA should be offering free queue management classes for passengers.

Is it just that we Nepalis have all the time in the world? Or perhaps we just pretend we do, so we don't have to put a value on those tens or hundreds or thousands of hours we lose each year in queues.

Let's assume there are 10,000 taxis in the valley, and each driver spends one day a week in queues to get his fuel quota. This fuel shortage has now been going on for about eight months, so we have lost well over 300,000 person-days already. Add on the motorbikes and private cars, and surely the cost is running to millions of dollars-worth of productive human output.

And of course the sad paradox is that while the nation is short of petrol, those of us that actually have some end up wasting most of it sitting in traffic jams caused by the queues of those still waiting to buy the stuff. That's not all. We are also losing extra hours of people's work time as the queues become an excuse to not show up for work at all.

And the reason nothing is done about all these queues? Well, this Beed has noticed that our society is not exactly based on a strong foundation of equality, so queuing is not applicable to all. Just ask a politician when he or she last queued for something. Queue jumping is an elitist phenomenon and those that can, love to show they are part of it. If there were no queues, how would the elite show their eliteness?

Nepal is losing millions of dollars through these queues. It's about time we changed our attitude and looked at them from an economic perspective, not a superficial one.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)