Nepali Times
Strictly Business


BACHELORS OF WAR? Guerrillas at a camp in Chitwan will be entitled to university degrees under the finance minister's plan.
Imagine no school and no exams either. Imagine the government gives you a degree anyway.

Last week, Minister of Finance Baburam Bhattarai, PhD, said the government was preparing to hand out academic certificates to those who could not pursue formal education due to their involvement in the 10-year-long people's war - a war that left more than 13,000 Nepalis dead and thousands more injured and displaced.

Bhattarai further stated that those without academic credentials would also receive the certificates. Why? Apparently because they possess sufficient skillls and knowledge but could not go to school because of financial or other problems.

Put another way, when this degree-for-experience (D4E) plan is carried out, the path to earning a degree will not be the old-fashioned way of studying hard to fulfill the requirements, but of having a political leader vouch that you were in the jungles of Rolpa toting a gun at a time when you should have been at school in Tulsipur.

Assuming that the D4E is not a new rung placed on the career ladder of ambitious young Maoists, it is destined to be a corruption-ridden plan. It won't help anyone in the job market. And there is a better way to teach the former rebels how to fish for themselves.

Corrupt process: Suppose the plan goes forward. How will the government verify the facts concerning a D4E aspirant? Will it ask for letters of verification from senior political leaders who were also engaged in the war? And this act of providing certification letters will expand the discretionary decision-making power of senior politicians, some of whom are likely to use their new-found authority to please not Mao but Mammon by selling favours on the side.

Failed the SLC five times? No problem. Pay a senior politician to vouch that because you spent your teenage years hiding pamphlets in Kirtipur, you are now eligible for something akin to a Bachelor of People's War (BPW) degree.

Confused signals: Shown a BPW certificate, how is the job market to evaluate its worth? Since full-time jobs that pay regular salaries do not require employees to engage in even mini people's wars in the workplace, how relevant will the experience 'recognised' by the certificate be to obtain a job?

Or is Bhattarai giving out certificates now to mollify disgruntled cadres only to put pressure on the private and the state sectors later to accept the BPWs as new hires?

If so, when those with dubious degrees are seen to be paid salaries, others with genuine degrees will have little incentive to work in Nepal. The counterfeit in effect drives out the genuine.

Concrete action: In his budget speech, Bhattarai announced that the next year will be the Year of Construction, while 2011 will be the Year of Tourism. These sectors require skilled workers. Why not find money to pay for short-term, skill-based training programs that help former rebels master skills that they can sell to the construction and tourism markets? The sooner the former rebels acquire skills to earn their own money in and out of Nepal, the less of a burden they will be on the government.

Many Nepalis gave up their student years to take part in the war. In these relatively peaceful times, we must find ways to economically rehabilitate those Nepalis. But the way to do that is not by 'recognising' the ex-rebels as, say, fishermen, when in reality they do not know what a fish is - much less how to catch one.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)