Nepali Times
Old boys’ network


In the West, governments are grappling with the enormous socio-economic impact of an ageing population. Society is battling the need to get the elderly back into the workforce so they can be productive in retirement.

However, it is with pride and amazement, that I observe this isn't the case in Nepal. Here, elderly people-elderly men to be more precise-still form the majority of the workforce, the political establishment and the bureaucracy. Defying all international norms, they are at the forefront of our society, calling all of the shots because of the traditional veneration for older people here. It is the young who have no clout and connection in Nepal.

Now, how did we manage to get to this point? It is a grand design cunningly plotted and practiced over centuries by grey-haired conspirators from all sections of society. From Baluwatar to Singha Darbar, to corporations and consulting firms, the elderly hold court. The head office of this vast old boys' club is the planning commission which discreetly pumps millions of rupees every year into crafting and strengthening the ring fence that no one less-than-50 can break into.

International do-gooders, the INGOs and multilaterals, aren't lagging behind in promoting this cronyism of the elderly either. Recently, one of them signed a team of consultants for a project, it had an average age of 57. Thanks to strategically developed and refined specifications, no one with less than a zillion years' experience can get in.

A young adviser in Nepal is an oxymoron, we are told. You might as well buy a grey wig and a stomach pillow to be taken seriously. Our ageist society just doesn't get it: years do not add up to expertise. Older is not necessarily wiser. The age-old exhortation to 'listen to your elders' is taken too literally here.

Look at the policy development settings, places where rules are made and grand designs plotted, like a national-level brainstorming workshop that I recently attended on an important public commodity. The decent sized hall was packed to the rafters with grizzled men in the autumn of their lives. Did I overlook the age-criteria on the invitation letter? Are these the representatives of a predominantly young nation in which a majority is below 40? On my way out, I bumped into the delighted organisers, happy at the froth that they churned out.

Where is the young crowd? There is no sign of the 30-something professionals in Nepal. Maybe they are all out in the hinterland fighting each other, or perhaps young Nepalis are all in the Gulf and Malaysia toiling to send money home. Or is it that in Nepal mid-life crisis sets in much earlier because our average life expectancy is 55 and they are all moping at home ? In any case, one must admire those superior minds in whose hands we have bestowed the destiny of our country.

Now here's a business proposal to our planning commission and the rest of the gang heads: instead of twiddling their thumbs with nothing to plan in a country that has turned into a battlefield, they could all set up consultancies to advise Western countries on how to make more productive use of their ageing populations.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)