Overseas Nepalis are meeting for their first-ever conference in Kathmandu 24-27 October. We asked Bhim Udas, one of the coordinators of the conference, and himself an overseas Nepali, about the aim of the conference and his expectations.
So you are going ahead with your conference after all?
That's right. We are in final preparations. Some Nepalis have even started arriving from abroad. But because of the security situation, we may get fewer than the estimated 300 delegates.
Can a conference held under such circumstances be successful?
Obviously, the situation has changed since the time we began planning for this conference. There was even talk of holding the conference abroad. But we decided to go ahead with it, because moving the conference would put a question mark over the whole exercise. And since the people attending are all Nepalis, it would not be proper to raise the issue of security. All of us Nepalis are living here, how can you say it's not safe for outside Nepalis? It could open a gap between Nepalis and overseas Nepalis.
How is the relationship between Nepalis in Nepal and Nepalis living abroad?
Outsiders are convinced the Nepali leadership is incompetent, the bureaucracy is corrupt and they will say so at every opportunity. And among local Nepalis there is a prevalent attitude that their compatriots have emigrated to earn money and compromised their nationalism. But the reality is different. After all, it is the remittance from Nepalis abroad that is keeping the country's economy afloat. And it is because Nepalis are staying in Nepal despite the violence that overseas Nepalis can still say they are Nepali. What we have to do is forge a win-win situation between the two types of Nepalis. It is important for overseas Nepalis to exercise restraint in what they say, and the locals have to figure out a way to use the brain-drain to the nation's advantage. There is a role here for the government.
What is the main issue you will be discussing?
We have divided up the conference into three sections: legal, investment and communication. Issues like dual citizenship, the definition of 'non-resident Nepalis', or 'people of Nepali origin', and visas will come under the legal rubric. India has granted overseas Indians who are citizens of six countries permission to have Indian citizenship. We could think of something similar. The government has to decide what kind of investment it wants to encourage and also whether the investments would be treated as FDI (foreign direct investment) or something else. Third, there needs to be a channel of communication between the government and overseas Nepalis, which doesn't exist at present. That is why there is confusion and a lot of good ideas have been lost. There can be handbooks or websites to explain government decisions and regulations. There has to be a linkage between Nepal and the Nepali diaspora.
What are the problems overseas Nepalis face?
It's a question of relevance. For example, the ten year visa decision has to be approved by the Home Ministry which takes time. This needs to be streamlined. You can't try to regulate after you've already granted a facility. If Nepalis want to invest money on which they have paid taxes abroad, why not let them? There must also be procedures to allow investors to repatriate profits from businesses in Nepal.
How confident are you that the conference will be successful?
This conference is just the beginning. We can't be too impatient. Overseas Nepalis can't expect to get special treatment as soon as they come home, and local Nepalis must also not expect a windfall in new investment. We have to first create the conditions for those investments to come.