Nepali Times
Ke Garne

The real surprise is that despite the government making it as difficult as possible for foreign investors to bring their business to Nepal, there are still some who set up shop here. Let's be frank, Nepal's investment climate was never good. We had neither the physical, nor the legal infrastructure that would make an international businessman look twice at us. Especially if the alternatives were Viet-nam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia or Bangladesh. After all, as Prabhakar Rana argues, they won't just come to Nepal because they love the All investment is about risk, in a foreign country there are more unknown risks: will the govern-ment play fair, is there rule of law, will one government honour a previous government's agreement (or bribe), will there be labour headaches, are there any hidden taxes, how about extortion, corruption and harassment?

Unfortunately, Nepal seems to fail in all the criteria for major investors to be enticed with incentives to come our way, and stay. We agree on a power buyback tariff and change it after the power plant goes into operation. We promise refunds on duty-free imports of raw materials for industries, and don't pay it. Our narrow-minded, revenue-driven economic policy works to make us uncompetitive. And ironically, it is the legitimate multinationals who want to be transparent that we harass the most.

There are a lot of parallels between Nepal today and West Bengal in the 1970s when the communists came to power. The major industrial powerhouse, commercial hub and financial centre that Calcutta was groaned and collapsed as the unions went on a rampage, and the state government started hounding the blood-sucking capitalist exploiters. Indian andforeign investors hurriedly left, setting up shop in Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Maharastra, which welcomed them with open arms. To this day, grimy Calcutta has not recovered. The best thing that happened to foreign investment in Nepal was the 1996 visit of Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, and the implementation of his Gujral Doctrine that opened up the Indian market for Nepali manufac-turing with landmark concessions. Gujral reasoned that a prosperous Nepal would create fewer headaches for India than a poverty-stricken Nepal. But we didn't do our homework, and many of the Gujral conces-sions have been wasted. And we didn't try very hard to attract investors willing to export consumer goods from Nepal to other SAARC countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. We have this fatalistic ke garne syndrome that rules all facets of our life. We leave it up to Pashupatinath. We never grab destiny by its lapels, and take the tough decisions today that will shape our tomorrow. So the chances to create jobs are squandered, openings for increasing export revenue are wasted and the country slides deeper into crisis.Here is one area where all is not yet lost. We must forge a multipartisan national strategy on foreign investment, offer handsome incentives that better our rivals, and reward legitimate investors. Then maybe, just maybe, it will get us somewhere.

TV, or not TV

Nepal Television (NTV) is getting ready to go satellite. This means the signals will now reach everywhere from Mahendranagar to Pashupatinagar, and beyond. This was long overdue, since the technol-ogy has been available for decades and it only became cheaper recently because data compression has freed up satellite transponders. But the real issue here is this: are the present programmes worth transmitting nationwide? One of the tragedies of the broadcast media in Nepal is that its potential for genuine communication, public education and wholesome entertainment has been largely squandered.

On TV (except for the likes of Santosh Pant) the fare is mediocre, entertainment is substandard and official propaganda masquerades as news. But NTV has one great advantage: it broadcasts in the Nepali language.

Time and again, we have seen that if Nepalis have access to well-produced, original enter-tainment they'll flick off the cable and turn to NTV. And yet, we seem wholly incapable of producing such quality programmes. If it is thinking of going into higher orbit, NTV has no other option than to pay attention to content. This is especially important since its signals will soon be jostling for viewer attention of the "empty-v" generation with all the other channels. The least we can do is produce less trash ourselves. NTV must upgrade content. It may have satellite access, but the audience has a more powerful weapon-the remote control.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)