Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Economic eclipse


Besides turning xenophobic, the country seems to be going backwards to medievalism by declaring a national holiday for a solar eclipse. Our quests for international acclaim and fewer working days have come to naught. But what would happen if Nepal was clearing a major global financial settlement or a firm here was performing financial transactions outsourced from the other side of the globe? Would we tell the person at the other end of the phone: "Sorry we're closed, there's a solar eclipse."

As we become more deeply embedded in the globalised world with its 24/7/365 working regimes, how can we still cling to these antiquated customs? We always complain that our productivity is low but how many working days do we have to really demonstrate productivity? We still believe in keeping markets closed for weekly holidays. We have one of the shortest working days and in this age of 24-hour electricity and transportation, we close offices at 4PM in the winter. We still cling to the outdated system of working only to 3PM on Friday, making it practically a useless day. Days off for eclipses and the departures and arrivals of royal visits add to our already long list of holidays, making us one of the few countries in the world that closes more days than it opens.

We also confuse state holidays with a five-day working week. It is important that people work eight hours a day five days a week and then get two days off but those days don't have to be Saturday and Sunday. Markets should close one day a week but all markets don't have to shut the same day, New Road could close one day and Putali Sadak another.

This plethora of holidays, especially in the financial sector, does not make sense. Today, more and more financial transactions are being done 24 hours a day via locations such as ATMs and the Internet. How can Nepal's banks close down for so long? Apparently because the Nepal Rastra Bank is closed. So, why can't NRB devise a system to work all days of the week so banks never have to close? The fact that bank employees will still work just five days but not all on the same days is an issue that should not be confused with the banks' hours of operation.

We need to escape legacies that are ridiculous in today's world, be they holidays on eclipses or the state sponsoring animal sacrifices during Dasain. How can the state actually pay for animal sacrifices in the name of religion? In our quest for identity as a Hindu nation, why are we being so cruel when the majority of Hindus living south of our border and elsewhere have graduated to making offerings of coconuts or other vegetables? Our myopic regard for the khasi reflects the state of our vision, our reluctance to accept globalisation and modernisation.

It is important that we embark on these debates and hopefully the holiday-hungry state machinery will realise that the other players in today's global economy do not close for eclipses but that every state is racing to eclipse the other. Wishing all readers a happy sacrifice-free and non-violent Dasain.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)