Thursday, November 26, 2015

Billionaire Chaudhary raises blockade issue at Commonwealth summit

President of Chaudhary Group (CG) and President Emeritus of Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) Binod Chaudhary has drawn the attention of international community, stating that the ongoing blockade on Nepal will create extreme humanitarian crisis.
He also raised the issue of Indian blockade of key border trade points with India at the Commonwealth Summit in Malta, warning that it will create extreme humanitarian crisis in the country already reeling from the devastating earthquake.
Addressing the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting of the 53-member bloc, president of Chaudhary Group (CG) and President Emeritus of Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) Binod Chaudhary said that Nepal already devastated by earthquake is pushed into economic crisis by the ongoing blockade. "The blockade has crippled daily lives of people and virtually shut down industries and businesses in the country," the only Nepali billionaire listed by Forbes said, addressing the meeting on 'Connecting Asia: Accelerating Regional Integration and Development’, today. Though Nepal is not a Commonwealth member country, Chaudhary was invited as a guest. Heads of nations, heads of governments and private sector leaders from around 80 countries are participating in the meeting. The meeting is an important international forum in which the heads of nation and government discuss common challenges, new opportunities, and priorities.
Stressing on the need for liberal leadership for regional integration in South Asia, he said that it would be possible only, if the leading country India shows liberal attitude towards its neighbours. "India should play as liberal role as Germany did during European Union’s establishment."
Chaudhary also expressed concern over the land-locked country’s deprivation from free transport facility. Pointing that Nepal has not received support from anywhere for ending the blockade, he said the situation has put the relevance and usefulness of SAARC under question. "SAARC is known as the weakest regional organisation in the world," a statement quoted Chaudhary, adding, "Despite occasional good initiatives and plans, the region has always lagged behind on regional integration and development due to mutual disagreements."
Development of infrastructure is a precondition for the development of SAARC, which is home to 40 per cent of the world’s poor. But due to mutual distrust and lack of cooperation, there hasn’t been any progress towards building infrastructure such as cross-country road networks, and institutions such as SAARC bank,” he added.
Stressing on the need of transportation network for regional development and integration, Chaudhary said in lack of it the cost of production and distribution among SAARC nations is high. Development of inter-national road network and unrestricted access to transportation is inevitable for the region that is home to landlocked countries like Nepal and Bhutan.
Nepal has been reeling under severe shortage of medicines and other essential goods due to unrest by Tarai-Madhes-centric parties, which are protesting against the new Constitution, and blockade of key border trade points by India.
Though, India maintains that there has been 'no blockade' and the problem is political in nature which has to be resolved by the Nepalese leadership through dialogue, Nepal is reeling under acute shortage of essential goods including petroleum products and even medicine, due to restriction on customs, where there is no protest.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Industrialist Mittal passes away

Noted industrialist Banwari Lal Mittal passed away today morning at his residence in Gyaneshwor, following a protracted illness. He was 79.
He had returned to Kathmandu on Monday after getting treatment at Medant Hospital, Gurgaon in India. Mittal had been ill since last one month. He is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.
Mittal served as the president of Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC) and Marwadi Sewa Samiti. NCC has condoled Mittal’s death, saying that he was an active member of chambers movement in Nepal. He led NCC in the 1990s. A leading figure in the Nepali chamber movement, Mittal was also the founder chairman of the Contractors Association of Nepal and a founder member of Nepal Eye Hospital. A man of high moral integrity, Mittal however, made a name for himself in the aviation sector.
Best known for pioneering commercial helicopter services in Nepal, Mittal had started Shree Airlines around 16 years ago. In the 1990s, Mittal ventured out of the family business and entered the aviation sector, establishing Air Ananya – that has been renamed as Shree Airlines offering pilgrimage tours in Manasarovar, Mt Kailash and Muktinath, later – with a fully-owned fleet of five MI-17 helicopters when the government launched a liberal aviation policy.
Transporting cargo and essential items like food and medicines to remote areas that lack road transportation, the carrier quickly established itself in the domestic aviation market.
Today, Shree Airlines is the largest helicopter operator in Nepal with a fleet of six 24-seat Russian-made MI-17 helicopters and four Eurocopter AS350 B3e helicopters. In 2010, Shree Airlines spread its wings outside Nepal, flying baggage and equipment for United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Africa, according to the airlines, that ha also condoled the demise of Mittal.
Involved in family-owned construction and textile businesses in the beginning, Mittal was also affiliated with various institutions like North Nepal Tea State and various social organisations.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Inflationary pressures to worsen: White Paper

The government has projected economic growth to hover around 2 per cent and inflationary pressures to increase due to supply side constraints.
Issuing a White Paper – 'Current Economic Scenario of the Country: Government's Immediate Action Plan' – today, finance minister Bishnu Prasad Poudel said that economic growth could plunge further, if the current obstacles and strikes continue. The government, in the budget for the current fiscal year, had projected 6 percent economic growth.
Lower development expenses and imports are also going to hit economic growth, Poudel added.
The government – after 100 days of the Tarai-Madhes unrest and two months of Indian
blockade – has brought the White Paper without mentioning 'Indian blockade,' let alone the measures to fight it.
Though he has failed to spell out any remedies to address the current economic crisis, he said that industries, agriculture and the service sector, apart from the social sector, have been badly affected. “The shortage of essential goods and services like drugs and fuel is leading toward a humanitarian crisis," he said.
The finance minister also said that the current obstructions have negatively impacted socio-economic conditions. The current crisis has added to the challenge for the incumbent government to graduate Nepal from developing country status by 2022 and to a mid-income status by 2030, he added. "The government also has the challenge of making the economy self-reliant."
Poudel has tried – without any concrete plans – to assure the people of energy security, food security, maintaining of law and order, and starting reconstruction work without delay to bring respite to earthquake victims.
He also did not forget to mention alternative routes for imports, encouragement of electric vehicles, involvement of the private sector in the petroleum business, continuity for the economic reforms programme, industrial security, facilitation of industries, good governance, increment of domestic production, encouragement to foreign investment, tourism promotion, economic diplomacy, and transparency in fuel distribution, apart from an effective monitoring system, though he lacked any concrete plans to address them.
However, the market is riddled with black marketeering in fuel, which has increased the pressure on inflation. The minister admitted that market prices are going up due to shortages and the black market.
The central bank in a report – Impact of Indian Blockade in Nepali Economy – last week had painted a bleak economic picture. It has also projected inflationary pressures due to the Indian blockade that has led to supply disruption and lower economic growth, even negative economic growth.
As inflation is going to post double-digit growth, the White Paper also projected that it will hit people hard. The central bank has – in its Monetary Policy for the current fiscal year – projected inflation to remain under 8 per cent. However, worsening shortage of essential goods and services, lower domestic production and the rampant black market are going to push inflation to more than 10 percent.
The population out of employment – due to the obstructions and strikes – is going to be hit hard by rising market prices, and they will be pushed under the poverty line. "The devastating earthquake has pushed some 700,000 Nepalis below the poverty line, and the number is going to increase due to the current crisis," Poudel said.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cost of inaction higher, set up Economic War Room to handle crisis: Experts

Economists have suggested the government to set up an Economic War Room to fight the current crisis.
Accusing the government of not being serious even after 100 days of the Tarai-Madhes unrest and 2 months of Indian blockade, they said the government should go on a war footing to address the people’s woes.
The government lacks seriousness and has failed to address the people’s woes,” they said, adding that the people have been suffering due to shortages of essentials like cooking gas, petrol and life-saving drugs.
Saying that cost of inaction is higher, they also accused the government of lack of crisis management skills. “The government completely lacks crisis managerial skills,” said industrialist Hari Bhakta Sharma. “The government is ineffective and weak as it has failed to address the crisis,” he said, adding that it has also failed to maintain law and order. "The government, instead of solving the crisis, has only aggravated it."
The apathy of the political parties has also aggravated the crisis, Sharma said calling for diversification of the economy. “Trade diversification does not mean that Nepal imports from China what it used to import from India,” he explained.
Stating that the weak state machinery has fuelled the black market, he suggested the government making the distribution channels more efficient. "The demurrage and detention charges that industrialists have been paying will hurt the economy,” he added.
Urging the government to make clear its industrial and economic policy, the industrialist also gave examples of other countries where the governments had rescued the economy in times of crisis.
Foreign investment will not come to any country where domestic investment is not secure, he said also asking the government to safeguard domestic investment to save jobs too. Rising unemployment is perceived to create security problem later.
Linking the current economic crisis to national security, former member of the National Planning Commission (NPC) Swarnim Wagle said that a country can be either attacked directly with armed forces or the economy can be weakened for takeover.
He suggested analysing the current crisis from four angles: fiscal, monetary, external sector and real sector. “Under fiscal sector, revenue mobilisation is very discouraging,” he said, adding that revenue mobilisation in the first four months is only 70 per cent of target and half that of the same period of last fiscal year. “It will hit development work directly and economic growth in the long run, which is a serious matter.”
From the monetary angle, black marketeering has become rife and people are forced to pay four times the normal price of goods, which will hit the poor most and build up inflationary pressure.
Likewise, exports have dropped by 25 per cent in the first four months, whereas imports have dropped by 35 per cent. The decline in imports will ultimately hit exports also, he said, adding that remittance alone has cushioned the current trade imbalance. “It will pull economic growth down but we cannot yet see the floor of that effect.”
A strong aviation sector however could rescue land-locked countries like Nepal in times of blockades, Wagle suggested.
Asking the government to continue with its second generation reforms to build up economic competitiveness, he said it was necessary to improve interdependency with neighbours. “In normal times too, Nepal must have good trade relations with China, apart from improving customs arrangements with the southern neighbour for more cross-border trade.”
Madan Kumar Dahal, another economist, on the occasion, also said that Nepal Rastra Bank and the IMF have also painted a bleak economic picture. Calculating that the current crisis has caused the Nepali economy to lose Rs 540 billion, he also warned of a humanitarian crisis as there are no life-saving drugs in the hospitals due to the Indian blockade and the Tarai-Madhes unrest. Dahal also suggest the government to declare an emergency to maintain smooth supplies. The government must bring in austerity measures and start a discipline campaign to maintain good governance, he suggested, adding that weak governance has fuelled the black market and spawned a parallel economy, which will further weaken the state and hit the poorest of the poor hard. "The inflation will go out of control from government's hands."

Monday, November 9, 2015

Government formally requests India to end cross border obstacle

The government has officially requested Indian government to ease supplies through India-Nepal border.
Nepal is reeling under acute shortage of petroleum products including cooking gas and medicine since last two months after India imposed blockade on major customs points at Nepal-India border chocking the supplies.
Passing a special resolution, the Cabinet meet also urged the southern neighbour to strengthen ties between Nepal and India, without mentioning the word 'blockade'. The Cabinet meeting has urged the southern neighbour to help clear obstruction of transit and supplies through border points. The Cabinet asked Indian government to contribute in strengthening bilateral relationship by easing operation at entry points as it has affected import of essentials including medicines and fuel, informed minister for Information and Communication Technology Sher Dhan Rai, after the meeting.
The government decision comes after 50 days of India imposed blockade at Nepal-India border points, which has been obstructed following the promulgation of new Constitution.
Likewise, the Cabinet also urged the agitating Tarai-Madhesh centric parties to end their protests stating that attempts are on to seek solution through talks, arrangements have been made for free treatment to injured, process has begun to withdraw false cases and decision to provide Rs 1 million to deceased families has been implemented.
"We requested the protestors to end blockade at border points as festivals like Tihar, Chhath and Lhosar are at the door, he said, adding that the government is saddened by the inconvenience caused to Nepali people at Tarai-Madhesh and across the country. "We express gratitude to the general public for their patience and harmony during this critical time."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Shadow economy expands thanks to government fecklessness

The shortage of essential goods in recent weeks and months, caused by the Tarai-Madhesh unrest and the Indian blockade, has spawned a shadow economy. The increasing reach of the shadow economy – also due to structural deficiencies and market anomalies – is going to bring about another catastrophe in the country, warn economists.
The spread of the shadow economy will hurt the country in the long run as the country will slip out of the government's hand, if the current situation continues, they said.
Former finance secretary Rameshwor Khanal said the economy is slipping out of the government's hands. "The economy is being hijacked by black-marketeers, smugglers and criminals," he said, adding that in the long run these elements will run the economy into the ground and that will also be bad for cross-border trade. "The economy in criminals' hands will eventually hit the cross-border trade too."
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Nepal's economy is worth around $21 billion.
"That is also about the size of the shadow economy," claimed economist Prof Dr Madan Kumar Dahal. "In economic parlance it is called the parallel economy," he said, adding that earnings from smuggling, corruption and black-marketteering are all part of this parallel or black economy, which will ruin the economy and country in the run long run.
Government fecklessness has not only left consumers helpless but also boosted the shadow economy.
Thus, suggesting that the government declare an emergency in view of the increasing shadow economy, Dahal said, "Nepal has turned into a banana republic." According to him, the country is suffering because of its complete dependency on one country and failure at trade diversification over the past few decades.
The prolonged Indian blockade has pushed the prices of essential commodities, includes petroleum products, to more than double. People are forced to pay anything between Rs 250 to Rs 500 per liter of petrol that costs only Rs 104 per liter. Consumers have been paying Rs 10,000 for a cylinder of cooking gas, which is priced at Rs 1,400. Likewise, the price of edible oil has increased to Rs 250 per liter from Rs 120 a month ago, whereas rice, lentils and pulses have also doubled in price. "But the government is nowhere to be seen," said president of Nepal Retailers Association (NRA) Pabitra Man Bajracharya, during an interaction with Nepal Republic Media today.
Admitting that the prices of some commodities have jumped, he said, wholesalers have been charging retailers high prices, citing supply constraints and increased transportation charges due to the fuel shortage.
The government has been doing nothing to control these market anamolies, he said, adding that officials at the Department of Commerce and Supply Management (DoCSM), who are responsible for controlling such malpractices in the market and maintaining uniformity in prices, are in no mood to intervene. "They just say that the need of the hour is to get supply of goods," he added.
President of Consumer Rights Investigation Forum Madhav Timalsina seconded Bajracharya's views. "Nepali consumers are probably going through the toughest time ever," he said, accusing traders of creating artificial shortages to push up price. "As the government has been doing nothing, unscrupulous traders are having a field day," he added.
Despite the open black-marketeering, the government has done nothing, Timalsina said suggesting the government to scrap the consumer laws altogether, if it cannot enforce them.
The shortage has created opportunity for corrupt bureaucrats, black-marketeers and smugglers to earn illegal money distorting the market.
"The distortion in the market could be corrected, if government could monitor and regulate market, and also normalise the supply system," Khanal said, however, adding that government should let the market function smoothly, without intervention.
Likewise, Finance Secretary Suman Prasad Sharma also accepted that high demand and low supply had encouraged black-marketeering. "But the government has to act fast to stop the economy from going to the dogs," Sharma said, claiming that the government is trying to build confidence in the market by regularising the supply-side.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Economy bleeds as blockade continues

Nepal's economy is bleeding blue as the stand-off between government and Tarai-Madhesh centric political parties, and India lingers. Fecklessness on the part of both government and Tarai-Madhesh centric parties is pushing the situation toward the brink.
With the Madhes in turmoil since the last 80 days, importers have been incurring huge demurrage charges at Kolkata port, the key route for Nepal's third country trade. The importers have been paying Rs 40 million per day as demurrage charge at Kolkata port, according to president of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) Pashupati Murarka. He also claimed that the country is losing Rs 2 billion per day due to the unrest and the government's politics first policy. "The country has already lost Rs 160 billion in these days," he said.
Likewise, the government has lost Rs 25 billion in revenue in the first three months of the current fiscal year as the revenue mobilisation has dropped by 10.22 per cent compared to the same period last fiscal year, mainly due to plunge in customs mobilisation, according to the Revenue Division under the Finance Ministry. "The government has lost Rs 1 billion in vehicle tax alone."
The government had aimed at 12 per cent revenue growth for the current fiscal year as against last fiscal year. But the government has been able to mobilise only Rs 75.66 billion against the target of Rs 95.78 billion – a shortfall of 21 per cent – in the first three months.
It is mainly due to low customs revenue and value added tax (VAT), the major contributors to government coffers," thee division explained, adding that VAT mobilisation dropped by 26.43 per cent to Rs 23.58 billion against the target of Rs 32.06 billion. "VAT mobilisation is 16.41 per cent less than last fiscal year's same period," the figures further revealed.
The blockade by India has hit the customs the most as customs mobilisation stood at Rs 13.63 billion – which is a drop by 26.7 per cent compared to the same period last fiscal year – against the government's target of Rs 18.32 billion in customs revenue for the first three months of the fiscal year.
Similarly, banks and financial institutions could have lent Rs 1 billion in a working day in an average, had there been no unrest and bandhs. However, the Tarai-Madhes unrest has crippled their lending capacity, according to Nepal Bankers Association (NBA) president Upendra Poudel. "The banks and financial institutions could have lent at least Rs 70 billion in the last 80 days," he said, adding that they have not been able to lend due to loss of confidence by borrowers, and this will have a cascading impact on the economy. "The sloth in lending will not only hit the banks and financial institutions themselves but shrink the economy also."
Central bank has warned of low economic growth due to the ungoing unrest and blockade that has hit not only the trade and transit, but also contracted the economy.
According to senior economist Prof Dr Bishwambher Pyakuryal, Nepal is facing a unique combination of economic collapse and is moving toward a failed state. "Hyper inflation – due to supply side constraints because of the blockade – falling production, and private sector's loss of confidence have pushed the country toward a failed state," he said, adding that the situation has aggreviated also due to communication-gap between the citizens and the government. "It seems as if there is no government in this country, the economist said, adding that the people are in queue for petroleum products since more than a month, and the government has no clue when it can supply essential products to its populace. "It has created a huge trust deficit on government, which will lead to a question of legitimacy of the government resulting in a failed state," he added.