Thursday, December 1, 2005

Pride and pains of labour immigration

Buoyed by the Maoist insurgency and growing unemployment, labour migration from Nepal has skyrocketed in recent times. The resulting remittance has become a major prop for the national economy. Despite September 1, the number of manpower agencies has also gone up. Despite many manpower agencies failing to comply with Foreign Employment Regulations and the National Labour Policy, the government has failed to bring them to book.
I don't blame only the government, says managing director of Sakura International Employment Consultancy Mahendra Kumar Rana. "Both manpower agencies and the government are responsible for the malpractices in this trade," he said, adding that in the absence of strict implementation of law, this sector is becoming vulnerable. The agency has which has sent more than 700 Nepali workers to Malaysia within the last one year. 
Deaths in foreign lands, reneging on contracts and facilities and arrests by immigration officials are some of the problems that Nepali immigrant workers face, another outsourcer adds.
Minister of state for labour and transport management Urba Datta Panta agrees. "Some of the problems occur due to lack workers credibility," he said, adding that it also depends on the honesty of manpower agencies. "Before sending workers abroad, agencies must explain all the rules and regulations, terms and conditions to the workers."
Some workers leave a company which is against the contract. Others try to overstay, which leads to problems, says Rana.
We have always clarified the terms and conditions to workers before sending them abroad, he says, adding that the result is that they have not received any complaint yet.
Speaking on the issue of bipartite agreements between Nepal and other countries on labour issues, the minister says that it is indeed needed. But other countries must also show a willingness, he says, adding that Nepal is a signatory of the UN agency IOM, that takes care of migrant workers world-wide. "Labour migration is a privately-organised affair in Nepal."
This is the age of privatisation. So, the private sector must come forward. But it must be professional, Pant adds.
Intense competition between the manpower agencies has taken an unprofessional turn. In order to win business, some agencies send workers on very low wages, accepts Rana.
A report on "Nepal's Dependence on Exporting Labour" by professor of development studies at the University of East Anglia David Seddon, reads that one of the major exports of Nepal is labour, and most rural households now depend on at least one member's earnings from employment away from home and often from abroad.
Malaysia tops the list of most favoured labour destination followed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Seddon also notes in the report that government's failure in developing a coherent labour export policy. Although this tiny land-locked Himalayan Kingdom recognises both the contribution remittances make to the national accounts and the increasing demand for Nepali workers abroad, the government is struggling to keep up with these trends, he adds.
The government can not ignore the importance of a sector that fetches around Rs 100 billion remittances annually.
With the approval of the Labour Act of 1985, Nepal officially recognised the value of foreign labour migration.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The cool, cool business

In recent times, the electronics market in Nepal has expanded vastly. So much so that what once used to be considered as luxurious products like air conditioners have also witnessed a boom, particularly over the last two years.
A greater momentum in the business environment following market liberalisation introduced post-1991, rise in spending capacity of Nepali consumers and availability of easy finance and instalment schemes have attributed to this market phenomenon.
“Two years ago, our clients were only big hotels and projects. But now the market has expanded and domestic use of air conditioners is slowly growing,” says Navin Bansali, MD of Air Tech Industries that sells McQuay brands of air conditioners in Nepal. “Even today, 80 per cent of our client base comes from projects, private offices and hotels,” he concedes.
Market watchers also attribute the increase in the sale of air conditioners to the erratic monsoon patterns, increasing heat and reduction in electricity consumption by air conditioners by over 65 per cent due to enhanced technology.
Besides, the fact that air conditioners make a home more comfortable, often cutting down pollution level inside the house, the role of air conditioners as a status symbol can not altogether be ignored.
“Use of air conditioners in homes is an increasing trend,” says Bijay Kumar Chaudhary, chairman of Himal refrigeration & Electrical Industires that sells Himal, the first indigenous brand and Fuji Air, Blue Star and Daikin brands of air conditioners in Nepal.
“The market for air conditioners is upbeat. Unlike TV and refrigerators, personal use of air conditioners is not yet very encouraging,” says Anil Sharma of Ashoka Electronics. “But it is catching up slowly,” he adds.
Bansali agrees that air conditioner is no more a mere symbol of luxury but an accessory to comfort. It can also be asserted from the fact that top global brands are opening their shops in Nepal. They are shifting their attention to the emerging Nepali market and a new, wider range of clientele.
One can find a wide range of air conditioners in the market today at a price range of Rs 32,000, to 85,000, for an air conditioner with one tonne capacity, which is mostly used for domestic purposes.
“Japanese brands are expensive. But there is a choice for consumers as the market is flooded with Chinese, Malaysian, and a local brand too,” says Purushottam Kafle of Triveni Group that sells Panasonic brands of air conditioners.
On one hand, the entry of top brands like Samsung and LG into Nepali market has opened a new vista for consumers. On the other hand, sellers are facing cutthroat competition with a finite market and huge choice of products.
“The growth will come from grabbing market shares from competitors,” says Sharma.
To be a successful brand, manufacturers should make a consumer feel pampered and unique, because post-1990 liberal-economy has made a Nepali consumer star of the show. Today’s consumers cannot be fooled. As more products become easily available in the market, the pressure increases on the brands to offer something truly special to its consumers.
“If I am going to spend my hard earned money on something like an air conditioner, I want guarantee that I get proper after sales services and prompt client service” says Mahesh Pandit, a consumer (in Anam Nagar. Kathmandu).
“Our strength is our quality,” says Bhansali. “We offer our consumers a brand that has a global reputation.”
“We offer prompt after sales service,” boosts Chaudhary. “Besides, every brand is unique in its own way, as successful companies today spend millions on consumer research. We are aware of the growing trends of consumer-oriented economy,” he adds.
“Few years back it was considered a luxury, but recently consumers perception of air conditioners have changed. Now it is a completely affordable luxury, due to the wide range of brands and low pricing,” says Chaudhary.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The season of fire is here

Some students put fire to the sociology and economics department in the TU a couple of days ago. Pashupati Nath's Agam Ghar, a house where the secret tantrik worship used to be done, has burnt down to ashes. The streets of Kathmandu are burning everyday. This is the definitely the 'season of fire.
And here is Laxmi Mali, who feels the heat and passes it on the readers. Aago ko Yaam, Season of Fire is her collection of poems. Her poetry is not mere figments of imagination, but a mirror the times we live in. The book depicts our time and is tears and smiles. Poems like Nachhe Galli and Manmaya are snapshots of not only our time, but the space that we inhibit. The people and places we visit in her poems are disarmingly familiar to us. Her places remind us of our neighbourhood and the people we met last evening. The metaphors and symbols in her poetry are not surreal and obscure as some modern poets tends to be.
The charm of her poetry lies in her warm, disarming tone and style that invites the readers to partake in a question like kaskalagi (for whom). If she writes of fire, it is because she feels the heat. And when she writes of pain, she feels it. While social disparity hurts her, the familiar as well as the sudden mysteries of nature hold her spellbound. A subtle contrast between nature charms and human woes is the central attraction of her poems. And like all good work of art, it touches the hearts of total strangers. Mulyankan Prakashan Griha is the publisher of Aago ko Yaam, which is a must read. Reality hurts and the poems in the collection seem very real. Statutory Warning: Don't read the book because reality not only hurts, but also burns; after all it's the Season of Fire. 

Book : Aago ko Yaam (A poetry collection with 31 poems)
Poet : Laxmi Mali
Publisher : Mulyankan Prakashan Griha
Price : Rs 50
Pages : 56

Thursday, June 30, 2005

RNAC enters 47 eventful years

Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC), the national flag carrier, is completing 47 eventful years on July 1, 2005.
Following the adoption of liberal market policies by the government in the aviation sector, the airlines is facing a tough competition for its survival as private, international airlines are making strong forays into Kathmandu.
The corporation has been serving domestic and international segments despite facing numerous handicaps in terms of logistics. Despite such odds, RNAC has till recently was the only prop of the aviation sector in Nepal, making significant contributions to the national economy. However, the development of the airlines also depends on the growth of the national economy.
Over four decades of unstinted service, the airline has experienced triumphs and tragedies, upheavals and successes, according to RNAC.
Nepal's aviation history started with a single RNAC DC-3 aircraft from Gaucharan in 1958, literally a cow-grazing field then. Initially, RNAC started its service with limited flights to Patna, Kolkata and Delhi in the international sector and to Simara, Pokhara and Biratnagar in the domestic sector by which period it had three DC-3s.
Commenting over the completion of 46 years, Rabindra Man Singha, first ticket seller of RNAC, who is also the former president of Nepal Association of Travel Agents (NATA) says, "RNAC is a national pride for Nepal which started airlines service in the country. It is surviving today even with a few aircraft." When I sold the first ticket of RNAC on the Simara route from Everest Travel Service, we were very optimistic about airlines' future progress, Singh said. Despite the slow progress, it is surviving and there are more challenges in front of it following the declaration of the open sky policy. Singh said 46 years ago, tickets to Simara would cost Rs 25 from Kathmandu, which now stands at Rs 1,120.
Asked about the performance of RNAC in recent years, he replied, "Government's intervention stopped the growth of the airlines."
With the rising number of national and international airlines joining the aviation field, RNAC has tough days ahead. It will be absolutely necessary for it to have an effective mechanism in place to cope up with the new challenges, opined Singh. "Not only that private sector people who are on the board of directors of RNAC, have failed to come up strong reforms for the national flag carrier," he complained.
Operating with DC-3s, the airlines went for an international route in 1960s and quickly moved on to the Turboprop F-27.
“The commissioning of the sturdy Twin Otter and Pilatus Porter aircraft into RNAC fleet in 1970 brought a swift and easy way of reaching many remote and rugged regions of the Kingdom. By early 1970s, the airline had introduced Hawker Siddley HS 748 turboprops and entered the jet age with Boeing 727s in 1972, after the Kathmandu runway had been extended for medium-sized jet operation. Later, Boeing 727s were gradually phased out with Boeing 757s.
Ambika Shrestha, former director of RNAC board, talking to The Himalayan Times commented that RNAC could not quite become a proper 'business' unit, which has hampered its growth. Bureaucracy does not help achieve fast growth in this competitive market, said Shrestha, who is also the former president of NATA. RNAC's current scenario hurts me, she said.
“Other national and international carriers have already made their base in Kathmandu and doing good business. But RNAC, being a national carrier has not been up to the mark despite its tremendous potential,” she said.
Currently RNAC operates on 10 international routes such as Bangalore, Bangkok, Delhi, Dubai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Osaka, Shanghai and Singapore in South East/Far East Asia and Dubai in the Middle East. In the domestic sector, it connects more than 30 destinations from Kathmandu and from its regional hubs in Pokhara and Nepalgunj.

The road taken• 1958 — One DC-3
• 1960 — Onto international route with
Turboprop F-27
• 1970 — Twin Otter and Pilatus Porter aircraft
• Early 1970s — Hawker Siddley HS 748 turboprops
• 1972 — Boeing 727s
• Boeing 727s phased out with Boeing 757s

Friday, March 4, 2005

A Century in blood

Everybody has his or her own idea of social service.
Prem Sagar Karmacharya, has done it literally with his own blood, donating it free for a whopping 101 times.
He has not only set a record for the number of times of blood donation, but has set a trend in Kathmandu. On the occasion of his 100th blood donation, the Satak Raktadata Samman Samiti has brought out a souvenir 'Parmita' and a CD with a Raktadaan geet, a song that inspires the practice of blood donation. Ramesh Shrestha has lent his voice for the songs, whereas Prem Sagar himself has penned the words for the Raktadaan geet.
The souvenir not only praises Karmacharya's effort, but also highlights the significance of blood donation and how one can save the lives of people who often die for not getting blood on time. Every one between aged 18-60 without any problem related to liver, lungs and heart, and without diseases like jaundice, malaria, typhoid and HIV can donate blood, according to the law of Nepal, reads the souvenir.
However, there should be three months gap between each donation. The song and the souvenir make a lasting impression on a listener and reader for a noble cause that may help save your neighbour.