Kathmandu, February 9
Former prime minister and president of Nepali Congress (NC) Sushil Koirala, who passed away today at the age of 78, did not have much knowledge about economics. Even after he became the executive head of the country, he was not aware of how the economy exactly functioned.
But he used to be all eyes and ears whenever discussions centred on investment, employment and use of domestic resources, people who have worked closely with him told The Himalayan Times.
“He always believed in bringing in foreign investment and attracting domestic investment to develop the country. He also said the country’s resources have to be used properly so that prosperity could be shared,” said former finance minister and senior NC leader Ram Sharan Mahat.
This belief probably provided him the fodder to go against the tide and make bold decisions.
Some call it coincidence, but the country’s energy sector — which has not been able to make effective use of the vast hydro resources — achieved some of the important milestones during Koirala’s 20-month reign from February 2014 to October 2015.
A couple of deals that he signed, such as the historic power trade deal with India, which has provided Nepal access to the vast Indian energy market, are considered as landmarks for the development of the energy sector.
“At the time when discussions on Nepal-India power trade agreement were being held, Koirala specifically asked whether the deal could attract investors towards the hydro sector and generate employment opportunities,” Govind Raj Pokhrel, former vice chairman of the National Planning Commission (NPC), recalled. “When he received affirmative response, he said we should go for it, although a few groups were trying to create a fuss about the deal.”
This agreement has now paved the way for power-deficit Nepal to import up to 600 megawatts of additional electricity from India in the next one-and-a-half years and build six 400kV cross-border transmission lines for cross-border power trade.
Sushil Koirala, according to Pokhrel, had innate characteristic of doing what he considered was right for the nation.
“He’d say he wouldn’t mind facing criticism if his decisions benefited the country and the future generation,” Pokhrel said.
This audacity later led to signing of two agreements on development of 900MW Upper Karnali and 900MW Arun-3 hydroelectric projects worth over $2 billion.
Koirala’s government also revived talks on construction of 5,600MW Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project after a hiatus of almost two decades; allowed at least three foreign companies to establish cement plants worth tens of billions of rupees; and lured billions of rupees of investment in the hotel sector.
“Many foreign investors saw instalment of Koirala government as an opportunity to step into the country, which sent a positive message to the international community,” said Mahat.
The level of interest shown by the international community in Koirala government could also be gauged through record Rs 270.60 billion in foreign aid commitments received by Nepal in fiscal year 2014-15.
To keep this momentum going, the Koirala government also began the process of revising or framing around three dozen policies and Acts to attract foreign investment and protect the interest of investors.
The Koirala government also received praise from the international community when it responded quickly after the devastating earthquake of April 25 and mobilised the NPC to conduct post disaster needs assessment. This study helped the country receive funding commitment of $4.1 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation works from the international community.
“He managed to do all these things despite his deteriorating health condition and heavy engagement in constitution drafting process. On top of these, he also had to manage all the parties in the coalition government,” Pokhrel said.
Despite all these achievements, one area where Sushil Koirala failed was minimising the level of corruption prevalent in the bureaucracy — although he himself, who never married, was widely known as a clean leader with no lust for material goods.