ROAD AHEAD: Govt must seize the moment

Kathmandu, May 2:

‘A time that comes but rarely for a country’ is at hand for Nepal. But the danger lies in the possibility of political squabbles once again brushing large economic concerns under the carpet.

The time for ‘reconstruction and revival’, not only of the political apparatus but the economic fabric of the country as well, has arrived. This is the sense one gets from talking to Binod K Chaudhary, president of Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI).

Unprecedented economic opportunities, buoyed by unprecedented international goodwill for Nepal, are knocking on the door. If the national leadership, Chaudhary feels, does not seize the moment, a historic opportunity for rewriting Nepal’s economic fate will be lost.

According to Chaudhary, the time is ripe for Nepal to urge the international community to help in the reconstruction efforts here in the lines of what has been done for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Billions of dollars in reconstruction funds have been made available to these two countries within the last five years for re-igniting the development process.

The government here must now show alacrity and gumption to harness the new-fangled mood, confidence, sympathy and goodwill that the fight for democracy has generated among the international community for Nepal.

The government should immediately set up an economic cell at the prime ministers’ office, with special focus on monitoring and implementing plans. Such a move, Chaudhary says, would not only ensure inter-departmental coordination, but also signal national priorities.

“Nepal must look for aid for infrastructure development, while it talks trade for development projects,” states Chaudhary. The country should look to rope in all the important development partners who have expressed their solidarity in recent weeks like India, US and EU. Nepal must look to clinch a number of large economic deals with India, which has expressed its willingness to extend major economic assistance to Nepal right now. It should be possible, feels Chaudhary, to ink power projects amounting to 20,000 megawatts with India. For this to happen, initiatives must be taken at the highest political level between the two countries.

A railway line connecting the Far west Nepal with its eastern extremity should also be established with assistance from India, which might even be linked to the Indian railway system, states Chaudhary.

Talking about surface transport, he adds that the long-pending alternate route to Hetauda from the Kathmandu Valley through a tunnel should immediately be taken up with Indian help.

Taking advantage of the magnanimous mood exhibited by India, Nepal must also urge it to set up major, special economic zones at bordering areas of Nepal. These centres can be offered all the facilities that similar areas enjoy in the backward areas of India.

It would serve both India and Nepal well, shares Chaudhary, if they ink a comprehensive trade treaty for twenty years with the proviso of no changes in it, imparting it stability and a long-term vision.

“A similar approach can be taken with China for setting up special economic zones in areas adjacent to Tibet,” tells Chaudhary. We must also look to forge a number of joint ventures like construction of the outer ring road around Kathmandu with China, he adds.

With the help of Japan, Lumbini can be turned into the number one Budhdhist destination in the world, feels Chaudhary.

Taking advantage of the topography, it should be possible to commercialise at least two thirds of the forest area in Nepal, for which Finland’s expertise and help should be roped in. There is so much that can be done to change the economic landscape of Nepal, generating employment and raising living standards, which would also ensure political stability, states Chaudhary.

But there is a real danger that the nation might end up trading for the trees rather than the forest due to the lack of a larger vision even in economic matters, avers Chaudhary.