EDITORIAL: Army investment

The national army should remain thoroughly professional, apolitical and stay away from any business interests

Nepali Army wants to invest in hydropower projects using the Army Welfare Fund in which billions of rupees have been collected. But the Nepali Army Act bars it from commercial business or investing money as a promoter. At a press conference on Sunday Nepali Army officials said the “fund could generate income through share and loan” but “it could not invest as a promoter”. The fund was established in 1975 with a revolving fund of Rs. 12 million with the sole purpose of supporting serving and retired servicemen through various welfare schemes in medical and educational sectors. The fund now has Rs. 34.5 billion in its account. Nepali Army has invested millions of rupees in small-scale projects and a dozen welfare programmes. This time around, the NA wants to use the welfare fund to generate hydropower projects and wants the Nepali Army Act amended so that it can legally invest in hydel projects and also open a commercial bank. It is the parliament which needs to make amendments to the existing military law allowing the military organization use its fund in profit-making ventures. But the government and Parliament have so far not shown interest in making amendment to it.

The Welfare Fund was created to provide medical and educational services mainly to the retired military servicemen, their families, children and parents and also provide skill oriented training to the retirees. It now has plans to establish regional-level hospitals in Pokhara and Itahari as per its decentralization policy. It also has plans to open community health centres and residential colonies for the army staff. These small-scale projects may remain within the limits of the welfare fund, and they are not meant for making profits. Contribution of every soldier deployed in the UN Peacekeeping Mission in various countries is the main source of income of the Welfare Fund, the purpose of which is to provide relief and support to the contributors and their kin.

The army has been lobbying for making amendments to the existing army law so that the apolitical military organization can invest in profit-making ventures as a promoter in areas such as banking and hydropower projects. But the government has always turned down their requests arguing that the military organization cannot enter into profit-making businesses. The military leadership has however not been able to convince the government and Parliament on how its investment in profit-making ventures will benefit the individual contributors who are still in service and others who have retired. A national army safeguards the country’s sovereignty, and sometimes it is also mobilized to control the internal conflict as per the constitutional provision. The army’s direct involvement in businesses and profit-making ventures will have consequences in the national economy and there can be a conflict of interests among the government, private sector and business community. The army’s political ambition might be boosted if it enters into profit-making sectors. The national army should remain thoroughly professional, apolitical and stay away from any business interests. The Welfare Fund must be used only for its stated objectives, not for other purposes.

Rising crimes

Unemployment among the youths has been identified as the cause of most crimes particularly in the Kathmandu valley. Most of those who committed crimes were unemployed youths aged between 16 to 35 years. This was revealed by a data analysis of the Metropolitan Police Office. Youths who were unemployed resorted to criminal activities to pay for the high cost of living in the capital city to meet their basic needs. This can be regarded as their compulsion as they were unable to earn for their living. According to the report, social and organized crimes and burglaries were decreasing in the last three fiscal years. However, other crimes like rape, murder, human trafficking, suicide, child molestation and drug smuggling were on the rise.

The unemployment rate of those of who are of working age is 10.8 per cent in the country. This, therefore, entices the youths to commit crimes like burglary, robbery, fraud and drug peddling which provides them with easy money. The crime rates have increased as the police department lacks sufficient resources to cope with them. Therefore, in order to reduce crime, the government should give attention to resolving the unemployment problem.