EDITORIAL: Heed their plight

It is not easy catering to tens of thousands of applicants, representing different sectors of the economy, all at once

The private sector, in particular the tourism industry, has shown dismay over the cumbersome process and consequent delay seen in availing loans under the government’s refinancing scheme. The government had introduced the scheme to provide succor for the recovery of private industries that were facing difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic that began with the new year 2020 and continues till today. Tourism entrepreneurs complain of a lengthy process and lack of proper response and monitoring from the government, which are affecting the refinancing scheme. Worse still, there are allegations that only those that are close to the corridors of power are taking advantage of the scheme, while ordinary entrepreneurs who had applied for the facility way back in August last year are still waiting. The government had introduced the refinancing scheme under its Monetary Policy 2020-21 in July. Under the policy, the central bank subsidised interests on loans to commercial banks so that affected borrowers were able to get loans from the banks at a maximum of 5 per cent.

While the COVID-19 has affected all sectors, the tourism industry has been particularly hit badly with few tourist arrivals since the nation went on a prolonged lockdown on March 24 last year. Although the country has opened up for business and tourism, it will be at least a year before tourists start trickling in.

This has made it difficult to retain staff and keep businesses, from hotels to travel and trekking agencies, operational. As a result, many star hotels have shut down or have laid off their staff. Big hotels like the decades-old Annapurna Hotel decided to close down for good with the start of 2021 while other big hotels like the Soaltee have shed hundreds of their staff members. Most hotels have huge debts, and servicing them alone is costing a fortune. The only way they can do so is if the government help comes their way in time. However, the government has lowered the maximum limit on the General Refinance Facility, which does not meet the requirement of the big hotels with huge debts and big staff.

While there are many complaints about the poor implementation of the refinancing scheme, let us still give Nepal Rastra Bank the benefit of the doubt that it will cater to one and all sooner than later. It is not easy catering to tens of thousands of applicants, representing different sectors of the economy, all at once. And there will be many more applications as the second phase of the applications has just been called. As the central bank notes, it is now in the implementation phase of the policy. This is not the first time such a refinancing scheme has been promoted by the government. In the past also, it had provided the facility to export-based industries and enterprises in the productive sector to meet unexpected challenges.

However, the corona pandemic has been so pervasive that literally all businesses and enterprises are in need of funds to stay afloat. Since the needs of different categories of businesses and industries are different, the NRB might do well to raise the refinancing threshold, as requested by certain quarters, to tide them over the demanding period.

Traffic lights

The absence of traffic lights at major intersections of the streets in the capital is one of the major causes of road accidents and traffic jams. Whatever traffic lights have been installed in recent times have also gone kaput for want of timely maintenance. It may be recalled that the solar-based traffic lights were installed at 10 major intersections with support from the Japanese government. They have also remained nonfunctional with the passage of time.

This time around, the Department of Roads has laid a plan to install traffic lights at five more places at Jadibuti, Koteshwor, Thapathali, Durbar Marg and Kaisher Mahal at a total cost of Rs 11.5 million. The project will be completed within this fiscal. So far, the department has already installed traffic lights at 14 places, where there is heavy traffic throughout the day. Installing traffic lights is not a big deal.

The major problem is to keep them functioning all the time so that motorists can navigate the busy roads without any hassle. If traffic lights function without fail, the traffic police do not need to do extra work to manage the vehicles plying the streets. Timely repairs of the traffic lights can help resolve the traffic-related problems.