Nepali diplomatic missions based in foreign countries can urge NRNs to send money back home
Finance Minister Janardan Sharma has now felt the pinch of the dwindling foreign exchange reserve and has appealed to the Nepali diaspora to send money home through banking channels so that the country can have enough foreign currency to maintain its balance of payments. Whether or not the Nepalis working or studying abroad will immediately respond to the government's call will be seen after some weeks or months. However, the Finance Minister is still denying that the country is facing an economic crisis. Despite his denial, all the commercial banks themselves have already imposed a ban on the import of luxury goods at the request of the central bank so that hard-earned foreign currency could be used only to import most essential goods, such as fuel, medicines and food, among others. Foreign exchange reserve has fallen by over 18 per cent to US$9.6 billion from US$12 billion in the last eight months, which is barely enough to purchase merchandise goods for around six months. The Finance Minister has said the Nepali diaspora would also benefit from the 6 to 7 per cent interest rate offered by the Nepali banks. It may be recalled that the Non-Resident Nepalis had earlier appealed to all working in foreign lands to send money home so that the country would have enough foreign reserve.
The remittances from migrant workers in foreign countries and earnings from the tourism industry used to be the main sources of foreign currency earnings. But both sources have dried up due to the conronavirus pandemic that crippled the nation and the entire world for over two years.
Nepal's remittances fell by 3 per cent to US$5.3 billion between mid-July to mid-March, compared to a 5 per cent increase in the same period last year when the COVID-19 pandemic was still at its peak. However, the good sign is that tourism activities in the country are gradually picking up with the arrival of foreign tourists for trekking and mountaineering. But tourism arrival is well below the pre-COVID-19 levels. Tourism activities could have surged to the pre-pandemic levels this time had there not been the war in Ukraine, which has prevented many European tourists from flying.
We can expect more inflow of remittances as more and more Nepalis have left the country for major labour destinations in the recent months.
However, making an appeal to the Nepali diaspora to send foreign currency back home will not help make a dent in the current status unless they really know the ground reality of the country. In order to make this appeal effective, the Nepali diplomatic missions based in foreign countries, especially in the USA, the UK, Australia, Japan, Korea, Canada, Hong Kong and Europe, where a large number of Nepalis have been working there for a long time, should hold meetings with the Nepalis and urge them to help the country by sending money through the banking channels. However, the reality is that most of the Nepalis who have already obtained permanent residency in the English-speaking countries and are financially better off hardly send money back home. As NRNs, it is their duty to help the country when it is passing through a difficult time in decades. They should understand that 'mother and motherland are superior even to heaven'.
The decision of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to bring Tribhuvan International Airport and the other two regional airports into operation round-the-clock in the near future is long overdue.
An international airport should look and operate like one, and not be limited to a few hours a day.
TIA is to be brought into operation non-stop from May 29, Republic Day, while the Gautam Buddha International Airport is expected to start international flights from Buddha Jayanti, or May 16. There is heavy air traffic at the only international airport in Kathmandu, and operating it 24 hours a day should ease some of the congestion there.
Earlier in 2018, the TIA was brought into operation for 21 hours from 18 hours, but the airport had to close, except to allow a few chartered flights, for the greater part of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced the entire country to shut down. Now that the spread of the virus has lessened, flights, both international and domestic, at the TIA have returned to normal times, although the war in Ukraine is holding up many international visitors. As rightly said by CAAN, the operation of international airports round-theclock will send a message that Nepal's sky is safe.
A version of this article appears in the print on April 18, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.