Instead of making persistent demands on the government, businesses must also look for ways to stay open

It would be stating the obvious that businesses across the spectrum have been badly mauled by the coronavirus pandemic that started a year ago. So it is only natural for them to look for concessions from the government to tide them over the difficulties until things start looking up. In its latest concession, Nepal Rastra Bank, the central bank, has decided to allow businesses affected by the coronavirus to reschedule their repayment period of loans by six months. Businesses will be allowed to do so by paying five per cent of the outstanding interest by mid-July of this year.

The announcement was made by the NRB governor while reviewing the Monetary Policy for the current fiscal year on Sunday. The new concession should elate affected businesses as it comes immediately after the expiry of an earlier government stimulus that allowed good debtors to reschedule their loan repayment by paying 10 per cent of the outstanding interest by mid-January this year. Under the new scheme, banks and financial institutions will make arrangements to restructure and reschedule the loans after the borrower pays the five per cent on the outstanding interest and also submits a written action plan by mid-July. Accordingly, the NRB has asked the banks to lower their bank interest to five per cent till mid-July.

The new concession may seem like magnanimity on the part of the government, but many entrepreneurs who are seeing zero business, as in the tourism industry, have not been able to pay 10 per cent of the outstanding interest. This is not the first time the government has tried to help businesses affected by COV- ID-19. In July last year, the central bank had introduced a refinancing policy for the recovery of private industries. In its Monetary Policy for fiscal year 2020/21, the NRB had categorised the refinancing facility into micro, cottage and small enterprise (MCSE) refinancing, special refinancing and general refinancing, with the clients to be charged a maximum of 5 per cent interest. However, its implementation aspect has drawn criticism from entrepreneurs, especially the tourism people. Some of the shortcomings of the policy include a cumbersome process, lack of response and monitoring from the government, and benefits allegedly going to those with connections. So any scheme that the government introduces must be fair to all businesses, big or small.

While there is much expectation from the government by the business community, it is apparent that it cannot do much, given not only its limited resources but also the devastating impact the virus has had on all sectors, from health and education to industry, agriculture and construction. Therefore, instead of making persistent demands on the government, businesses must also look for ways to stay open. Not all businesses have been affected equally. It's sectors like the tourism industry that is heavily dependent on foreign visitors that have shut down completely. A year since the virus started spreading rapidly, everyone is pinning their hope on the vaccine to eradicate the virus so that life can be normal once again. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this will happen sooner than expected.

Remove Phewa's silt

The picturesque Phewa Lake in Pokhara is facing an existential threat due to natural causes and human encroachment since many decades. The lake, which is the jewel in the crown of the tourist city of Pokhara, provides job opportunities to thousands of people in and around the city. But it has been neglected by the very people whose survival depends on its existence. Records show that the lake used to sprawl over more than 19,000 ropanis just a few decades ago, but it has now shrunk to just 10,000 ropanis due to human encroachment and heavy siltation.

Several reports made by high-profile probe panels in the past have never been implemented to protect the lake that attracts people from all over the country and abroad. Now the lake's dam has been opened for repairs and maintenance, resulting in the lowering of the water level by more than two meters. So, this is the right time to remove the silt and mud deposited on its bed. Pokhara Metropolitan City and concerned government agencies should take a prompt decision to remove the debris from the sides of the lake and also reclaim the lake's land occupied by farmers and hoteliers. They also must heed the recommendations made by the experts.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 16, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.