Editorial: Stop whimpering

While a vehicle is a must for mobility, one must also understand that any facility provided to an official comes through taxpayers’ money

Chairpersons of the Federal parliamentary committees are up in arms against the government’s decision to provide new cars to only a select number of them. The Finance Ministry has allocated just enough funds to purchase six new vehicles this fiscal year although there are 16 thematic committees in the Parliament - 10 in the House of Representatives, four in the National Assembly and two joint committees. It’s not that the heads of the committees have not been provided vehicles, it is just that they don’t seem very comfortable driving around in these old vehicles. A car is a highly coveted luxury in Nepal, and it is a facility that comes with high posts in the government or corporate office. But such a facility can be provided only when the government has ample funds. In the case of the parliament, its limited resources can only buy six new vehicles for now, which means 10 of the committee chiefs will have to wait their turn till next fiscal year.

Given the nature of their work, the chairs of the committees deserve a good vehicle to ferry them around. They have the right to such service at their disposal. But why the annoyance? During a meeting with the committee heads on Sunday, Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara had tried to assure them that each one of them would get to ride a new vehicle sooner or later, but their impatience has unnerved the Speaker. While a vehicle is a must for mobility, one must also understand that any facility provided to an official comes through taxpayers’ money. So money spent on a vehicle means withdrawing funds from a more productive area. In recent times, the purchase of vehicles for officials has become a sensitive issue in Nepal, following media leaks about government allocations to buy expensive vehicles for the president and the police chief. So it would be wise for the panel chiefs in the Parliament not to be whimpering in protest demanding new vehicles for everyone.

As a least developed country, highly dependent on import of almost everything we consume, austerity should be the mantra of the government. It must learn to cut down on its spending on luxury goods and try to make the most with what it already has. For instance, instead of wasting resources on buying new cars, why can’t the government decide to repair and maintain old vehicles? There are hundreds of good vehicles lying around in the junkyard at Singha Durbar itself. Simple maintenance at a fraction of the cost of a new car could bring them back to life. Even a Jaguar, once driven by King Gyanendra before being dethroned, lies in a state of neglect at the Narayanhiti Palace. This wouldn’t have happened if the authorities understood the value of the car. As part of austerity, making the officials responsible for the upkeep of their vehicles would go a long way in lengthening the life of the vehicles and stopping the need to buy new ones. One good way to raise some money for the government to buy vehicles is to auction off old ones just before they hit the junkyard. Timely auction of old vehicles would also take care of the eyesore and make space available for more productive things. But for this, the government needs to frame an appropriate policy.

Organic tea

Tea is one of Nepal’s major exportable items. Nepal’s CTC and Orthodox tea is mainly exported to the USA, Europe and Japan. The country exports around 15,000 metric tons of tea, earning around Rs 3 billion every year. The demand for organic tea is especially high in the international market. So the government has introduced a policy of promoting organic tea. But the policy has yet to be implemented at the grassroots level.

Farmers in Dhankuta have resorted to organic tea farming for the last eight years. But they have been deprived of government incentives – organic fertiliser and subsidised loans – to grow organic tea on a large scale. In Dhankuta alone, farmers have planted tea on around 5,000 hectares of land. In order to promote organic tea farming, the concerned agency needs to teach the farmers about what constitutes “organic” in the real sense. The government should also develop a legal mechanism which certifies that tea grown in specific area(s) of the country is organic to be acceptable in the international market. The most important thing is to create our own brand for a fair share abroad.