EDITORIAL: Wayward plan

Plan to merge two loss-making enterprises to set up a new supply company is as good as adding a new white elephant which will only eat into state coffers

There is an old quote which defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Whoever said this – there still is debate over the source of this quote – it rings true for some plans that our governments usually introduce. The recent one is ongoing preparations to set up National Supply Commission (NSC), pitched as an autonomous body, to look after issues related to supply of essential goods, including rice and other food grains, sugar and different machinery equipment, in the domestic market. An independent committee of experts, according to reports, is currently studying the prospects of merging the National Trading Limited (NTL) and Nepal Food Corporation (NFC) and operation modality of the yet-to-be-formed supply company. Both NTL and NFC are loss-making government undertakings, which have been eating into the state coffers for years. But the NTL and NFC are not only the onerous government enterprises; all state-owned businesses barring a few – for example Nepal Telecom – have been in the red.

It is a fact that many essential goods are not reaching all parts of the country, especially the remote villages where people perennially reel under acute shortages of basic items such as rice and salt. There is no denying every citizen’s wellbeing is state’s responsibility. So, the government idea to ensure supply of basic to other essential items, prima facie, looks good. According to an official at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, both the NTL and NFC have warehouses across the country, hence if they are merged, it would be easier for the government to store ample essential goods for emergency purposes. That sounds even better. But the question that needs to be asked is whether a government-owned entity is a must for the job, especially when we have history to prove that such mechanisms under the wing of the government have for many years absolutely failed to address the problems faced by the common man.

When the NTL was created in 1962, the objective was the same: ensuring supply of essential goods. But it did not take long for the NTL to go bankrupt. It was later more known as an enterprise selling duty-free liquor than a supplier of essential goods to different parts of the country. The story of the NFC, which was established in 1974 to streamline food supply and support the farmers, is no different. Citing that NTL had been persistently incurring losses and adding financial burden on the government, the Ministry of Finance had in January recommended that the NTL be shut down. Now, the plan to merge the NTL and NFC, which have been a complete failure, to create a state-owned supply company is as good as adding a new white elephant. There is also risk that it could become a place to recruit party workers. Instead of focusing on setting up a supply commission, the government should focus on other areas – roads, schools, community health facilities. Private sector players can do a better job so they should be encouraged. Of course, strong monitoring mechanisms should be in place. As far as this wayward plan of a supply company is concerned, the government does seem to be overreaching itself.

Agony of mourners

With the ever-rising population in the Kathmandu Valley its fallout can be seen even in the Kriyaputri Bhavan (mourning house) in the Pashupatinath area, where Hindus prefer to observe 13-day mourning rituals. Concerned officials say everyday they have to turn down requests of at least five families who come there looking for rooms to observe the mourning of their relatives. The officials say they lack enough rooms to adjust all the requests.

The Kriyaputri Bhavan has 52 rooms but only 40 of them are provided to the mourners. The rest are used for official purposes. A large hall where at least five mourning families can be accommodated at one time has now been used as a shop selling items needed for observing the mourning. The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT), which oversees management of the holy temple and its premises, must address this problem by mobilising its resources to add more rooms for the mourners. The government should also provide more funds so that no mourners who want to observe their 13-day rituals on the temple premises will be turned down. The mourners must not be inflicted with double agonies.