Those manning the one-stop service centre should be competitive people with enough mandate to take decisions right then and there
The launch of the one-window service centre for investors in Kathmandu is highly welcome and long overdue. Many actors and procedures are involved in setting up a venture in Nepal, which is a cumbersome process that often involves high costs and a long wait. Procedural hurdles have been a stumbling block in luring investment, especially foreign direct investment (FDI). The one-stop service comes just weeks after the second Nepal Investment Summit 2019, where the government had guaranteed “world class treatment, facilitation and service to investors” to woo FDI into the country. What the one-stop service means to the investors, both Nepali and foreign, is that they will no longer have to visit different government agencies located at different places for registration, approval and other administration clearances to set up a business. They can now seek services related to project permit, project agreement, investment permission, labour permit and environment-related issues under one roof, thus saving both time and money.
The one-window service centre, which opened inside the Department of Industry to investors and businesses on Wednesday, has eight different units. They are registration, foreign currency exchange, visa facilitation, environment, infrastructure, customs and revenue, and administration and law. The centre has brought altogether 14 different government agencies involved in approving investments at one place. Their offices represent immigration, customs, labour, the central bank, environment ministry and industry ministry, among others. There are at present 19 staff members, who will be working under the director general of the Department of Industry. FDI is a must to give a boost to the economy and create employment at home. For this, it is necessary to create an environment where investors can invest with ease without having to face red tape, complications and bureaucratic delays. The single-window service centre is the first step in that direction. The business community is quite upbeat by the setting up of the service centre and believes it will encourage investors to put their money in Nepal.
But before we be too optimistic, the success of the one-stop service centre rests on a number of things. First, do the staff working at the centre have the mandate to approve and give clearance to projects and businesses or are they working simply as liaison officers? If the latter is the case, then there is every chance of regulatory documents getting entangled in more red tape. Second, if the past is any guide, many a government initiative has failed due to poor management. A case in point is the distribution of smart licenses, or digital licenses. Hence, those manning the service centre should be highly competitive people with enough mandate to take decisions right then and there. Technology intervention, such as the application of advanced information technology, will help speed up the processing time of any business application. Last but not least, the centre’s success will hinge on the sincerity of the bureaucracy to change its mindset so as to shed its poor image. Let the service centre not simply be a good intention that was not followed through.
The Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) has finally decided to close the Tilganga-Tamraganga road passing through the Slesmantak forest, which is a part of the Pashupatinath area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before the Supreme Court’s order to close the road construction three years ago, UNESCO had also asked the PADT not to build anything new, in violation of its rules.UNESCO had also threatened to delist the Pashupati area from the heritage list if such construction was not stopped.
The Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport had built a 675-metre road in 2007/8 that violated the UNESCO rules that impose a total ban on building new structures in and around the heritage site, posing threats to the ancient monuments, forest area and temples. The project should not have been planned in the first place as the PADT knew that the road, leading to three municipalities located north of Pashupatinath, would put the religious site of the Hindus in danger. Vast swaths of land of the Pashupatinath Temple have also been encroached by the land mafia. It is the duty of the PADT to reclaim the land. The decision to close the road under construction is welcome.
A version of this article appears in print on May 17, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.