Nepal, like many other nations, has recently planned to adapt regulations which intend to reduce the alcohol consumption of the whole country through supply side interventions. As per the proposed directive, the hotels, bar and restaurants are likely to be restricted from selling alcoholic beverages prior to 5:00 P.M and after 10:00 P.M, while the liquor stores are allowed to perform transactions related to bottled alcohol between 4:00 P.M to 9:00 P.M. Continue reading
The current tax system of Nepal, being overly complicated and lengthy, amounts to an annual loss of more than 24,300,000* hours of the taxpayers. This has resulted in an increase in the relative cost of paying taxes, as the time lost by the individuals could be invested into generating additional income. While the monetary payment that an individual or an organization has to make periodically is already burdensome for many, the requirement to comply with the administrative activities, imposes an additional burden. In such a scenario, it makes sense for firms and individuals to do away with this system, accounting for fewer taxpayers in the economy.
Introducing efficiency into the tax system would not only incentivize individuals to pay tax religiously, but also would allow NRs. 1,142,100,000* to be added to the economy, generating additional NRs. 57,105,000* tax revenue for the government. This makes the simplification of complex provisions that persists, beneficial to both the government and the taxpayers. Continue reading
The general notion accepted on the subject of education financing understands that private education is much more expensive than public education. While parents have to spend a large part of their income on educating their children in institutional schools, they do not have to pay even a penny to educate their child at the basic level of community schools. Based on this notion institutional schools are often inculpated for the excessive fees they charge to operate their schools. However, one must understand that public education is not free and it runs heavily on the taxpayer’s money. Moreover, the government is not the sole financier of public education. It is only one of the many sources of financing community schools, which means that the fund received is often insufficient to carry out all the activities that a school needs to perform. Thus, a majority of schools opt to search for funding from other sources like local government, donations, charity from international organizations, leasing land, school run business and many other potential sources. If we add up all of these additional costs, the cost of education in community schools becomes comparable to (if not greater than) that in institutional schools.
This claim has been clearly justified with the cost per child calculation. The per student cost was NRS. 16097.11 in the year 2015/16 in community schools when calculated by dividing the total funds received by the schools with the total number of children enrolled. But, while accounting for other performance variables such as the retention rate and pass rate, the story changed entirely. While considering only those students who were retained until the end of the year 2015/16, the cost per child in community schools increased to NRs. 25799.39 from NRs. 16097.11. Furthermore, while considering only the students who were able to graduate, it further rose to NRs 27,883.68 in the same year. The per student cost in institutional school during the same year was NRs. 28, 392, which is comparable to the per child cost in community schools.
We can infer from this data that public education is relatively cheaper, but it has not been able to generate desirable results which have led to massive increase in costs. If the current state of public education continues, and community schools do not improve in terms of their pass rate and retention rate, the cost of public education will further rise and be costlier than institutional schooling. Hence, it is high time that we make reforms in the public education system in order to improve the outcomes in community schools. Improvement in the outcome is not only an extremely important goal to advance public education; but also a means to reduce the cost of education. Pouring more money into public education without proper reform is a huge waste of scarce financial resources.
The existing financing model of public education, size of public investment on education, and quality of output of public investment on education point to the fact that there is an urgent need to introduce a structural reform in the sector. Education is one of the biggest areas of government investment. In that sense, it runs heavily on taxpayers’ money. It, therefore, becomes imperative to ensure that allocation of resources is optimal to the extent possible; their use – efficient, and quality of outcome – high.
Nepal has recently adopted federalist approach with the aim to bring economic as well as social transformation. We aspire to become an egalitarian society, ensuring equitable economy, prosperity and social justice. We also aspire to achieve perpetual peace, good governance, development and prosperity. While as a political document there does not seem to be much of a problem with either one of these, from an economic perspective, there appears to be a slight bit of tension among these aspirations.
Both economic development and social development has been a leading concern for Nepal. On one hand Nepal aims for achieving high income equality and poverty reduction through inclusive growth, while on the other it aims for high economic growth with increased productivity. Both goals are such that, social development through inclusive growth needs economic compromises and economic growth through productivity enhancement is likely to create more unequal distribution of income and assets.
Nepal, since 2000 has been giving eminent priority to inclusive participation, gender mainstreaming and poverty reduction. A series of positive impacts – poverty reduction to 13% in 7 years from its initial 33%, decline in hunger by 22.5%, reduction in Gini Coefficient to 0.35, resolved gender issues with increment in household headed by females, increment in average household income by 2.5%, net primary enrollment ratio of 96.6% and improvement in overall health outcomes – to name a few, can be regarded as astonishing achievement for Nepal. These achievements portray the dedication of Nepal over the past decade towards social development. The government of Nepal allocated more than NRs. 33 billion for social security alone.
However, these achievements have not been able to tackle the underlying challenges of Nepalese economic concerns as in the same period Nepal also faced slow economic progress with low PCI of US$850 in 2017 and is still lying among the 48 least developed countries despite its goal to upgrade itself to developing nation by 2022. The decline in employment from 84.3% in 2000 to 81.7% today, despite of majority of people migrating for foreign employment shows lack of productive, employment generating activities. The slow industrial progress with decline in agriculture productivity with only 2/5th of arable land illustrates that Nepal has been deteriorating in terms of investment climate, industrial growth and agricultural productivity. The inability of government to invest in priority projects is hindering the expansion of other sectors as well, further leading to slow economic growth. This depicts a contradictory picture of Nepal’s progress than compared to social development.
We cannot completely deny the role of remittance, aid and migration in the various social achievements. Thus, we can say that there is food in our belly but yet we are not self-sustainable. Despite the deteriorating macroeconomic variables of Nepal, the indicators of social sector enhancement showed more positive results. This makes it apparent that in case of Nepal, the achievement of social progress is negatively correlated to the achievement of economic progress. One important question for Nepal to dwell over, at this juncture then would be, will it be rational to compromise, as a country, a fair portion of otherwise potential economic growth for social growth?
The achievement of both the goals together seems to be paradoxical. Economic growth being a pre-requisite, Nepal for social development can either aim for equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. Focusing on outcome equality is practically not a rational or possible goal and more equal distribution of income might create additional problems resulting in stagnant economy. Nepal can achieve economic growth and social development by focusing in equality of opportunity. However, we need to understand that this approach is likely to create social and income disparity. Equality of opportunity will hamper the equity and equality goals of Nepal as everyone is not equal and all will have different ways to avail the opportunities. Some will benefit highly while others might not. Which of the two is more logical approach, is for us to decide. It is a trade-off.
Nepal Investment Summit, 2017 raised the aspirations of many investors and business opportunists as it unlocked various possible alternatives to promote investment-friendly policies and practices. Among the many commitments, political stability to attract foreign investors, huge FDIs from various nations including China and USA, and the assurance of Minister of Industry to promote friendly regulatory framework for doing business in Nepal were the major outcomes of the Summit. Parallelly, the MoI had also been working on reforming the Foreign Investment Act, and the provision of granting permission to some investors via “automatic route” seemed to be a good complementary move; there were also some genuine arguments about why it was limited to only some, and why not all.
However, a recent move by the MoI to remove the provision of automatic route from the draft of Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Bill (FITTB) countervails these commitments. The removal of this policy requires foreign investors to enter Nepal through a long and cumbersome process—submit multiple documents to the regulator (Department of Industries, Investment Promotion Board, or the Nepal Investment Board, depending on the scale of investment), and additional documents to Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB). This approval system for Foreign Direct Investment has been one of the biggest tailbacks for investors to make actual investments in Nepal.
Nepal does not need such a complex approval process. What Nepal actually needs is simple Acts and regulations to attract as many investors as possible in order to meet saving-investment gap, technology and skill gap and generate ample employment opportunities. The many goals of the GoN – completion of national pride projects, building of satellite cities, infrastructure development projects, energy development projects and an aim of achieving double digit industrial growth rate – cannot be fulfilled with limited domestic investments. Foreign direct investment is an irrefutable factor for the economic development of Nepal and thus, we cannot afford to offset our potential investors.
Nepal already ranks in the 109th position in the World Bank’s Index of ease of Starting a Business. Moreover, Nepal is the only country in South Asia to have a two-layer approval system and extensive paper-works to bring in foreign investments – a major comparative disadvantage which makes Nepal less attractive to the foreign investors. Foreign investors are likely to explore more favorable alternative investment destinations within the markets of South Asia rather than investing in Nepal. Nepal already lags behind in numerous ways than other neighboring countries. In such scenario, a policy change that enables easy entry of FDI in Nepal could be a competitive factor among its South Asian counterparts.
Automatic route could indeed be a defining factor for economic transformation of Nepal through which foreign investors could bring in investments without government approval, reducing the lengthy and cumbersome processes. Nepal, in this matter should comprehend India’s reform. After the adaptation of automatic route for FDI, India was able to attract $44.20 billion in 2015, a rise by 28%. The FDI contribution in GDP of India during that period was 14-15%.
It is apparent that Foreign Direct Investment is crucial for the economic growth of Nepal. Automatic route could be seen as the most rational step for the government to take in order to attract these FDIs for executing all its committed plans. However, the removal of this principal provision by the MoI is unconceivable.
In advocating for equal access to quality education in Kathmandu valley, Ministry of Education (MoE) has recently devised the regulation to set maximum limit on the tuition fees of private and boarding schools based on official categorization of the schools and the grade standards they conduct. While the maximum tuition fees limit per student studying at 9th and 10th standard for grade-A school is set at NRs 3,600, the tuition fee limit is set varying for other schools belonging to different category for the grade standards they conduct.
Given that the appeal for this price/tuition fee control is justifiable in order to make sure that quality education as a fundamental need of the society is affordable to all income holders, the side-effect of such restrain regulation that distort the balancing mechanism of the market is unfathomable and historically observed. Simply take the cliché case of maximum rent price regulation practiced in different cities of the world that brought the entire tenancy housing market into dire straits. New York City stays as a classic example whereby setting maximum rent price below the usual market price at tenancy housing market not only disturbed the incentive to supply enough apartment to meet the growing demand for it, but it also resulted to degradation of housing quality as house-owners could not afford to upgrade and maintain the housing standard while depending on below feasibility rent revenue. Alas, it led the city to only offer the fiasco of inadequate-barely livable residential housing thanks to rent price control legislation.
Importantly, it is necessary to recognize that the disastrous unintended consequence of rent price control has less if any to do with the unique characteristics of the housing industry of a particular city, but more if not all to do with distortion of the governing market fundamental (i.e., price) that allows the supplier of a particular commodity to supply it in a particular quantity and in quality as demanded by the market. Similarly, in implicating the distortion of same market fundamental or price in the private education market in Kathmandu, the exact same horrendous consequences are likely to be observed.
At first and foremost, when private schools are forced to depend on limited tuition fees set by the maximum limit regulation, they are also forced to invest limitedly on infrastructure maintenance, upgrade, and in adopting innovative education practice in order to break-even. And, if the legislation prescribed tuition fees or the revenue is below what the market would offer, investment on increasing the education related infrastructure and the quality of the education will also be below the pace of what price liberalized private school market would have offered. And henceforth, the quality of the private education system is more likely to be compromised.
Likewise, the ability to charge below-feasibility maximum tuition fees as per the regulation shall also discourage new investment in private schools enough to meet the demand growth of private education possibly triggered by the guardians who are encouraged to transfer their children from public schools. A research from Samriddhi Foundation clearly states that cost structure and initial investment outlay for opening schools with infrastructure required for meeting Grade-C category cannot be feasibly fulfilled by the maximum tuition fee limit set for them. Therefore, a rational investor willing to make profit will not have incentive to establish schools of such category in order to meet the growing demand of private school education. Given the widening gap in supply and demand of private school education as the consequence of this regulation, the motive of this very regulation to make private school education affordable to normal people can instead backfire. With virtually no growth in number of private schools in compared to demand for it, the supply-shortage will rather create an underground economy whereby people with better connections and willing to pay more money off the table are more likely to get their children admitted at private schools while the marginal ones are left out.
This directive on setting maximum limit of tuition fees can be a costly constraint on growth of private educational institutes of Nepal. The directive meant for ensuring quality education to all at affordable prices, in itself can be a major factor hindering the growth of educational sectors. There are numerous reforms required in Nepal regarding its quality of education. In current scenario, the government must instead focus on improving the quality of public schools and not on decreasing competitiveness among private schools affecting its quality and lowering the possibility of low income household children to get a quality education.