Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), despite their limited investment, knowledge and resources, have been the backbone of economies around the world. According to World Bank, 90% of all firms are MSMEs, and they contribute up to 60% of total employment and up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies. Nepal, where the industrial sector has not been able to grow as expected, consists mainly of small scale enterprises. The reason is that because people have very little capital at their disposal, and they do not have the skill sets or prior experience to run large scale businesses, people start off small. This is why least developed countries with poor economy (like Nepal) see more people starting with MSMEs.
| MSME’s contribution in Nepal
|1. Share of industrial GDP
|2. Share of industrial sector value addition
|3. Share of industrial Employment
|4. Share of industrial Export
* Source: Federation of Nepal Cottage and Small Industries (FNCSI)
In Nepal, the trend of registration and setting up of new small-scale industries has also been interestingly going up in the past few years. More and more small-scale enterprises have opted to operate formally. If global figures are anything to go by, then they invariably mean that this is a good thing for Nepal as well, from an economic growth perspective.
|No. of cottage and small industries registered
Source: Audhyogic Tathyanka 2072/73, Department of Cottage and Small Industry (DCSI)
A question to delve into, then, would be, what is causing this surge in the number of micro and small entrepreneurs entering the formal economy. Clear and convenient government policies and processes are the need of the day if the government seriously wants to see more of the MSMEs in Nepal.
Government agencies claim that the Industrial Enterprise Act, 2073 (2016)’s free registration and complete income tax waiver for first five years of operation provisions have motivated firms to register. This is a positive start. However, we must also be wary that income tax exemption for five years simply defers the problem for next five years, and does not necessarily solve complexities embedded in it. Likewise, wiping out the registration fee does not wipe out the problems of registration as it is still entangled with multiple paperwork. For instance, as long as MSMEs have to submit business schemes (which need business’s forecasts of break-even point, annual turnover, annual profits, etc.) to oversight bodies, procedural complexities will continue to exist.
Coordination is another challenging issue which lags in government agencies. Entrepreneurs are required to visit multiple offices during registration. Currently an entrepreneur needs to visit Inland Revenue Department (IRD) as well as municipality office only to pay taxes. As an entrepreneur, it would be much easier to pay all taxes at one agency. State institutions could devise a mechanism whereby they share such revenues. This is absolutely possible and even staffers of government offices acknowledge the possibility and benefits of such measures. Yet, it never happens.
Likewise, the unclear registration procedure, piles of documentation, inaccessible government offices have discouraged firms from registering in one way or another. In order to avoid such complexities ‘online registration system’ available at fingertips can certainly be a solution to combat those problems. Countries like Azerbaijan, Thailand, Malaysia and many other countries have started this system the subsequent ease of doing business in these countries as a result of these reforms is clearly depicted in various global indices (like the World Bank’s Doing Business Report). Even our neighbouring country India has already started online procedure for registration and tax filing (even for micro enterprise).
This will obviously not be a quick hit across the country alike for not all Nepalese can access this service right away, but even then, that is no reason to hold back. We can run these systems (manual and digital) parallelly and independently, until other people are ready to switch to digital platforms. Such a system would end the reliance on government agencies even for minor works and make government services more convenient and accessible.
In Nepal where more people are vying to open private enterprise, government should capitalize on this by making it easier for them to enter the formal market. Actionable and quick reforms like ones discussed above, if implemented, could motivate more and more enterprises to operate formally, and more importantly, inspire birth of new MSMEs.
Ashish is working as a researcher at Samriddhi Foundation.