It is indeed a tragic time for Nepal.
While the countries around the world are trying their best to withstand the economic impact of the crisis by promoting new and innovative ventures, the Nepal government is concentrating all its efforts and resources to stop them.
On August 27, 2020, more than 60 individuals engaged in different online ventures in Nepal were arrested by Nepal Police for operating amidst lockdown. Such misconduct without any prior legal notice is undeniably dis-incentivizing for any individual with new and ground-breaking ideas to come up front and work in Nepal.
In the past five months of economic confinement in Nepal, these enterprises not only ensured the continuation of at least some form of economic activities in the nation but also helped solve many problems in the society brought forth by Covid-19. From conducting home delivery of groceries to providing medical supplies, these businesses were a major respite to individuals as well as the entire economy. Operating in such difficult times and providing additional jobs to the people, let alone maintaining the previous level of employment during the worst economic crisis faced by the country, is no joke. These enterprises, engaged in creating an alternative market through digitization, were in fact a major source of hope for the Nepalese economy to not just survive the crisis, but also to realize a long and sustained economic growth.
There was much optimism that with the realization of the many benefits instigated through e-commerce businesses, the government would refocus its priorities in creating a sound environment for the enterprises to foster. But instead, the government belied expectations as it failed to boost the morale of not just these ventures, but of the entire business community.
Such anomalies amidst an economic catastrophe reflect a lack of directional thinking from the government.
It is apparent that innovative enterprises that use new technology and methods for operation are more resilient towards external shocks and will be able to spur economic growth even during recessionary times. With the entrepreneurial sphere of Nepal still in its infancy, the infiltration of new and innovative businesses in the country is less. Companies based on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) account to a mere 0.9 percent in Nepal. This implies that only a trifling number of enterprises in Nepal have the capacity to contribute towards the economy amidst the ongoing pandemic and facilitating them to operate is of utmost importance.
For the same, the government should immediately work on two agendas: establishing a predictable environment for enterprises and implementing flexible policies.
In the absence of proper information delivery systems and the prevalence of a mechanism where decisions are made on an ad-hoc basis, the Nepalese enterprises have suffered big-time. In highly uncertain times, the government should provide businesses with some form of predictability in order to plan for sustenance. Thus, without much delay, the government of Nepal should place a proper information delivery mechanism targeted especially at entrepreneurs that deliver information on updates regarding, areas that are likely to be sealed, specific policies for businesses introduced by the government, relief packages introduced for enterprises, any kind of restrictions imposed on business activities, safety guidelines that different enterprises need to follow, among others.
Amidst a crisis, the government should focus on adopting flexible policies that will help enterprises to keep their operations running. Some of the ways to do so are by allowing enterprises to temporarily convert their business modality as per the most suitable opportunities available during the crisis; helping businesses to adapt to market conditions like physical distancing, remote working, contactless delivery and digitalization; removing compliance process for registration of new and innovative businesses, especially start-ups and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); and relaxing regulations like in the case of delivery time or modality.
Such initiations will not only help enterprises survive a crisis but also will generate innovative solutions that can help society respond to the crisis.
Curtailing economic freedom of individuals is not the answer to anything, providing one is!