Established in 1981 by Government of Nepal with an objective of utilizing the immense range of herbs found in the country while also creating employment, Herbs Production & Processing Co. Ltd. (HPPCL) is well known among consumers for the production of Sancho, a herbal oil used for curing common cold, cough, rheumatism, fatigue, body ache, headache, neuralgia, sprain, and itching.
Annual Performance Review of Public Enterprises, 2070 published by Ministry of Finance indicates that HPPLC has a net worth of negative NRs. 1494.95 lakhs. Similarly it owes the government a total of NRs. 6421.06 lakhs as loan. The enterprise employs a total of 204 staffs and has unfunded liability of employees benefit worth NRs. 1035.76 lakhs. HPPLC has been unable to perform financially since its establishment for various reasons and has accumulated cumulative loss of NRs. 1775.26 lakhs until the year 2068/69. It also incurred a loss of NRs. 393.37 lakhs in 2068/69.
Recent news published in a national daily indicates that HPPLC is planning to sell off its property to pay its employees’ salaries. The Ministry of Finance has given it the permission to sell off the land on conditions that employees are to be laid off and commercial production is to be started. The Head of Privatization Cell in the ministry, Mr. Bashudev Sharma is skeptic of the whole idea and believes the enterprise can only perform post privatization.
While HPPLC, Ministry of Finance, and the Privatization cell all have their own agendas, the most important stakeholders i.e. the citizens are completely sidelined and forgotten. Since government and other government institutions are the major shareholders of the enterprise, it directly or indirectly implies that “we the people” own HPPLC and it is us who are losing our hard earned (taxed) money to an inefficient enterprise which essentially sells us products that private players are selling more effectively. Sancho and other products that HPPLC produces are not even essentials like petroleum and electricity. Then the question arises as to why the government needs to play “god” and poke its nose in every other business.
The intentions of the government were well and good during the 50’s and 60’s when the private sector was not contributing much to the economy. With time and with changes in the system we have experienced a growing private sector capable of producing goods and services for the people at affordable rates while also creating much more employment opportunities than the public sector could possibly imagine.
Most of the public enterprises in Nepal along with HPPLC suffer from the phenomenon that is most encapsulated in the form of “tragedy of the commons”. In simpler terms what belongs to everyone does not belong to anyone. Take for example our own Ratna Park, a governmental park which is free and open for everyone. The park is in a very sorry state while Garden of Dreams, a privately run park where an entry fee is required has been doing way better.
Coming to the point, although the amount of loss incurred by HPPLC when divided among the citizens comes up to being a very small sum adding up losses of all the PEs is a very alarming issue for the taxpaying citizens. The taxpayers neither have the time nor have intentions to question the government on the viability of running HPPLC and other PEs. Keeping tracks of 37 enterprises run by the government is not going to be an important agenda for the taxpayers when they are busy running their own lives and paying taxes to fund government’s businesses. While few of us are concerned we are merely small fishes in a big ocean and such issues raised by concerned citizens like you and me never reaches the concerned authorities and even if they do it does not fall under priority issue when we all are more focused on constitution and politics. They will ignore you once, they will ignore you again and again but they cannot ignore you forever so it is time we ask questions and demand satisfactory answers from the concerned authorities.