• Automatic Route – A Prerequisite for FDI Inflows

    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.

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  • Four Reasons Why the NEA Should Not Procure LED Bulbs

    The Government of Nepal’s decision to purchase 200 million units of energy efficient LED bulbs has created a big controversy. While the decision in itself has been projected as being in the national interest, the NEA has been facing suspicions of corruption for having bypassed the public procurement law, and having resorted to the special power of the cabinet for buying light bulbs.

    Granted that the NEA is acting in the national interest and there is no corruption involved, there are still other reasons to why the procurement of LED bulbs by the NEA is wrong.

    1. Going beyond the NEA’s mandate
    Nepal Electricity Act, 2041 states that the primary objective of NEA is to supply the power by generating, transmitting and distributing electricity efficiently and reliably, making it accessible to everyone. That is to say that NEA is tasked with only generation, and management of supply of electricity to make it affordable and accessible to all Nepalese. Therefore, procurement of LED bulbs falls beyond the mandate of the NEA as it is clearly not indispensable for either the generation, or the transmission and distribution of electricity.

    2. The flaw in the proposed financing model
    To finance the procurement, the Government of Nepal is granting a loan of Rs. 2.08 billion which the NEA seeks to repay by selling the bulbs through its distribution centers. In a country where 25.2% of the population lives below the poverty line, it is not pragmatic to expect people to spend money in purchasing energy efficient bulbs in the name of contributing to national interest. In this scenario, the government is likely to provide subsidies to make it affordable to the poor, reducing the retail price (which may even be below the cost price). As soon as that happens, the NEA will face similar fate as the NOC where the dysfunctional subsidy policy rendered it unable to even attain break-even, making it impossible to pay the loans.

    3. Crowding out private investment
    The NEA, as it is a public enterprise, enjoys few privileges that private enterprises do not. It neither has to depend on investors for capital, not on consumers for profit. With the unlimited government backing, it can afford to procure goods at economic cost and sell them in the market at social costs, even if it makes loss after loss. This disrupts the playing field for private enterprises for they cannot compete with state-backed competitors. This will eventually crowd out private investments.

    4. Policy insecurity; lack of predictability
    The most important factor affecting investment decisions of private investors is predictability, which is a function of policy stability. The fact that the state-owned enterprises can, at any moment, use the special powers of the government to curb the law of the land makes it further challenging for private investors. In this case, Honorable Minister of Energy, Mr. Janardan Sharma has cited the provision in the public procurement law that allows direct procurement with an international inter-government organization but he has conveniently left out the condition of the provision being applied only in the case of pre- existing supplier of the said goods or services. These kind of malpractices also set negative precedents that can be borrowed by other sectors of the economy as well, which has the potential of making it impossible for private investors to operate in any sector in Nepal.

    The Alternative Solution
    The rationale given for the purchase of the bulbs by Honorable Minister of Energy, Mr. Janardan Sharma and the MD of NEA, Mr. Kulman Ghising, is its potential to reduce the national electricity consumption by up to 200 MW. Nepal has adopted a liberal economic policy and there are private enterprises that are offering the same service as the NEA is attempting to. If the goal is to lessen the peak demand, then the government could very well relax some of the taxes that apply to these products, making these energy-efficient bulbs affordable to most, if not all, consumers of the grid electricity.

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  • Maximum Tuition Fee Limit Regulation That Backfires

    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.

     

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  • Honking Prohibition: The ineffectiveness behind a popular policy

    In addressing the grievance of city dwellers about excessive noise pollution from the traffic in the busy roads, the Department of Transportation Management (DoTM) in association with the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office is enforcing the regulation to prohibit honking except in the emergency situations. This regulation is scheduled to be enacted in the start of Baisakh, the Nepali New Year. According to the department of transport management, any motorist acting against the regulation will be subject to penalty of NRs. 5000. Meanwhile, ambulance, fire brigade, security vans, government vehicles and tourist vehicles are exempted from this regulation.

    This good intention behind the enforcement of this regulation to reduce vehicular sound pollution is quite obvious. However, the enactment of this regulation completely ignores the genuine compulsion or the root cause behind honking for motorists, while jumping into the measure of controlling the consequence (i.e., honking) regardless. Therefore, the effectiveness of this proposed regulation can be doubted as it is also bound to victimize innocent motorists and provoke unintended consequences as discussed below.

    First and foremost, the regulation is clearly unconcise and obscure. While it only tolerates honking in situation of high risk of accident and emergency, it does not define the characteristics of high risk and emergency explicitly. It is not clear whether the situation of high risk only refers to the times when the motorists are sure to collide with the passer by, or it also refers to the situations when some motorists are being cautious by signaling stationary pedestrians to not cross streets while they are in considerable speed. While making such criticisms might sound picky and paranoid, a motorist traveling in the busy streets of Kathmandu clearly acknowledges coming across multiple situations that require blowing horns even if it is debatable if the situations fit as being “an emergency situation” after all.

    Secondly, it is outright clear that most motorists do not honk simply to disturb the residence or contribute to the noise pollution. While exceptions exist, it is often the haphazard traffic situation in the city that compels motorists to blow horns. We all know that the grave conditions of the roads require pedestrians and vehicles to share the same pathway frequently. Thus, honking is the only method to communicate with the pedestrians to ask them to make way for motorists who are at least traveling 5 times speedier than the walkers. Likewise, lack of traffic management at cross-roads and junction require motorists to honk while passing across as a caution even during light traffics. Besides, there is hardly any other decent way to signal public buses often stopping in the middle of the road at their own ease while mischievously blocking the entire traffic. In saying so, it does not seem quite justifiable to prohibit honking when it currently is the important part of usual driving function.

    Government, when identifies a potential problem, often goes for the simplest solution, i.e. to pass policies and laws targeting the end consequences that results more bad than good. The policies restrict the rights of the citizens even on conducting general activities that is not opted to cause harm to anybody. Recently, the government formulated the policy to restrict the sale of cigarettes and liquors on certain times and now it plans to ban honking. Further, it is also preparing to ban Nepalese from visiting the gulf countries. In saying so, this spree of legal bans is unintentionally encroaching on our civil liberties from all direction while it is trying to reduce certain consequences.

    In conclusion, haphazard policies and regulations as such that attempts to counter the explicit end-consequences without respecting the root causes and incentives of it can often result in punishing the innocent than the culprit.  Given that it is at least 40% of the time that motorists are honking for genuine purpose in the disorganized streets of Kathmandu despite it not fitting under the general understanding of being emergent, it still means that the regulation carelessly charged 40% of the innocent. Therefore, the better government strategy would be to act upon particular compelling factor for honking that would ultimately relieve motorists from honking in the first place. Enforcing Public buses to only stop at designated spaces, assuring separate commute pathways for pedestrian and traffic, and enforcing effective traffic management at junctions and cross-roads could actually be the decent efforts to organically reduce honking.

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  • Nepal remains as the most expensive place in Asia to Incorporate business as per Doing Business Report 2016

    Provided above is the composite picture of the pieces of info-graphs retrieved from Starting a Business section of Doing Business Report 2016 published by the World Bank Group. The picture attempts to convey that Nepal remains as the only country all over Asia that urges entrepreneurs to employ third party legal agent (i.e., the most expensive procedure to start a business) to get their business incorporated.

    Technically as per the Companies Act 2006, incorporating a business doesn’t require an entrepreneur to gain authorization by attorney or notarization. The procedure simply expects one to submit the Article of Incorporation and Memorandum of Association along with personal identification documents while paying minimal registration fees.  However, the opacity of the law and inefficiencies in the judicial system has made the registration process far too complex for entrepreneurs to navigate through it without securing professional assistance. Hence, World Bank finds it better for entrepreneurs to use professional services by hiring expensive laws as it happened to be the only way for entrepreneurs to save time and be ensured that the process goes smoothly.

    Nevertheless, the need to involve third-party professionals only imposes a cost that can be prohibitive to entrepreneurship. Even though such cost of employing third party legal service is not enlisted as a legal charge for incorporating a company, the bureaucratic hurdle present in the system that requires entrepreneurs to take legal assistance implies such cost to be relevant.

    Business registration process should be designed in such a way that deems the use of legal services to be unnecessary. Entrepreneurs, especially those starting a small business, should be able to complete the registration process without having to pay exorbitant lawyers’ fees.  After all, having to deal with cumber regulation procedure always creates room for bureaucratic corruption and larger informal economy with more unregistered businesses.

     

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  • भारतीय बजेटको तरंग

    डा. हेमन्त दवाडी

    भारतका वित्तमन्त्री अरुण जेट्लीले आर्थिक वर्ष २०१७/१८ को वार्षिक बजेट भारतीय संसद्मा प्रस्तुत गरेका छन्। सवा सय करोड जनसंख्या भएको र विश्वअर्थतन्त्रमा ‘ब्राइट स्पट’का रूपमा चित्रण गरिने मुलुकको बजेटप्रति अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय चासो हुनु स्वाभाविक हो। अझ नेपालजस्तो भारतसँग खुला सिमाना रहेको र आफ्नो दुईतिहाइ अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय व्यापारसमेत उसैसँग हुने मुलुकका लागि त त्यहाँको बजेट महत्वको विषय हुने नै भयो।

    भारतीय बजेटले भारतमा आयात हुने वस्तुमा लाग्ने महसुल र भारतमा उत्पादन हुने वस्तु र सेवामा लाग्ने शुल्कमा खासै परिवर्तन नगरेबाट नेपालमा ती वस्तुको मूल्यमा तत्काल असर नपर्ने देखिन्छ। अप्रत्यक्ष करमा भएका सबै परिवर्तन अझै पनि उपलब्ध भइनसकेकाले तिनको विस्तृत लेखाजोखा हुन केही समय लाग्नेछ।

    भारतका वित्तमन्त्रीले त्यहाँको सरकारको बजेट एजेन्डालाई रूपान्तरण, सशक्तिकरण र निर्मलीकरणका रूपमा चित्रण गरेका छन्। यसले नेपाललाई पनि आफ्नो अर्थतन्त्रलाई पारदर्शी एवं उद्यमशीलतामुखी बनाउन अभिप्रेरित गर्ने सम्भावना छ।

    पाँच सय र हजार रुपैयाँका पुराना भारतीय नोटको ‘नोटबन्दी’पछि आमभारतीयले भोग्नुपरेको कष्टलाई दृष्टिगत गरेर तिनलाई खुसी पार्नेखालको ‘पपुलिस्ट’ बजेट आउने अपेक्षा धेरै भारतीय विश्लेषकको थियो। तर, अपेक्षाविपरीत पुँजीगत खर्चमा बढोत्तरी गरी सरकारले दिने अनुदानमा खासै परिवर्तन नहुनुले भारतीय बजेटलाई ‘पपुलिस्ट’ मान्न मिल्दैन। बजेट वक्तव्यपश्चात् भारतीय पुँजीबजारको मापक मानिने बम्बे स्टक एक्सचेन्जको सेन्सिटिभ इन्डेक्समा झण्डै ५०० अंकको (करिब १.५ प्रतिशत) वृद्धि हुनुले उद्योग व्यापार क्षेत्रले भारत सरकारको बजेटलाई सकारात्मक रूपमा लिएको पुष्टि गर्छ। भारतका कतिपय स्वतन्त्र अर्थशास्त्रीले बजेटको स्वागत गरेका छन्। भलै चरम राजनीतिक विभाजन भएको अवस्थामा केही प्रमुख राज्यको आमनिर्वाचनको पूर्वसन्ध्यामा ल्याइएको बजेटलाई विरोधी दलहरूले नकारात्मक चित्रण गरेका छन्।

    यस  बजेटको प्रमुख विशेषता पुँजीगत क्षेत्रमा बढेका विनियोजन नै हुन्। ग्रामीण क्षेत्रमा गरिने पुँजीगत लगानीमा २४ प्रतिशतको वृद्धि गरिएको छ। यसले ग्रामीण भारतको पूर्वाधारमा ठूलो परिवर्तन ल्याउने र भारतीय कृषि अर्थतन्त्रमा सकारात्मक असर पर्ने अपेक्षा गर्न सकिन्छ।

    भारतीय बजेटले त्यहाँका साना व्यक्तिगत आयकरदाता र सानो कारोबार गर्ने कम्पनीको आयकरमा कमी गरेको छ। अब भारु २.५ लाखदेखि ५ लाखसम्म आय रहेका व्यक्तिले १० प्रतिशतको सट्टा ५ प्रतिशतमात्र कर तिर्नुपर्ने भएको छ। त्यस्तै, भारु ५० करोडसम्मको कारोबार गर्ने कम्पनीले ३० प्रतिशतको सट्टा २५ प्रतिशतका दरले मात्र संस्थागत आयकर तिर्नुपर्नेछ। साथै, कर तिर्ने सबै व्यक्तिको कर दायित्वमा १२,५०० ले कमी आउने भएको छ। भारतले लिएको यस कदमबाट नेपालमा पनि साना करदातालाई लाग्ने करको भार कम गर्न दबाब बढ्ने निश्चित छ।

    भारतीय बजेटमा भुक्तानीको विद्युतीय माध्यमको प्रयोग बढाउन र मुलुकको अर्थतन्त्रलाई पारदर्शी बनाउन धेरै पहल घोषणा भएका छन्। भारतीय अर्थतन्त्र ‘क्यासलेस’ हुँदै जाँदा उद्योग एवं उत्पादनहरू थप प्रतिस्पर्धी बन्ने निश्चित छ। यसले भारततर्फ हुने नेपाली निर्यातमा थप दबाब पर्नेछ र नेपालमा भारतबाट हुने आयात बढ्नेछ। साथै, अर्थतन्त्रमा नगदको प्रयोग घटेमा कर छल्ने प्रवृत्तिमा कमी आउने र अनौपचारिकको सट्टा औपचारिक अर्थतन्त्रले टेवा पाउने देखिन्छ। बजेट वक्तव्यमा भारतीय वित्तमन्त्रीले राजनीतिक दलहरूलाई दिइने चन्दा सम्बन्धी नियममा व्यापक परिवर्तनको प्रस्ताव गरेका छन्। अहिलेसम्म २०,००० सम्मको चन्दा नगदमा स्रोत नखुलाइ लिन पाइने अवस्था रहेकोमा अबउप्रान्त २,००० सम्ममात्र स्रोत नखुलेको चन्दा लिन पाइने भएको छ। साथै, राजनीतिक दलले मात्र भुक्तानी लिन मिल्ने चुनावी ऋणपत्र(इलेक्टोरल बन्ड) को प्रस्ताव बजेटमा छ।

    अपारदर्शी अर्थतन्त्र(ब्ल्याक इकोनोमी) बढ्नुमा राजनीतिक दलको अपारदर्शी वित्तव्यवस्थालाई नै प्रमुख कारकको रूपमा लिने गरिन्छ। राजनीतिक दललाई दिइने अपारदर्शी चन्दाले भ्रष्टाचार एवं आर्थिक विकृतिलाई टेवा दिने गर्छ। नेपालमा पनि राजनीतिक दलहरूको आय–व्ययमा ठूलो अपारदर्शिता रहँदै आएको छ। के हाम्रा राजनीतिक दलले अबउप्रान्त सबै चन्दा पारदर्शी रूपमा चेकमार्फत् लिन पहल गर्लान्? र, हाम्रा अर्थमन्त्रीले बैंकमार्फत् मात्र दलहरूलाई चन्दा दिन पाइने र राजनीतिक दलले आफ्नो आयको विवरण आयकर प्रशासनलाई दिनुपर्ने बाध्यकारी व्यवस्था लागु गर्ने साहस गर्लान्? यो हामी सबैका लागि चासो र चाखको विषय हो।

    भारतीय बजेटमा वैदेशिक लगानीको क्षेत्रमा ठूलो प्रक्रियागत परिवर्तनको घोषणा भएको छ। हालसम्म भारतमा कतिपय क्षेत्रमा स्वचालित माध्यम(अटोमेटिक रुट) बाट र अन्य क्षेत्रमा सरकारको वैदेशिक लगानी प्रवर्द्धन बोर्डको पूर्वअनुमति लिएपछि मात्र वैदेशिक लगानी गर्न पाइने व्यवस्था थियो। वित्तमन्त्रीले वैदेशिक लगानी प्रवर्द्धन बोर्डको अन्त्य गरी सबै वैदेशिक लगानी स्वचालित माध्यमबाट परिचालन गर्ने प्रस्ताव गरेका छन्। नेपालमा पनि कतिपय वैदेशिक लगानीका निम्ति उद्योग तथा लगानी प्रवर्द्धन बोर्डको पूर्वअनुमति लिनुपर्ने व्यवस्था छ। पूर्वअनुमतिका लागि बोर्डमा प्रस्ताव लगिरहनु नपर्ने व्यवस्था गरिएमा वैदेशिक लगानीको वातावरणमा केही सुधार हुन सक्ने थियो।

    भारतका वित्तमन्त्रीले त्यहाँको सरकारको बजेट एजेन्डालाई रूपान्तरण, सशक्तिकरण र निर्मलीकरणका रूपमा चित्रण गरेका छन्। यसले नेपाललाई पनि आफ्नो अर्थतन्त्रलाई पारदर्शी एवं उद्यमशीलतामुखी बनाउन अभिप्रेरित गर्ने सम्भावना छ। नेपालमा नियन्त्रणमुखी विचारधाराको बाहुल्य रहेको परिप्रेक्ष्यमा बजेटमार्फत् भारतीय अर्थतन्त्रमा आउने आर्थिक परिवर्तनबाट नेपाली अर्थतन्त्र अझै पछि पर्ने सम्भावना बढेको छ। व्यक्तिव्यक्तिमा रहेको उद्यमशीलताको उपयोग गर्दै प्रतिस्पर्धी अर्थतन्त्रको निर्माणको विकल्प नरहेको सन्देश भारतीय बजेटले दिएको छ।

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