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फेरि सडक खन्यो बा ! Absence of basic planning and accountability jeopardize road expansion projects in Nepal

Image Source: The Himalayan Times

Image Source: The Himalayan Times

No sooner have you been able to enjoy the newly pitched roads, than someone without fail comes and digs them up again. Ever wondered why these freshly built roads are dug up and left open or patched up in sorry attempts, a few months or even weeks after its construction?  Sometimes water pipes, sometimes sewage, sometimes electricity; whatever the reason may be the end result always the same: you are back to square one driving through potholes all day long.  Annoyed, frustrated and just plain curious I decided to dig into this with the pre-conceived idea that there must be some planning and co-ordination errors. What I did not expect to find was ZERO planning/ co-ordination among any of the concerned departments, none whatsoever.

So what happens? Department of Roads (DOR) builds a certain road and in a few weeks or months some other department comes along and digs up that road for one of their activities. DOR now doesn’t have the money or resources to go back and make that road since its job in that area is already done. What we are left with then are uneven roads, traffic problems, reduced lifespan of our vehicles, increased fuel spending, justification for absurd amounts of vehicle taxes and shamelessly wasted resources. DOR, Department of Water Supply and Sewage, Telecommunications Department, Department of Electricity Development all have their individual plans and work accordingly with no concern over what the other departments might be doing. If that means undermining some other departments’ work, causing discomfort to the citizens or wasting taxpayers’ money, so be it.  It saddens me to see how haphazardly all these departments function and what a mess the system has become. What then is the National Planning Commission doing amidst all this chaos? Anything but putting the plan in planning (at least in this case)! The solution is simple: plan well so that works related to drainage or water pipes and telephone or electricity lines are completed in a certain area before the road is constructed. It isn’t rocket science to figure out that one simple common plan, communication flow or any type of co-ordination between these concerned departments would make a huge difference.

I find it difficult to believe that our bureaucrats didn’t see the blatant need for co-ordination. After all, if it were their own houses they were planning to build, would the execution be as sloppy and wasteful? Be it clashing egos, ignorance, rent-seeking opportunities or just plain indifference; turning a blind-eye to this issue has served their personal interests better and so things have carried on the way they have. Conversation with a DOR official revealed that in Nepal’s 50 years of road building history, no ground research has ever been conducted. Delays occurring due to inefficient contractors are overlooked in the fear that the contractor might have political ties and no one wants to rock the boat. There is no system of quality management and if the roads aren’t built to the required standards no one is penalized or held accountable. Although it is an unacceptable excuse; we cannot discredit the fact that there are problems when it comes to the budget. There is a huge time lag between when the budget is announced and when the money actually reaches the departments for development projects. This coupled with the monsoon season gives departments very less time to execute their intra-department plans (which are usually short term and not very well planned either). Additionally, since the performance of the departments depend on whether or not they have worked to finish their allocated budgets on time; there is additional pressure to finish their targets. This method of performance evaluation is very problematic. Firstly, there is no incentive for the officials to be innovative or effective. Secondly, the major end goal of any government department: serving the citizens and making their lives easier, is widely side lined.

It is high time to make good governance a reality in Nepal. Its absence will inevitably wither any noble project that comes along, as is happening with the road expansion project.  Proper quality management and accountability (both largely lacking in our government agencies) are indispensable factors for the development of any entity, be it an institution or the nation as a whole. Time is now for national heroes to emerge, who can put their self-interests aside for just a while and think in terms of the larger good. As wishful as it might be, I would like to hope that we do have at least some leaders who wish to see not only their prosperous selves, but also a prosperous nation!

Sneha Pradhan

About Sneha Pradhan

Sneha Pradhan is a Researcher at Samriddhi Foundation with an interest in good governance. She is a graduate student at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pursuing a Master of Science degree in Public Policy and Management. She also has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics and Statistics with a minor in Complex Organizations from Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.

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Doing Business in Nepal: A Case Study in Tourism

China and India are set to be among the three largest economies of the world by 2020, accounting for 27% of world GDP in PPP terms. And what’s more? They are travelling. All we have to do is become the coffee-shop between two huge corporate houses, whose staff likes to venture out of the routine jobs every once in a while. But is doing business in Nepal so easy, including the tourism industry? The World Bank’s Doing Business report positions Nepal at 105th in terms of ease of doing business.

Here we will look at a case – the ground realities of the process of acquisition of green number plate licenses that travel and tour operators require.

Ground realities

The number plates are issued after a two-tiered process. First of all the applicant tour operator applies at Tourism Industry Division (TID) under Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation for a permission to apply at Transport Management Office (TMO). Excessive corruption, red-tapism, redundancy, lack of accountability in part of the concerned agencies are commonalities in practice.

Process of acquiring green number plate

Process of acquiring green number plate. CLICK on the image to get a better view.

Lack of Accountability

To begin with, all government agencies are required to host Citizen’s Charters (Nagarik Badapatra) at their premises as a measure of accountability towards the citizens. The charters posted at the TMO premises are a decade old and do not reflect the true processes that are followed at present. Besides, economic ordinances can make annual changes in details like vehicle tax. These issues are not addressed in the citizen’s charters posted at TMO premises. Therefore, if an entrepreneur were to follow the guidelines as mentioned in those charters, he/she would be misled and would be rendered unable to acquire the desired services from TMO.

Most procedures required at TID are repeated again at TMO, only increasing the scope of discretionary powers held by bureaucrats at different sections of TID and TMO. This, complimented by lack of information sharing between these agencies can cause the files to be stuck at one section or the other. For example, while the Travel Section at TID verifies all clauses as included in its 26-point check-list before writing an application to the TMO requesting that a green number-plate license be issued to the applicant tour operator, the road-test procedure conducted by the Technical section at TMO requires the applicant to undergo the similar set of processes to produce the same information all over again.

Too much information (to gather and comprehend)
Interaction with personnel posted at different sections of TMO (who are paid to have that information and share it with the applicant) revealed that they were unsure about the complete procedure for the acquisition of green number plate licenses. A number of personnel shared that they have been transferred to TMO only three or four months back (as of May, 2014) and admit how they themselves do not fully understand the steps that need to be followed yet.

The aforementioned problems lead to one, corruption and two, lawyers taking unfair advantage of the entrepreneurs’ lack of access to information. Some tour operators also expressed how they have been asked to pay a sum exceeding Rs. 100,000 at TMO being told that their vehicles do not meet the technical specifications even after being cleared by the Travel Section at TID.

Possible reform measures
Now we see, the faster the tourism entrepreneurs can acquire licenses – to operate their businesses – the better for the economy. Easy access to information for entrepreneurs and accountability on government agencies’ side is the combo that is the need of the hour. Certain steps can be taken to deal with the aforementioned issues.

A client (tourism entrepreneur) focused manual that includes a list of required documents and processes involved in the process of acquisition of a green number plate license can be developed as a short-term measure. This manual needs to be available online and should be updated as per the change in economic ordinances, for example, the tax codes. This needs to be seconded by an updated citizen’s charter at TMO premises. The concerned agencies (TID and TMO in this case) need to develop a mechanism whereby they share relevant information among themselves such that redundancy and excessive red-tapism can be avoided. Training of personnel at TMO is required at the moment, as evinced by the interaction with the personnel themselves. A medium term focus can be coming up with a one window policy to hasten the process. This will require some homework to be done on the government’s side and will thus take some time. If implemented, however, this will also help cut off the complexities, redundancies and room for corruption.

Akash Shrestha

About Akash Shrestha

Akash Shrestha is Coordinator of the Research Department at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation where his focus areas are petroleum trade and public enterprises. He also writes newspaper articles, blogs and radio capsules, based on the findings of the studies conducted by The Foundation.

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