As the country is making progress towards reaching an all-party agreement that may lead to a peaceful political settlement building up on the April uprising, it is not too early to think about the various opportunities that loom in Nepal’s horizon that the forthcoming government will have to choose from. Finding the right opportunities and opting for them will help us prosper in the next 10-15 years. Any opportunity we opt for should be tied to the comparative advantage we have as a small nation (but not too small by the number of people we have) in the planet. Our comparative advantage lies in cheap labor, beautiful mountains, massive water resources, and the indomitable spirit of our people. Also, we can’t be shooting for too many competing opportunities.
Question would be “who identifies the opportunities and goals for a nation?” I think it is the national government that creates platform for zillions of opportunities for the private entrepreneurs and then the entrepreneurs play on the platform and propel the nation towards prosperity. I am going to talk about basic stuffs that the government (I mean the people’s government which I hope will be formed within the next two years) needs to do to allow entrepreneurs to succeed. If we have a government which can engineer (note – there is a difference between providing and engineering) availability of basic stuffs like education and health care, we as a nation can head uphill. It won’t be easy because when the going gets easy, we could be going downhill.
Law and Order – the first and foremost
The government must establish law and order as a fundamental aspect of a legally standing sovereign nation. We have been fighting for years to be assured that no one is above the law. If a rule of law that that treats every citizen in the nation equally is not assured even after the establishment of a people’s government, every other thing that the government says or does amounts to nothing. Things will start falling through the crack and people will lose faith again. Frustrations will increase if the rule of law is not guaranteed. It will drive more people to politics and politics will be the only business we will be doing for the next 100 years, as has been the case for the last 200 years. Lack of a rule of law will make people angry and they will join politics looking for opposition against the ruling entities.
Question arises – how would the post-constituent assembly government go about establishing the rule of law? It is a very difficult job and it is beyond the scope of this article to explore it in detail. There could be several other people already thinking about this as we have a lot of people smarter than me focusing in this area. Also, “rule of law” is a relative measure. There is no nation in the world where there is an absolute “rule of law”. We need to opt for perfection, let us not be disappointed if we do not get one. We have to work for years to get there. We will be fine as long as we have a good start and our government is committed to get better everyday. In the past, we started with lofty beautiful dreams and things started to get worse right from the next minute every new government was formed – it did not matter whether it was royal or non-royal government.
Some of the basic stuffs we can expect in a country where rule of law is assured are:
– Recognizing criminals – for example tax defaulters are criminals
– Persecuting criminals – penalized if found guilty without exception
– No one is above the law – not even gods
If we had rule of law, King Gyanendra, his father and his son would not have been able to do what they did. They all would have been criminals and would have been prosecuted. Same is the case with Girija, Prachanda and Deuba. They all committed crimes in some fashion or the other. Let us forget and let us have a fresh start. Enough politics done, time to grow.
The government is the richest single entity of any nation. But we can not ignore the fact that the amount of wealth people possess jointly is much larger than what the government has. The government has just the piece of a pie collected from people through different types of tax. The government’s money is people’s money and they should remember that every minute. In the past, the King, Girija, Deuba and Madhav Nepal thought differently and ignored the people.
What should the tax money be used for? Human resource is the most basic asset we need to build the nation. If we do not have this, we do not have anything. How do we build human resources? Do we build roads and highways first, or focus on hydroelectricity; school building first or hospital building first? Hundreds of economists around the world are debating this issue and the United Nations and World Bank have spent billions of dollars sending many consultants around the world. I have my own opinion on this which may or may not match with what others have to say. I am just writing this out of intuition as I do not have time to read academic literature at this point of my career. Academics go by numbers and literature reviews and I like intuition which definitely comes out of my real world experiences.
I think the government should focus on providing basic education and healthcare and let private parties do the rest. The kinds of mistake the Nepalese government did in the past forming national construction, transport, food supplies and airlines agencies should not be repeated. The government should be in the business of creating business, not in the business of doing business which can be better done by private parties. If private parties in the nation are not good enough, it is time to invite private parties from other parts of the world. Let the local compete the global. The times when a government could favor local business are gone as the world is becoming smaller due to globalization, ushering in a culture of “helping each other mode” and “focus on the stuff you know mode” between nations. For example, a day may come where no car will be built in America or the entire western world – China, India, Brazil could be the places building all the vehicles for the world. What I am saying here is that the government should focus on building things that guarantee basic education and health. This may include keeping cities, towns and villages clean, providing clean drinking water, reducing pollution, saving forests, conserving national parks and making education up to grade eight mandatory. Do these things right and let private institutions (local or global) do the other infra-structure hardening jobs. This is simple and simple things always work and I always say to my friends that money is in simple ideas.
I do not believe that the government ought to do more than fulfill these two major functions. If readers/bloggers disagree with what I have written above, please give me feedback. I am willing to learn form you all. One of you, if not me, will be leading the nation one day and my suggestion to you is to keep it simple: law and order and infra-structure development support via basic education and health. If you as a leader focus on these simple stuffs and allow tax money to flow to the right projects, you will build the nation and turn yourself into a national hero. We have not had one for a long time.