Bhaskar Raj Rajkarnikar is senior vice president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI). Also the
executive chairman of Avenues Television, he spoke to Surendra Tandukar of THT Perspectives about the current business
scenario of Nepal as well as FNCCI’s role in its betterment. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate the present business scenario?
The current business scenario is volatile. On one hand, there is hope that things will get better. But on the other hand, we also fear that things will take a turn for the worse. Productivity has gone down and all financial indicators are also negative. Confidence amongst entrepreneurs is very low. The liquidity crunch along with increasing bank interest rates has also been hampering business. On top of that, the frequent policy change without consultation with the private sector is also a big problem.
Imposition of anti money laundering bill, banking policy and anti-tobacco bill without consultation with the private sector is certain to have a
Power shortage still has a major negative impact. The recent reemergence of bandhs is also harming this sector. The consistent labour issues and the way the unions are backed up by political and armed fractions is not at all helping increase investment. Similarly, the conflict between free market and mixed economy is creating uncertainty in the business community.
There is definitely a need to ensure that the business community feels secure. We just want things to get better so that we can conduct our business in a fearless manner and contribute to nation building. After 1990 Nepal entered free market economy and the private sector invested in sectors like banks, media, health, education and others. It was a two pillar system which included public and private sector. But after the revolution of 2006, the political parties are working towards introducing mixed economy on the basis of three pillar system, which will include public, private and co-operative sector. This will not be in favour of the private sector, as the economy will be controlled tightly. The political parties do not at all seem concerned about economic issues.
For some time, there were no bandhs, but now, the frequency of bandhs has escalated again. How is it affecting the economy?
Bandhs can never be good for any country or economy.
Unfortunately, bandhs are used as an easy medium to pressurise the government. But I do not think that it has any positive contribution to the social as well as economic condition of the country. The financial loss of a day’s bandh is roughly around Rs 2 billion. FNCCI has established a fund of Rs 1 million to fight bandhs. Within that budget, we will also stage rallys against bandhs from Thamel on every day a bandh is called. Bandhs are not just the concern of the business community but the entire society. There is a need for all of us to raise our voices against them. There is a need to ensure that stricter measures are imposed by the government against bandhs along with proper security measures against people involved in vandalism regardless of their political affiliation. On the other hand, the political parties should exercise some common sense and ensure that neither they, nor their various wings encourage or call for bandhs. If the government fails to stop bandhs, the people will start a revolt. Political parties should not just make commitments but also fulfil them. One thing is certain, Nepal will be better without bandhs.
What are the biggest challenges being faced by business community at present?
There are a few unique challenges faced by the business community in Nepal. Firstly, it is the unfailing load shedding. The unstable political condition is another challenge. Bandhs and labour disputes backed up by political fractions are major challenges. Similarly, rampant corruption at all levels is also hampering the business environment in Nepal. Finally, the liquidity crunch and ever increasing bank interest rates are a challenge.
What could be the best measures to resolve these problems?
FNCCI is bringing forward a six point solution termed the Nepal Financial Agenda.
Political parties will be consulted, then they will be acted upon after an agreement is reached. The six point agenda will include issues like energy, labour, peace, identification of specific products per region, Nepal-China economic growth, the new role of private sector, and transparency in private sector. These issues, if implemented properly, will certainly resolve much of the problems .
With your long-term involvement in broadcast media business, how do you view the mushrooming of television channels? How do you see this business shaping up in the country?
The government should first conduct a feasibility study
to ascertain the number of television channels that can sustain in Nepal. The recent increase in the number of channels is an alarming phenomenon. Media in Nepal is sustained by revenue generated through advertisement and as the volume of advertisement is decreasing, it will be difficult for many channels to survive. What we need to know is that media is no longer just a means of expression or information, it is also a business. There is a certain manner in which a business runs and under the current situation, I do not think that many channels will be able to survive. It is a matter of ‘survival of the fittest’. It is true that along with the increase in the number of channels, the competition will also rise. I am certain that there will be a lot of experimentation in this sector in the days to come and within a few years, the entire broadcasting business will see a paradigm shift.
Would you also share your views on the current situation of the advertising world?
Advertisements depend on the condition of trade and industry. As the situation of trade and industry is not very good, the advertisement sector is negatively impacted. In the last one year, the volume of commercials on television has gone down by 40 per cent. However, advertisement has been progressing well in terms of creativity. New ideas and technology have been coming up and people are enjoying unique concepts. The new way in which commercials have come up has not just made people watch and enjoy commercials but have also amused them. People check advertisements not only for product information but also for the concept and manner of presentation and execution.
What major steps FNCCI is taking to assure an improved business environment in the country?
As I mentioned earlier, we will move ahead with the six point financial aganda. We want to ensure that economic agendas are on par with political agendas. Without economic progress, political acheivements cannot sustain. We have to be very crear on this issue.
We want to ensure that a cordial business environment is created where people can invest and get benefits. The business community in Nepal had been facing a lot of hindrance and there is still a lot to do to ensure that people can do business easily. FNCCI as an umbrella organisation of the business community will help and protect the community as and when needed.