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Kamala Sarup: For Investment Peace Must Prevail

For Investment Peace Must Prevail

By Kamala Sarup

Recently NRN regional conference and fourth ICC meeting held in Doha, Qatar from 21 to 23 January. The event was attended by around 223 people. The meeting was concluded with an appeal to the international community to help resolve the 14 years long Bhutanese refugee crisis.

The committee decided to hold the next NRN convention in Kathmandu (2005: October 7, 8, and 9) during the time of Dashain. Chairman of Non Resident Nepali (NRN) Association Dr Upendra Mahato said are committed to a vision of making Nepal a peaceful and prosperous nation. But there are few challenges to overcome. The NRN movement is a new phenomenon and NRNs obviously cannot do a lot of things immediately. NRN act should be enacted immediately to streamline NRN investments. NRNs from the Gulf Region and South East Asia have amply demonstrated that their little contribution can make a big difference in Nepal. Available evidences suggest the Nepali Diaspora outside the SAARC region is over 1.2 million strong. Chairman of Non Resident Nepali (NRN) Association Dr Upendra Mahato argued. Recently, he has decided to spend Rs 10 million for the construction near Aryaghat crematorium on the bank of the Bagmati River and he personally financing $150,000 Kriyaputri Bhavan in Pashupatinath. Mahato added that NRN community, despite the conflict situation and the absence of legal provisions, has been working hard to promote investments in Nepal.

Also with sound and safe environment for investment, NRNs have access to the two fastest growing economies of the world, India and China. If we can create tax advantages or better rate of return on their Investments, even a micro percentage of money we can attract from them can turn our economy. For all this to happen, we need a society where law and order is respected and maintained not only at the government level but also at the grass root level. India is a perfect example on how NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) have come together to help their economy move to the next level.

Mahato further said "We made the first organized attempt to bring overseas Nepalis together at the First Non-Resident Nepali Conference held in Kathmandu. The conference not only generated a greater awareness of NRN issues in Nepal, but also helped produce the draft NRN legislation, which adequately addresses most of our needs and aspirations. After the conference we have witnessed a notable increase in meaningful interactions between Nepali Diasporas of different countries. The first anniversary of the NRN conference provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate how committed we are to achieve that wonderful vision and access our ability and opportunities to play a pivotal role in economic and social transformation of our country.

Although Nepali Diaspora has limited financial resources, being disciplined, honest and hard working community we can be optimistic about our prosperous future.This is not a small number anymore and it is expected to rise significantly every year. As our number grows, the need to have a meaningful dialogue between Nepalis dispersed around the globe as well as between the Diaspora and our ever-suffering motherland has increased.

"At this initial stage we would like to concentrate more on creating a global network of Nepali Associations in various countries to streamline Diaspora's limited resources and energy so as to make the Diaspora a catalyst of economic and social transformation of our motherland. Spreading the awareness and spirit of 'NRN movement' both in Nepal and among Nepali Diasporas all over the world is what Non-Resident Nepali Association is actively involved in at the moment. he further argued.

Even the Nepalese government first announced about plans to encouraging NRNs to invest in the country in the budget for 2001/2002, but nothing much has been achieved in the absence of a separate investment policy and conducive investment regulations for them. The Government should know how Nepal can make itself popular in the global market in coordination with NRNs. The government also needs to provide advice to formulate and plan for economic development aiming for enhancing national productivity. It should also aim for increasing the income of rural poor by improving their capacity by increasing institutional credit skill and appropriate technology. The domestic, foreign direct and NRNs investment would help realise effective economic transformation. Investments from NRNs would boost confidence among foreign investors as well, thereby helping more foreign direct investment inflow into the country.

NRNs from Russia have also been involved in media, health, education, finance and tourism. Dr. Upendra Mahato, Jiba Lamichhane and Ojha have invested Rs 120 million in Kantipur Television, and the three also have Rs 100 million in the Medicare Hospital in Kathmandu. Mahato owns stakes in Gongabu Bus park, Standard Finance, Salt Trading as well as the mobile telephone joint venture, SpiceTel.

Projects initiated by NRNs can be divided into three categories: financial investment, philanthropy, and knowledge and technology transfer. They are at different stages of implementation. As far as financial investment is concerned, we would like to concentrate more on education and health care sectors. The importance of these two sectors in a poor country like ours is quite obvious. Further, China and India have a combined population of more than 2 billion. It is a boon for our service sector as no country in the world has that kind of potential of providing service to such a large population. Naturally, NRNs are highly interested in investing in service sector. In fact, many NRNs have already been investing in media, education, healthcare, hydropower projects, banking and finance sector, cottage industry and construction of housing complexes in Nepal. In addition, NRN Association is contemplating on launching an NRN venture fund and an "adopt-a-village" project. Some highly active and intellectual members of North American Nepali Diaspora have been involved in developing models of these ambitious projects.

Most often 'investment' is wrongly understood only as financial investment. There are NRNs who have prospered in education, work in executive positions in prestigious organizations. The term 'investment' does not only imply money but also bringing in their intellectual and professional qualities and managerial skills to Nepal. The potential of such expertise resource is much higher than any direct financial investment in Nepal. I think, more than our financial contributions, at the moment the country needs our global exposure and experience. In order to have a better idea of the extent of expertise the global NRNs possess, NRN Association has initiated collecting data to compile an NRN skill directory. Mahato further said.

"Non-resident Nepalese could take up business and economic interest with their respective countries - be it the US, India, South Korea, Vietnam or Qatar. They could also promote cultural exchanges and educational programmes between the countries to strengthen relationship and promote prosperity. So can they focus more on the social service sector.The Government should not waste time in reaching across to rural Nepalese living in abject poverty". Journalist Dr. Arul argued. At times, Nepalese elites living outside the country are Kathmandu-centric and they fail to notice any of the problems of rural Nepal. It is a known fact that the Maoists are resorting to violence and are even killing even officials whom they see as the representatives of the state, their prime target. But the elites who are advocates of the cause of their country should not fail to see factors underlying the conflict. They should try to understand what are the faults in the state that sustains insurgency. This is easy said than done, particularly when they have lost a dear one or lost their livelihood because of the Maoists' activities. Arul also argued. "You can't stop helping Nepal just because there is a Maoist problem. In fact that is precisely the reason we should be helping." Mahato also said.

Outside Nepal, the challenge is to create a global network of Nepali Associations in various countries and reorganize their resources and energy for the welfare of Nepal as well as for the progress and prosperity of the Diaspora itself. We certainly have to get rid of "what to do?", "what will happen?" attitude. Together we can do a lot. NRNs are still not treated on par with other foreign investors. Forthcoming NRN legislation, jointly prepared by NRNs and HMG, will remove many policy hurdles and offer those facilities and incentives to NRNs, which were traditionally offered only to FDI. So, NRNs will come up with their own programs only after having a proper legal status in Nepal. You have to wait a few more years to assess whether NRN programs failed to achieve their targeted goals or not. he further said.

There are two main challenges: In Nepal, the challenge is quite obvious. Unless we have a lasting peace in the country, we really cannot contemplate on development and prosperity. However, Nepal is trapped in a vicious cycle of lack of development, poverty and violence. Both development and peace are our primary requirements. The conflict resolved today will again emerge tomorrow with greater ferocity if development is overlooked in our quest for peace.

In addition to creating international pressure groups and providing moral support, NRNs as a group can influence the outcome of peace talks in Nepal while many NRNs individually can lobby for Nepal's peace and reconciliation with their connections and positions achieved in host countries. NRNs can provide moral support or even create a greater interest of Nepal's problem among western policymakers and media, but this problem can only be resolved with the collective effort of political parties, civil societies and other concerned forces in Nepal. Mahato said.

The prospect of a renewal of Maoist insurgency is extremely worrying. Peace is the first prerequisite for progress in poverty reduction in Nepal; but also development is necessary for peace to be both sustainable and democratic.


(Kamala Sarup is editor to )

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