Review

Review of Sujeev Shakya's 'Unleashing Nepal'
Madhukar SJB Rana

One is especially delighted to be mentioned five times in the 295 pages of Sujeev Shakya's book that has undergone an updated version since its first edition of 2009. Actually, what is remarkable -- and refreshingly so-- is the author's frequent reference to the views of local writers and authorities rather than, as is so often the case with Nepalese intellectuals, 'showing off', as it were, by profuse reference to foreigners while blatantly ignoring local knowledge and experience. In doing the unconventional, Sujeev has given his exposē a uniquely national flavour to make the read more delightfully alive and realistically grounded.

This is a book that is targeted at the youth who, after all, are the driving force to unleash Nepal in the 21st century; as a prosperous, developed industrial country proudly playing its due role in regional and global affairs as the 40th or 45th largest country among the 200 odd in the comity of nations. Sujeev is acutely aware of the lost opportunities and the never-ending stifling of such opportunities by our political as well as our economic elites who sought only their own benefit and those of their extended families.

It is also a book that is targeted at the private sector who ,so far, have not been the pride of Nepal with their propensity to evade taxes; and engage in corrupt practices in collusion with the politicians to stifle the development of the market as the foremost institution for growth, prosperity and social change. Is it any wonder, then, that the public hold them in low esteem while the labour unions and Maoists see them as easy pray for extortion and capture?

In his Introduction to the book, Ashraf Ghani says, " A history of centralized, nepotistic power structures and chronic aid dependency have further exasperated these problems..." (Ibid p xx). How sadly odd that Nepal as a ratifier of the WTO Treaty in 2004 has (yet) neither been able to institutionalize the operation of the market mechanism as per its guiding principles and rules; nor been able to garner the foreign direct investment that was sought to boost national productivity and competitiveness following WTO ratification.

Notwithstanding the above position, Sujeev has full faith in the private sector, a market-oriented capitalism and a State that can deliver welfare for all citizens. In short, he favours 'welfare capitalism' where Nepal thrusts itself strategically to exploit the vast markets available in North and North East India and Bangladesh, with a combined population encompassing 450 million at least. Lest it be misunderstood, his welfare capitalism concept is not the same thing as the mixed enterprise system of the 1960s till 1990 with the State assuming the commanding heights in the economy.

Considering that Nepal is in the throes of writing a Constitution through the medium of the Constituent Assembly one wonders why Sujeev Shakya ignores how the new Constitution should institutionalize the market as a fundamental organ of State. I submit it should be an integral part of the Constitution with a full chapter on how precisely the State should regulate the market by an independent Regulatory Authority complemented by Consumer and Labour Courts to redress consumer rights, labour rights and managerial rights while guaranteeing free, fair competition with full freedom to enter, exit and expand enterprises-- locally, nationally, regionally and globally.

This will, no doubt, come as a hard pill to swallow for the likes of the Nepali Congress with its ideology of 'democratic socialism'; even more difficult for the United Marxist Leninist with its ideology of 'euro-communism' and near impossible for the Maoists subscribing to an ideology of Mao Tse Tung and Deng Xiaoping.

One hopes that these political parties will allow the Constitution to be ideologically neutral letting the people choose, pragmatically on the basis of their Manifestos as to who to vote in and out of power in the various periodic elections. One also has witnessed how having Directive Principles, promising all manner of rights for citizens, leads to crass populism and the 'paradox of virtue' -- where the chosen vote bank policies end up, in the long run, hurting the very people that they are supposed to benefit. Sujeev is well aware that without political stability Nepal can not unleash anything except the parody of its politics where, in four years, it unleashed five Prime Minsters (one who had actually lost elections from two constituencies)! It also unleashed hundred ministers out of 601 MPs and a body politic that has broken all records for abuse of power, graft and corruption. Where the President and Vice President, elected for two years, continues on as the Constituent Assembly fails to draft a constitution in four! Where all top civil service and ambassadorial posts are done on a political quota basis. Where almost all Constitutional Bodies have no chief executives while the Chief Justice lands up as Interim Chairman(Prime Minister) of a government formed from among retired bureaucrats to conduct the next CA elections. And all this without having to renounce his post as Chief Justice! Where local politics have been reduced to a void in the absence of local elections for the past 11 years! This does make Nepal more like the 'land of the impossible' rather than being famed for, in Sujeevs's words, the three Ms --- mountains, massacres and Maoists. It has also unleashed an economy where all big business houses are big bankers. The proliferation of financial institutions in the wake of poor human capital and technology is a veritable hot bed for fraud by promoters, executives and managers with the central bank watching it all like an idle bystander at best; and colluder at worst. Never in the history of Nepal has crony capitalism reached such heights as the rich get richer and the poor are battered by the scourge of inflation and unemployment.

In a realm of political, economic, social (NGOs serving as social arms of political parties) and labour oligarchies where syndicates and cartels rule the roost, it is legitimate to ask Sujeev Shakya just how, in future, a 'welfare capitalist' system can be engineered in Nepal without its embodiment in the Constitution itself? Perhaps this will occupy his mind more and more in future, as we tussle in the new Constituent Assembly attempting to provide Nepal with a constitution finally.This point needs to be underscored sInce hope can't be a method for social transformation.Only sound, strong and professionally manned institutions can unleash the welfare capitalism that he so ardently desires.

Finally, one hopes that all business and management schools adopt this delightful book as part of their MBA curricula. It does an excellent job of surveying Nepal's business development since the founding of Nepal by King Prithivi Narayan Shah the Great, through the Rana oligarchical dynasty, and the 1950s to the present.

It challenges the students and professors to think and act as to how the private sector can honestly be the vanguards of the illusive economic revolution for peace and prosperity of Nepal by moving away from the current crony capitalism and the lingering feudal mindset. So long as this prevails, the threat of Maoism will persist in spite of the wisdom demonstrated by the citizenry in the just concluded general elections to the second Constituent Assembly-cum-Parliament.
Beed Management Nepal Economic Forum Arthabeed Sujeev Shakya