The political clout of the crusher industry that supplies sand and other aggregates for construction purposes was once again manifest on Monday. The government had to bow down to its demand of yet another extension, the second in five months, for compliance with new standards for the industry introduced last year. A cabinet meeting on the day renewed the license of all crusher operators till mid-January 2015, bringing to a close a month-long standoff between industry and government representatives that saw the supply of sand and aggregate to the market brought to a complete halt. The crusher operators clearly have deep political connections. There are over 700 registered crusher operators in the country with combined turnover of Rs 80 billion. With so much money going around, many top-rung politicians, from across the political spectrum, are believed to have a stake in the trade. Hence even limited curbs on exploitation of our natural resources have been unsuccessful. Without such checks, unsustainable extraction of sand is hollowing out our rivers; and aggregate mining devastating the ecologically vulnerable Chure range.
The decision of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to scrap the Indian Planning Commission has sparked a debate about the relevance of our own National Planning Commission (NPC). Can there indeed be any justification for the retention of this central planning agency modeled on the old Soviet state-controlled economy?
Unlike some free-market fundamentalists, I don’t believe market is the solution to all our problems. In fact, at this stage in its development, the Nepali state must retain its central role in vital sectors like health and education. The profit-driven private sector can act as a reliable vehicle for innovation and productivity growth, but is ill-suited to look after the interests of the 25 percent of Nepalis still living below the (1.25-dollar-a-day) poverty line—and quite a few above it. Nor can the private sector, tokenisms aside, ensure a level playing field for the traditionally marginalized communities and genders. It is in this context that we have to explore NPC’s role in new Nepal.
NPC, headed by the prime minister, helps the executive draft and implement national development plans and policies. Set up in 1956, NPC was modeled on the State Planning Committee (or Gosplan), the central economic planning body of the Soviet Union established in 1921. At the time the Soviet economy was near total collapse as it struggled to handle the fallout of the October Revolution (1917) and the ensuing Civil War (1917-1922). As the Civil War was drawing to a close, the victorious Bolshevik leaders felt the need for a new planning agency to streamline the turbulent economy of the ‘liberated’ empire. Thus Gosplan was born (famously against the wishes of one Vladimir Ilyich Lenin).
Many of us, as customers, might have tried to escape paying Value Added Tax (VAT), whenever possible. This practice extends from individuals to organizational level if the money involved is significant. To find how we have come to this point, where VAT evasion has started to feel like a national mentality, let us first delve into Nepal’s VAT system.
The system was implemented in Nepal in 1997 through VAT Act, 1996, with the objective of increasing revenue through an efficient and transparent system. This Act and other subsequent government announcements went on to define the scope of exemptions, exemption threshold, and zero-rating goods and services with the hope of invigorating the VAT system.
China has recently held a series of solemn, high-profile ceremonies, barely noticed by the outside world, in honor of the 110th anniversary of former leader Deng Xiaoping’s birth. But, as with most political festivities in China these days, few have bothered to reflect on what is being celebrated—and what Deng’s leadership actually meant. The truth is that, while Deng deserves appreciation for having brought China back from the abyss of Maoism, his approach—“Dengism,” or authoritarian developmentalism—is now impeding China’s prospects.
Distinguishing Deng the reformer from Dengism the governing philosophy is no idle academic exercise. Deng, who risked his authority and that of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to break with Maoist convention and launch China’s economic revolution, died in 1997. Dengism, which emphasizes the goal of modernization under a powerful one-party state, continues to shape China’s governance system.
Help, both in cash and kind, continues to pour into the Prime Minister’s Natural Disaster Relief Fund. Yet there is a troubling mismatch between the 10 million rupees (and counting) the government says it has already spent in relief, rescue and reconstruction, and lack of tangible results on the ground. This was the reason the Development Committee of the Legislature-Parliament on Sunday had to direct the government to show more initiative to open blocked highways and expedite reconstruction efforts, among other things. The committee’s concerns are legitimate. The pace of relief efforts in the most badly-affected districts like Sindhupalchowk, Banke and Bardiya has been glacial. Where indeed are millions being collected in the PM’s flood funds, every single day, going?