The stampedes being witnessed at the centers taking in applications for the South Korean Employment Permit System (EPS) shows the desperation of Nepali youth to leave the country. In the first two days of application, over 40,000 had registered for the mandatory Korean language tests; the number is expected to climb to 60,000 by the Saturday deadline. South Korea is considered the most lucrative employment destination for non-skilled workers, with normal monthly pay averaging Rs 100,000, which comes to 25 times the average monthly income in Nepal. Since the pay is so good, even those with graduate degrees are applying. Only a fifth of all applicants will be eligible to eventually fly to South Korea. While on the short term Nepal stands to gain from their remittance, in the long run, the mass exodus of skilled and non-skilled workers in such vast scales—with as many as 2,000 leaving every single day—negates any possibility of revival of the moribund Nepali economy.
Nepal’s health sector has been in such a terrible mess for such a long time that a single commentary cannot explain it all. Irregularities and mistreatments are so obvious you need no statistics to make claims. Anything you write about it risks becoming mere update and repetition of ugly truths that make rounds in newspaper headlines on a daily basis. Recent updates are frustrating as always but allow me to start with a personal account.
Early this month, my wife had to be hospitalized for fever treatment. I took her to Medicare Hospital at Chabahil. Medicare has never been my choice because it takes 13 percent VAT from patients which it can avoid because it’s not mandatory for medical and health services to pay VAT under the current law. But since government has remained a mere spectator, most posh hospitals in Kathmandu have been charging VAT money, some illegally, for years and yet have not been brought to book. I had to take her there because that was the only hospital near my home. It proved to be terribly expensive. I had to pay Rs 20, 000 for three days of treatment. If the case was more critical and she had to be hospitalized for more than a month perhaps the bill would near about half a million rupees!
It is no secret that India is on the path to being a ‘global power.’ The newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to make India heard and respected at international forums. Modi’s recent visit to Nepal and his enchanting address to the Nepali parliament was part of the strategy of taking India’s immediate neighbors into confidence. Modi realizes the need to create an environment of mutual faith and belief among its next door neighbor because without this, India probably cannot achieve its goal of becoming the regional leader.
It seems Modi is right into the task of making India a ‘global power’ from the very onset of his ascendancy to power when he invited South Asian leaders to participate in the swearing-in ceremony of his premiership. Modi’s second move is definitely taking India’s immediate neighbors into confidence through kind gestures of warmth and friendship. Modi is aware of the fact that India cannot be a global power without taking its neighbors into confidence. Consistent turmoil and chaos in the neighborhood will prove to be hurdles for India to become a superpower.
The increasingly unpredictable precipitation patterns of South Asian monsoons are an irrefutable proof of climate change. There are still a few holdouts who are still not convinced that the new global weather patterns are permanent. But they are a dwindling bunch. A new Asian Development Bank report, “Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia”, once again highlights the new climate-related vulnerabilities the world (and South Asia in particular) is facing. Climate change-driven events like melting glaciers, says the report, pose a grave risk to Nepali economy. If urgent steps are not taken to halt climate change, Nepal would see economic losses equivalent to 2.2 percent of GDP by 2050, and 9.9 by the end of the century. But along with stark reminders of the costs of ignoring climate change, the report also offers a ray of hope: “If mitigation and adaptation steps are taken, the damage could be limited to around 2.4% of GDP by 2100.” The message is clear: it is still not too late to forestall the worst impacts of climate change.
There is not much happening in the country except that financial institutions are flush with funds and the central bank is busy mopping up this excess liquidity. Yet we are constantly complaining that there is shortage of investments! The demand for funds from the private sector is so low that banks are struggling to find profitable outlets. Rise in remittance has further increased bank deposits. Naturally, treasury bills rates have decreased significantly and so have inter-bank rates.
So here we are: a poor country complaining of shortage of funds when money sits idle both in banks and government treasury. The central bank is already complaining that its reverse repo measures are temporary and won’t succeed unless the government channels spending in productive activities in line with national priorities. As for the government, it remains in a state of near permanent torpor. The ministries are simply unable to make use of available capital. During budget preparation there is a rush to inflate capital budget but once the allocations are made the government machinery is incapable of spending.