19 July, 2010

A cup of sugar and some help

SUSHMA JOSHI, Kathmandu Post, 18 July 2010

A young Nepali friend of mine, who spends most of his time in a rather charming coffee shop and who seems to mysteriously make lots of money in “marketing consulting” gigs that he gets through referrals and the Internet, told me recently that the time had come to outsource Nepal’s government to the experts.

I laughed. I said: “Outsource the government? But you can’t do that!”

“Why not?” he said, deadly serious. “We’ve tried with the monarchy. We’ve tried with the democrats. We’ve tried with Maoists. We gave them all a fair shot. They all failed. Now its time to bring in the experts.” All we needed, he said, is about 50 of Asia’s top leaders and managers who’ve put other countries on track. Water system falling apart? Let’s bring in Singapore’s water managers. Airline falling apart? Let’s bring in Thailand’s airline managers.

“Nepal Rastra Bank,” he says, “loses millions of rupees each year from a few rupees being taken here and there by employees. By bringing in a banking expert from an Asian country known for tight regulation, we could cut all that waste.”

After all, Singapore is a country which imports half its water from Malaysia, so they have to be very, very thorough about how they manage their resources. And the fact that they manage so brilliantly is a sign of their acumen. Thai Airways, which started the same year as Royal Nepal Airlines, now boasts a billion dollar industry and a billion dollar new airport. Royal Nepal is defunct—its lone remaining airline needs a goat sacrifice every once in a while to ensure it takes off on time.

I said everything else could be outsourced, but not the government. My friend asked me: “What was Girija’s profession? He was a politician. Madhav Kumar? Ditto. But if you look at everyone else’s politicians, they had professions other than politics. Gandhi was a lawyer. Obama was a professional writer and former lawyer. Clinton was a former lawyer. All these people had ways to make money other than wait for their salary from the government.”

Point well taken. Most of Nepal’s woes seem to come from the fact that politicians see the moment of office as a stepping stone towards perks, promotions, financial windfalls, contracts and opportunities to put their own kith and kin in places of power. They hang on for a simple reason—they have no other profession.

Nepal may be one of the few places, besides political dynastic systems in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where politics as a profession has become systematised and almost deified. In the rest of the world, people build up to the moment of holding office either through work in civil service or the government. People in Nepal “paid their dues” either through student politics or a people’s war, but that still doesn’t explain why there are so few lawyers, doctors, or people from other professions on the teams of the major parties.

According to my young friend, if we need expertise, we have to go look for expertise. Nepal’s water system in dire situation? Get the best water experts. One cannot wait for a former student leader whose prime expertise is in holding a banda to effectively provide water to 30 million people.

The only thing we cannot outsource, he said, is sovereignty.

My mind spun. This was a totally new way of understanding the world. I am an old fashioned believer in nation-states. My mind cannot fathom this new world where government can be outsourced to people from outside. Inside/outside dichotomies are deeply engrained in my mid-thirties mind—I believe in borders and boundaries.

And yet, despite all this, I felt I should listen to my younger compatriot. What this young man was telling me is that things were wrong with the way we ran our government, and we needed help. Why not bring in people who’ve done better in other places? Isn’t this the logic that has made American corporations the best in the world?

But would a man from Singapore used to running a giant corporation come to Nepal and face the challenges of running a basketcase country?

“See Obama?” he said. “He makes $100,000, besides the perks of White House, Air Force One, etc. That’s how much it needs to get some of the best minds of the planet.” This may be optimistic, but at the same time I couldn’t wonder if he was right. Wouldn’t the retired chairman of some corporation of Japan or Singapore or Malaysia not take up the challenge—if we made it sound attractive enough?

Why hasn’t Nepal reached out to its Asian neighbours to fix some of its management problems? Do we think we can do all this on our own (clearly we can’t.) If not, what do we do? How do we solve our issues?

A week ago, I was in Thailand as part of the orientation programme for individuals who have received the Asia fellowship through the Asian Scholarship Foundation—I, along with political scientist Seira Tamang, was one of eighteen fellows.

It occurred to me, as we talked about the various ways in which Asia as an entity needed to respond to a Eurocentric hegemonic view of the world, that we as Asians have not done enough to draw linkages with each other. We will fly happily to London and New York (I am, needless to say, one of the culprits in this matter) but we won’t invest the same money to fly to Thailand or Malaysia to see how our neighbours built up their economies and their neighbourhoods. Let’s forget China and India for a moment. Don’t we have about a dozen other neighbours who are equally smart and equally good at running different economies?

Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about new ways to run the country. Perhaps it’s time to ask the neighbours for a cup of sugar and some help.

(Joshi has a BA in international relations from Brown University)



nepaliketi said...

like, like, like - as would have been the case on facebook ; )

and, also, it's not just that our politicians have nothing but politics to live that life they always drooled over, but also that in coming from student politics and successfully organizing yet another hadtal, they literally have no other skill/expertise/knowledge - it would be one thing if our finance minster had a degree in finance/business/econ and if his staff the same ... that would make the real difference! not a bunch of buffoons who recycle the same speech and purchase the same thugs!

Ritesh Dropout said...

liking when you don't remember 10 of the 100 pages you like everyday is a help.

In Italy there is only one word for politics and policy, politika. Nepal is another point in the case, due to full-time professional politicians, policy is ignored.

But ideally, should the politicians be lawyers and doctors and managers OR graduates in political science and international relations OR philosophers as in Plato's State?

If former is the case, how would we handle the intricate system where every major party would have to bring in an expert to the elections (and one should win with the perfect combination of course), and who would decide amidst the pervasive corruption the suitable "candidate"?

I think educated people with some relevant experience should for the time being be activists if they cannot yet join mainstream politics and in a couple of decades Nepalese policies would be what the rest of the world looks upto with awed reverence.