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Tag: Nischal Dhungel

OP-EDs and Columns

Need a unified data repository


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 11 August 2023. Please read the original article here.

The digital age represents a transformative era characterised by the extensive use of digital technology in various aspects of human life, including politics, economy and social interactions. It is driven by incorporating and assimilating cutting-edge digital technologies, such as fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence, big data analysis and robotics. This signifies a transition from a hyperconnected world to a realm of digitised economies and societies. These developments blur the distinction between digital and traditional economies and foster disruptive technologies that fuel growth and innovation, shaping what economists call a “digital economy”.

Initiated in the 1970s with the advent of the microprocessor and personal computer, the digital revolution, driven by information and communication technologies (ICTs), has profoundly transformed our lives. At the core of this transformation lies a techno-economic paradigm (TEP), a framework guiding innovation and investment. Many view the digital revolution as a new TEP, with data propelling the digital revolution forward. The application of data within the digital revolution will remain the driver for economic growth and innovation in the future.

Data access and sharing

Data access and sharing can yield substantial social and economic advantages of three kinds: Direct, indirect and induced. Direct benefits primarily serve the data provider, increasing revenue and productivity; indirect benefits extend to suppliers and data users, fostering the creation of new products and services; and induced benefits reach the broader economy, fostering enhanced innovation and productivity. The extent of these benefits depends on the specific sector, the nature of the data and the method of sharing.

Nevertheless, numerous studies have demonstrated significant benefits. For instance, when it comes to public-sector data, enabling data access and sharing has shown the potential to yield social and economic advantages equivalent to 0.1-1.5 percent of GDP. For private-sector data, the benefits of data access and sharing have been found to account for 1-2.5 percent of GDP, with some studies suggesting even higher figures, up to 4 percent. Data access and sharing benefit innovation, decision-making and efficiency. Sharing data enables governments, businesses and organisations to access new ideas and insights, leading to the development of innovative products, services and processes. It also improves decision-making by providing deeper insights into the economy, customers, markets and competitors.

Weak digital foundations

The fundamental pillars in Nepal necessary for ensuring resilient digital service delivery are not very robust. The United Nations e-Government Development Index ranks Nepal 132 out of 193 countries. This ranking reflects a low standing due to significant weaknesses or absences in crucial elements of the digital government ecosystem. Insufficient infrastructure capabilities, such as limited capacity and resilience of government data centres, hinder public and private service delivery.

Additionally, there are issues related to poor coordination among government agencies, constraints in institutional capacity, inadequate funding and deficiencies in foundational elements like identification and digital signatures. Building a solid foundation on these issues will be crucial for Nepal to graduate to a middle-income country, as it aims to transform a knowledge-based economy with ICT playing a pivotal role in driving its growth.

Data centricity and API

Nepal must recognise the significance of data centricity, ensuring that data is accessible, usable and actionable at all levels of government. Governments should strengthen public trust by openly publishing data sets, free for public use, in formats that prevent information manipulation. This commitment to open government data aids in enhancing transparency, combating corruption and bolstering public sector accountability. The growing interest in open-source software is also contributing to development efforts. Leveraging open application programming interfaces (APIs) will further streamline access to public sector information through user-friendly applications, benefiting citizens.

The world is witnessing a surge in API development and the prominence of open data. Integrating online public data with mobile applications will become more commonplace, and open APIs play a vital role in this process, especially with the digitalisation of back-office operations. This advancement ensures government agencies can efficiently offer access to core information and transactional systems via accessible interfaces.

Private sector collaboration

The government can collaborate with private sector entities like GivingbackAI, which aims to create publicly available databases and information ecosystems from various government levels. Currently in its initial stage, GivingbackAI is focused on providing reliable data and making them accessible through its portal. They have introduced the OpenSourceNepal API, explicitly focusing on maintaining data repositories. The API has already been released for administrative units and economic data such as remittance, forex reserve, import and export. It is crucial to adopt these APIs and dashboards to avoid duplicating efforts. Various stakeholders like governments, businesses and researchers can build custom solutions using this API.

GivingbackAI aims to maintain publicly available data to facilitate evidence-based, data-driven decisions in Nepal, addressing local development issues. When the data is available on the GivingbackAl platform, policymakers and the general public can understand how current policies are successfully implemented or how the government can efficiently allocate resources to implement the policies at the grassroots level. The government can leverage technology to bring cutting-edge solutions to complex engineering, business and societal problems by supporting such innovative businesses.

Developing efficient and effective public data can enhance transparency, accountability and user empowerment. Moreover, GivingbackAI also has an education component known as Givingback AI Education, offering free hands-on courses on how to use its API, data visualisation etc., which esteemed software engineers train to produce the next generation of tech leaders in the country. GivingbackAI adopts a two-way approach, working with governments to shape AI development and with grassroots economies to empower local communities. The goal is to achieve sustained equilibrium for prosperity and inclusive growth.

More digital infrastructure

Nepal is well-positioned to improve its digital infrastructure and climb the development ladder. Economic Survey 2022-23 findings indicate that 95 percent of the total population has access to electricity, while internet usage is reported at 130.64 percent of the total population. The Internet is essential for Nepal’s digital economy, and the country’s technology and communication sector has grown significantly. The government is testing 5G technology alongside existing 3G and 4G services. The country has already shown great success with digital adoption, increasing mobile and Internet penetration. This is higher than many other developing countries in South Asia, and it is predicted that Nepal will have the highest Internet penetration by 2025.

Nepal’s future relies on digitalisation and digital governance, and this requires investing in digital infrastructure and promoting digital literacy. While there has been some progress in data sharing, there are efficiency issues that need to be addressed. The government launched initiatives like the Digital Nepal Framework 2019 to make Nepal a digital hub. To materialise the DNF, heavy investment in infrastructure, such as broadband internet and data centres, is needed to maintain a central data repository for informed decision-making, tracking development progress, and assessing development results. Leveraging open APIs and collaborating with private sector entities like GivingbackAI can further enhance data accessibility and streamline access to public information, benefiting citizens and promoting transparency.

OP-EDs and Columns

Monitoring monetary policy


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 26 July 2023. Please read the original article here.

Almost two months after the Government of Nepal unveiled its fiscal policy for 2023-24, which includes a budget of Rs1.75 trillion, the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB), on July 23, released its monetary policy for the same fiscal year. The policy aims to support economic recovery, control inflation, stabilise interest rates and ensure credit demand. Nepal experienced a recession until the second quarter of the last fiscal year, leading to a projected annual economic growth of 1.86 percent. Despite the sluggish growth in the past year, the combination of the budget and the recent monetary policy aims to achieve an ambitious growth rate of 6 percent for the current fiscal year.

Monetary indicators

The NRB plans to control inflation by maintaining an accommodative monetary policy. The overall year-on-year consumer price inflation decreased from 8.56 percent in mid-June 2022 to 6.83 percent in mid-June 2023. Despite making profits, the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) has decided not to reduce the prices of petroleum products, owing to its outstanding debt. This adds to the burden on consumers, as the high petroleum product costs in Nepal significantly contribute to escalating inflation. In this context, the new monetary policy aims to maintain inflation at 6.5 percent. While the NRB is cautiously optimistic about the inflation trajectory, it remains vigilant about the potential risks that could impact price stability in the future.

The NRB aims to maintain seven months of forex reserves to cover goods and services imports in 2023-24. Based on imports during the 11 months of 2022-23, the banking sector’s forex reserves cover 11.2 months of merchandise imports and 9.6 months of both merchandise and services imports. An import ban was initially implemented to protect dwindling forex reserves, leading to an 11.5 percent increase in reserves when the ban ended. The International Monetary Fund attributes the improvement in forex reserves to monetary policy normalisation. However, import restrictions alone do not address the underlying causes of external pressures, such as persistently high global commodity prices expected in 2023 and robust domestic demand.

Policy rates

The NRB has lowered the policy rate by 50 basis points to 6.5 percent. The policy rate represents the interest rate the NRB charges to commercial banks for overnight loans. Lowering the policy rate is aimed at making borrowing more affordable for businesses and consumers and stimulating economic activity. The bank rate, however, remains unchanged at 7.5 percent. As of November of the fiscal year 2022-23, the average inter-bank rate of banks and financial institutions stood at 6.69 percent, compared to 7 percent a year earlier. Several factors, including the recent decline in inflation, influenced the NRB’s decision. To ensure credit demand, the NRB plans to provide liquidity to banks and financial institutions, reduce the policy rate and increase the lending capacity of banks.

The capital adequacy indicators in Nepal show positive signs for the health of the banking sector as they remain above the minimum requirements. The total average capital-to-risk weighted assets ratio stands at 13.1 percent, surpassing the regulatory minimum of 11 percent. The maximum threshold of 100 percent capital-to-risk weighted assets ratio will be raised to Rs5 million from Rs2.5 million. The deposit collection rate has been lowered to 4.5 percent from 5.5 percent. The Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) is set at 4 percent, requiring banks to hold that portion of their total deposits as cash reserves with the NRB. The statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) is set at 12 percent for commercial banks, while development banks and finance companies have an SLR of 10 percent. These reserve ratios are essential tools used by the NRB to regulate the money supply, stabilise the financial system and manage inflation by controlling the lending capacity of banks.

On-going concerns

NRB Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari stated that the real sector’s growth has not kept up with the rapid credit flow directed towards it. An abrupt slowdown in the share market and the real estate sector caused a credit surge and subsequent bust, impacting borrowers’ ability to meet loan and interest obligations and negatively affecting manufacturing, construction and trade. The IMF has expressed concern over significant credit fluctuations in Nepal’s financial sector, suggesting that excessive credit expansion and high borrowing rates have reduced borrower repayment capacity. To address the credit concern, the monetary policy states that the NRB will provide clear guidance on loan restructuring and rescheduling for hard-hit sectors and small and medium enterprises facing cash flow crises.

The non-performing loan (NPL) ratio in Nepal, at 2.6 percent, is notably lower than the average NPL ratio of 7.5 percent observed in emerging markets. This suggests that the overall asset quality in the banking sector is considered satisfactory. However, some measures such as classifying overdue loans as “standard” could mask the actual asset quality, and the NPL ratio might be artificially lower. The NRB aims to ensure that banks’ loan classification correctly reflects the asset quality of the banking system and will review the loan classification policy, implement Nepal Financial Reporting Standards (NFRS 9) and the expected credit loss model (ECL). Furthermore, the NRB will review the directed lending guidelines and credit concentration to guide BFIs to concentrate on credit management rather than credit creation.

Commendable step

The NRB has taken steps to decrease the number of microfinance institutions through mergers and acquisitions. As of mid-June 2023, 63 microfinance financial institutions are currently in operation. The NRB is committed to establishing a dedicated regulatory body for the cooperative sector, as outlined in the 2023-24 budget. The lack of regulation has resulted in the collapse of cooperatives and increased instances of fraudulent activities. It is necessary to establish a dedicated regulatory body to tackle these issues effectively. The NRB will also implement a centralised “Know Your Customer” (KYC) system, introduce Macro Stress Testing Framework, improve regulatory capacity, enhance the quality of supervision, and upgrade data and regulatory systems to improve its autonomy and accountability framework.

The NRB disclosed its intention to conduct research on the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) in its monetary policy for the fiscal year 2021-22. The central bank has successfully prepared the concept report titled “Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC): Identifying Suitable Policy Goals and Design for Nepal” to explore the implementation of the CBDC. On the digitalisation front, the NRB recently amended a digital payment licensing policy that will allow non-business businesses like hotels and travel to establish their digital payment system. Moreover, Nepal also inked an agreement with India, China and Sri Lanka for cross-border digital payment. These developments on the digital front facilitate smooth digital payment services inside and outside the country.

The NRB’s monetary policy presents several positive measures, and its effectiveness in implementing these measures will be crucial. Increased foreign reserves due to higher remittances and lower interest rates are gradually making the country’s economy vibrant. Lower interest rates can encourage borrowing and investment, potentially impacting consumer spending, business expansion and overall economic growth. The central bank appears mindful of the potential adverse effects of higher interest rates on economic recovery while remaining committed to keeping inflation in check. However, taming inflation will require a coordinated approach between monetary and fiscal policies.

OP-EDs and Columns

Economic lessons from Rwanda


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 4 July 2023. Please read the original article here.

A small landlocked country in East Africa, Rwanda has been on a remarkable transformational journey. Despite its chequered history, marked by the devastating genocide against Tutsi minorities in 1994, Rwanda has made significant strides in managing its debt burden, achieving impressive economic growth. The landlocked African republic also has some important lessons for Nepal, which endured a Maoist insurgency and decades-long political instability, on debt management and economic development.

Debt trajectory

One crucial factor contributing to Rwanda’s progress is its focus on reducing its debt burden. The country’s eligibility for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative in 2001 was a turning point. Rwanda received significant debt relief of $1.2 billion, providing a much-needed breathing space for development. The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) further eased the burden by providing an additional $1.8 billion in debt relief.

Rwanda has reduced its debt-to-GDP ratio from over 100 percent in 1995 to 64 percent in 2022. The Covid-19 crisis led to a sharp increase in the fiscal deficit in 2020 due to revenue shortfalls and increased spending to address the crisis. Total nominal external debt to GDP stood at 75.7 percent at the end of 2021, of which external public and publicly guaranteed (PPG) debt accounted for 54.5 percent of GDP, resulting in the present value of PPG’s external debt to GDP ratio of 34.9 percent. While the increase in external PPG debt is concerning, debt management is done through loans in concessional terms with relatively low-interest rates and careful prioritisation and selection of capital-intensive projects.

However, the debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to continue rising due to the pressure of financing infrastructure development and social programmes, posing risks related to concessional financing availability, US monetary policy tightening, US dollar appreciation, and trade term shocks. As per the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Rwanda’s debt situation remains sustainable, with a moderate external and overall public debt distress risk.

Nepal’s debt trajectory

Nepal’s debt-to-GDP ratio declined from 64 percent in 2000 to 22.3 percent in 2015. As of mid-April 2023, the country’s overall outstanding debt stood at 38.3 percent of GDP, a significant increase from the debt-to-GDP ratio of 25 percent in 2016-17. The debt-to-GDP ratio has been rising due to the pandemic, the transition to federalism, the 2015 earthquake and the depreciation of the Nepali rupee. The fiscal deficit in the first half of 2023 increased the public debt-to-GDP ratio from an estimated 35.6 percent in 2022 to 38.3 percent in 2023. Total nominal external debt to GDP stood at 25.9 percent at the end of 2021, of which external PPG debt accounted for 21.8 percent, resulting in the present value of PPG’s external debt to GDP ratio of 13.1 percent.

Nepal’s external debt is lower than Rwanda’s but is growing faster. It is also more heavily concentrated on concessional terms. Domestic public debt (from 10.1 percent of GDP in FY 2015-16 to 22.2 percent in FY 2020-21) has increased faster than the external debt (from 14.9 to 21.8 percent of GDP) during the same period. Interest rates on domestic loans have also increased due to the government’s increased borrowing, which has crowded out private borrowers. The joint World Bank and IMF Debt Sustainability Analysis found that the risk of Nepal’s overall debt distress and risk of external debt distress is low, and its debt-carrying capacity is still strong. However, there are risks to Nepal’s debt sustainability, including a slowdown in economic growth, a decline in foreign aid and investment, an increase in interest rates, and a depreciation of the Nepalese rupee. Nepal can learn from Rwanda’s experience managing a high debt-to-GDP ratio while maintaining a rapidly growing economy.

Structural reforms

Rwanda’s implementation of structural reforms and debt relief resulted in remarkable economic growth, with an average annual GDP growth rate of 8 percent between 2000 and 2020. Between 2000 to 2022, Rwanda underwent significant structural changes, leading to a transformative shift in its economic landscape. During this time, there was a decline in the proportion of Rwanda’s GDP contributed by agriculture, forestry and fishing, dropping from 31.2 percent to 24.9 percent. Meanwhile, the industrial sector, which encompasses construction, increased its contribution from 16.8 percent to 21.2 percent. Moreover, there was a significant growth in the percentage of GDP represented by exports of goods and services, rising from 5.4 percent to 22.5 percent.

Rwanda’s key exports, such as coffee and tea, are predominantly sold in major markets such as the United States and Europe for coffee, Middle Eastern countries, and Pakistan for tea. Nepal can draw valuable lessons from Rwanda’s experience, particularly in implementing structural reforms, prioritising sectors for development, and determining essential export products.

Rwanda has made strides in developing e-government services by leveraging its existing technologies. In particular, the country implemented a comprehensive “one-stop” e-government initiative called “Irembo” in April 2014. Operating as a single portal, Irembo integrates 96 basic government services such as birth registration, business registration, tax filing and returns, and school enrollment, enabling around 9 million internet subscribers to access these services conveniently. Rwanda’s e-government systems have been acknowledged by the World Bank as a leading performer on the business reform index, enhancing the country’s appeal to investors. These advancements have streamlined administrative processes and fostered a culture of innovation and digital inclusion within the country.

Nepal can take inspiration from Rwanda’s success in developing e-government services, leveraging existing technologies to streamline administrative processes and enhance digital inclusion, ultimately attracting investors and fostering innovation.

Attracting FDI

Rwanda’s commitment to economic liberalisation and attracting foreign investment has driven its economic growth. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows increased from $100 million in 2008 to $398 million in 2022. Much of Rwanda’s foreign direct investment (FDI) is focused on specific sectors. Specifically, the energy sector represents 45 percent of all recorded investments, while manufacturing comprises 30 percent. Special economic zones offering tax breaks and incentives have further encouraged investment.

For instance, in 2000, the installed capacity of power plants in Rwanda was only 44 megawatts. Over the past two decades, the government has attracted significant FDI in the energy sector, which has helped increase the installed capacity to 225 megawatts. This has led to a substantial increase in electricity generation, and the electricity access rate has increased from 4.8 percent of the population in 2005 to 49 percent in 2022. By identifying sectors with growth potential and actively promoting investment in those areas, Rwanda has been able to drive economic expansion and create opportunities for job creation and technological advancements.

Despite both countries being landlocked and import-dependent, Rwanda has shown a way of achieving impressive economic growth while Nepal lags behind. Nepal should leverage the advantage of lower interest rates as envisaged in Nepal’s Medium Term Debt Management Strategy (MTDS) and implement structural reforms to reduce corruption, strengthen public financial management and improve the business climate. Enhancing the business environment, promoting digital platforms and establishing centralised investment-related services can attract foreign investment and boost economic growth. Nepal should address the rising debt burden by increasing tax revenue, reducing spending on non-essential items, and carefully prioritising and selecting projects.

OP-EDs and Columns

आर्थिक संकटको अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय परिदृश्य र नेपाल

– निश्चल ढुङ्गेल

यो लेख बैशाख १४, २०८० को नयाँ पत्रिका (१६औँ वार्षिकोत्सव विशेषांक) मा प्रकाशित भएको थियो। मूल लेख यहाँ पढ्नुहोस्

विश्व अर्थतन्त्र वस्तु, सेवा, पुँजी, मानिस, डाटा र विचारको विश्वव्यापी प्रवाहद्वारा अन्तर्सम्बन्धित छ । वस्तु र सेवाहरूको प्रवाहमा ग्लोबल भ्यालु चेन (विश्वव्यापी मूल्य शृंखला) निर्माण गरिएका छन् । ग्लोबल भ्यालु चेनले अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय उत्पादन साझेदारीलाई जनाउँछ, जहाँ उत्पादनलाई विभिन्न देशमा गरिएका गतिविधि र कार्यमा विभाजन गरिन्छ । हालैका विश्वव्यापी घटना (जस्तै : ऊर्जा संकट, चिप्स अभाव) ले ग्लोबल भ्यालु चेनमा तनाव सिर्जना गरेका थिए । विश्वव्यापीकरण विस्तारको अवधिमा, सस्ता वस्तु र कम श्रम लागतले मुद्रास्फीतिलाई नियन्त्रणमा राख्न मद्दत गथ्र्याे, तर अब यो प्रवृत्ति उल्टिन थालेको छ । युक्रेन युद्धलाई लिएर राष्ट्रहरूले रुससँग सम्बन्ध तोडेपछि तेल र ग्यासको मूल्य एकाएक बढ्यो । आपूर्ति शृंखला पुनर्निर्माण गर्दा व्यवसायले राजनीतिक तनावलाई तौलिरहेका छन् । नीति निर्माता र बजार दुवै महामारीको अस्थायी साइड इफेक्ट भनेर सोचिएको मुद्रास्फीति अनपेक्षित रूपमा बढेको देखेर छक्क परेका छन् ।

अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय मुद्राकोष (आइएमएफ)को ‘विश्व आर्थिक परिदृश्य’ प्रतिवेदनले विश्वव्यापी आर्थिक वृद्धि सन् २०२२ मा ३.४ प्रतिशत (अनुमानित) रहँदै सन् २०२३ मा २.९ प्रतिशत र २०२४ मा ३.१ प्रतिशतमा झर्ने अनुमान गरेको छ । २०२३ को पूर्वानुमान अक्टोबर २०२२ ‘विश्व आर्थिक परिदृश्य’मा गरिएभन्दा ०.२ प्रतिशत बिन्दु बढी तर ऐतिहासिक (२०००/१९) औसत ३.८ प्रतिशतभन्दा कम छ ।

तीन दशकमा प्रगति र समृद्धिलाई सशक्त बनाउने लगभग सबै आर्थिक शक्ति अहिले क्षयीकरणमा छन् । फलस्वरूप २०२२–३० बीचको औसत विश्वव्यापी सम्भावित कुल गार्हस्थ्य उत्पादन (जिडिपी) वृद्धि शताब्दीको पहिलो दशकको तुलनामा करिब एकतिहाइले घटेर वार्षिक २.२५ रहने अनुमान गरिएको छ । विश्वव्यापी वित्तीय संकट वा मन्दीको अवस्थामा यी गिरावट तीव्र हुनेछन् ।

विश्व अर्थतन्त्रमा माग र उत्पादनमा सबलतासँगै धेरै देशमा मुद्रास्फीति विस्तारै घट्ने क्रममा देखिन्छ । अमेरिकी र अन्य देशका केन्द्रीय बैंकहरूले कसिलो वित्तीय नीति अनुसरण जारी राखेका छन् । मुद्रास्फीतिसँग लड्न उन्नत, विकासशील र उदीयमान सबै देशका केन्द्रीय बैंकहरूले ब्याजदर बढाइरहेका छन् । सन् २०२३ को सुरुवातमा आर्थिक गतिविधिमा सुधार हुनुको एक प्रमुख कारक ऊर्जा र खाद्य मूल्यमा गिरावट आउनु हो । महामारीपछि वस्तुको माग क्रमशः बढ्नु र विश्वव्यापी आपूर्ति शृंखलाका अवरोध कम भएकाले अधिकांश देशमा वस्तुको मूल्य र मुद्रास्फीति घट्न थालेको छ । तर, श्रम बजारको लागतले मुद्रास्फीतिमा दबाब परेको देखिन्छ । स्फीतिको स्तर अझै युद्धपूर्वको भन्दा उच्च भए पनि यसले व्यवसाय र घरपरिवारको क्रयशक्ति बढाउँदै छ । विश्वव्यापी मुद्रास्फीति सन् २०२२ मा ८.८ प्रतिशतबाट सन् २०२३ मा ६.६ प्रतिशत र २०२४ मा ४.३ प्रतिशत हाराहारीमा रहने अपेक्षा गरिएको छ । अझै पनि विश्वव्यापी मुद्रास्फीति महामारीपूर्व (२०१७–१९) को स्तर ३.५ प्रतिशतभन्दा उच्च नै हो । चीनमा कोभिड–१९ महामारीको पछिल्लो लहरले सन् २०२२ को वृद्धिलाई कम गरे पनि आर्थिक गतिविधि सुरु गरेसँगै रिकभरी अपेक्षा गरिएभन्दा तीव्र बनेको छ । यसले विश्वव्यापी आर्थिक गतिविधिमा सकारात्मक प्रभाव पार्दै आपूर्ति शृंखलामाथिको दबाब कम गर्ने र अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय पर्यटनलाई बढावा दिनेछ ।

सकारात्मक पक्ष के भने धेरै अर्थतन्त्रमा कृत्रिम मागबाट बलियो वृद्धि वा मुद्रास्फीतिमा तीव्र गिरावट सम्भव छ । नकारात्मक पक्ष चीनमा गम्भीर स्वास्थ्य परिणामहरूले पुनर्बहालीलाई रोक्न सक्छ । युक्रेनमा रुसको युद्ध लम्बिँदा ऋण संकट अझ खराब बन्न सक्छ ।

कोभिड– १९ महामारीको प्रभाव विश्वव्यापी रूपमा कायमै रहेको समयमा युक्रेन युद्धले खाद्य र ऊर्जा बजार अवरुद्ध ग¥यो जसकारण विकासोन्मुख देशहरूमा खाद्य असुरक्षा र कुपोषणमा वृद्धि भयो । यसैबीच, जलवायु संकटले धेरै देशमा असर पर्न थालेको छ । डढेलो, बाढी, आँधी र तुफानहरूले ठूलो मानवीय र आर्थिक क्षति गरिरहेका छन् ।

आइएमएफले विकसित अर्थतन्त्रमा ब्याजदर वृद्धिले उदीयमान बजार र विकासोन्मुख देशहरूको वित्तीय अवस्थालाई असर पार्न थालेको उल्लेख गरेको छ । विशेषगरी अमेरिकाको बढ्दो ब्याजदरबाट मध्यम र न्यून आय भएका देशले थुप्रै दुष्प्रभाव साक्षात्कार गर्नुपर्नेछ । उनीहरूले पुँजी पलायन, ऋण संकट र मुद्रा अवमूल्यनजस्ता समस्या भोग्नुपर्नेछ । ब्याजदरमा तीव्र वृद्धिले विकसित देशहरू विशेषगरी अमेरिकामा ठूलो पुँजी प्रवाह हुन थालेको छ भने विकासोन्मुख देशहरूबाट पुँजी बाहिरिने क्रम बढेको छ । आर्थिक विस्तारका क्रममा देशको ऋण बढ्ने गर्छ । विशेषगरी विकासोन्मुख देशहरू तब ‘ऋण पासो’मा फस्न पुग्छन् जब उत्पादकत्व र ऋण सन्तुलनमा रहँदैन । यस्तो परिस्थितिमा विकसित अर्थतन्त्रमा ब्याजदर वृद्धि विकासोन्मुख अर्थतन्त्रका लागि घातकसिद्ध हुन सक्छ । उदाहरणका लागि सन् १९८० को प्रारम्भमा अमेरिकी केन्द्रीय बैंक (फेड)को ब्याजदर वृद्धिले संयुक्त राज्यमा दोहोरो अंकको मुद्रास्फीतिलाई घटायो, तर धेरै देशमा त्यसको नराम्रो असर प¥यो । विशेषगरी ल्याटिन अमेरिकी देशहरूमा ऋण डिफल्ट भयो । बेरोजगारी र गरिबी बढ्यो । जिडिपीमा ठूलो गिरावट आयो । यसैले त्यो अवधिलाई ‘हराएको दशक (लस्ट डिकेट)’ भन्ने गरिन्छ । ल्याटिन अमेरिकी देशहरू सुस्त र असमान पुनरुत्थानबाट गुज्रिएका थिए । अफ्रिकाका ऋणग्रस्त देशहरूले पनि ल्याटिन अमेरिकै नियति भोग्नुप¥यो । आइएमएफका अनुसार हाल लगभग कम आय भएका १५ प्रतिशत देशहरू ऋण संकटमा छन् र अन्य ४५ प्रतिशतले उच्च ऋण जोखिमको सामना गरिरहेका छन् ।

विशेषगरी अमेरिका र युरोपमा बैंकिङ प्रणालीमा थप उथलपुथलको सम्भावनाले आर्थिक गतिविधिमा असर पर्ने जोखिम छ । बैंक अफ अमेरिकाका अर्थशास्त्री डेभिड हौनरका अनुसार वित्तीय अस्थिरताले उदीयमान बजारमा पर्ने मुख्य असर दुई प्रकारका छन् । सकारात्मक असर, वित्तीय अस्थिरताले मुद्रास्फीति र ब्याजदर घटाउन मद्दत गर्न सक्छ । नकारात्मक असरमा उदीयमान देशहरूले बजारमा पहुँच प्राप्त गर्न कठिन हुन्छ ।

कोभिड– १९ महामारी, रुस–युक्रेन द्वन्द्व र अमेरिका र चीनबीचको बढ्दो तनावका कारण कतिपयले संसार डिग्लोबलाइज भइरहेको अनुमान गर्न थालेका छन् । अमेरिकाका दुई ठूला भूराजनीतिक प्रतिद्वन्द्वी चीन र रुस डलरको प्रभुत्वलाई सन्तुलनमा राख्न चाहन्छन् । रुसले रेन्मिन्बीलाई आफ्नो विदेशी विनिमय सञ्चिति, वैदेशिक व्यापार र केही बैंकिङ सेवामा मुख्य मुद्राका रूपमा अपनाएको छ । पश्चिमी प्रतिबन्धको सामना गर्न ऊ चीनतर्फ अग्रसर भएको छ । भर्खरै भारतले रुसलगायत थुप्रै देशसँगको व्यापारमा भारुको भुक्तानी संयन्त्र ल्याउने घोषणा गरेको छ । सन् २०२२ मा विश्वव्यापी विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चितिमा डलरको हिस्सा ५५ प्रतिशत रहेको थियो । यसले वासिङटनलाई अतुलनीय आर्थिक र राजनीतिक शक्ति प्रदान गरेको छ । विश्व डिग्लोबलाइज भइरहेको संकेत देखिए पनि अमेरिकी डलरले लामो समयदेखि विश्वबजारमा महŒवपूर्ण भूमिका खेलिरहेको छ र यो कायम नै रहनेछ ।

घरेलु आर्थिक परिदृश्य : चुनौती र अवसर
नेपाल सरकारले आगामी आर्थिक वर्ष ०८०/८१ मा ६ प्रतिशतको वृद्धि प्रक्षेपण गरेको छ । गत आर्थिक वर्षमा नेपालको वृद्धिदर ५.८४ प्रतिशत थियो । विश्व बैंक र एसियाली विकास बैंक दुवैले सन २०२३ का लागि नेपालको आर्थिक वृद्धिदर ४.१ प्रतिशतमा संशोधन गरेका छन् । नेपालको प्रमुख आर्थिक परिसूचकमा केही सुधार आएको छ । यसले वित्तीय घाटालाई बिस्तारै घटाउँदै लगेको छ । जिडिपीमा कृषिको योगदान एकतिहाइबाट घटेर २२–२३ प्रतिशतमा पुगेको छ भने सेवा क्षेत्रको अर्थतन्त्रमा ६१ प्रतिशत र उद्योगको योगदान १३ प्रतिशत छ । औद्योगिक क्षेत्र सुस्त हुनुको मुख्य कारण निर्माण क्षेत्रको कमजोर वृद्धि नै हो । चालू आर्थिक वर्षको पहिलो त्रैमासमा मुलुकको कुल गार्हस्थ्य उत्पादनमा झन्डै सात प्रतिशत योगदान दिने निर्माण क्षेत्र २४ प्रतिशतले ऋणात्मक भएको केन्द्रीय तथ्यांक विभागले जनाएको छ । निर्माण क्षेत्रले विभिन्न समस्या भोगिरहेको छ । निर्माण सामग्रीको मूल्यमा उल्लेखनीय वृद्धि भएको छ ।

मुद्रास्फीति पनि उच्च रहने अनुमान गरिएको छ । मौद्रिक नीतिले मुद्रास्फीति सात प्रतिशतभित्रै सीमित लक्ष्य राखे पनि त्यो लक्ष्यभन्दा माथि नै छ । उपभोक्ता मूल्यस्फीति गत वर्षको ६.२४ प्रतिशतको तुलनामा सन २०२३ को फेब्रुअरीमा ७.८८ प्रतिशत रहेको छ । रुस–युक्रेन युद्धको असर नेपालजस्तो आयातमुखी अर्थतन्त्रमा बढी परेको छ । त्यसैले राष्ट्र बैंकले माग घटाउन ब्याजदर बढायो । बढ्दो ब्याज र घट्दो मागको गुणात्मक असरले बैंकको असुलीमै मार पर्न गयो । नीतिगत निर्णयले अन्योल बढ्नुका साथै व्यापारमा पनि कमी आएको देखिन्छ ।

आयात–निर्यातका साथै समग्र व्यापार घाटा कम भएको छ । चालू आर्थिक वर्षको पहिलो सात महिनामा व्यापार घाटा १८.७ प्रतिशतले घटेको देखिन्छ । आयात प्रतिबन्ध र सुस्त वृद्धिले पहिलो अर्धवार्षिकमा राजस्वमा नकारात्मक योगदान दिएको छ । २०२१/२२ मा लगाइएको आयात प्रतिबन्ध (जुन २०२२/२३ मा हटाइयो) ले चालू खाता घाटा कम गर्न र विदेशी विनिमय सञ्चितिलाई स्थिर राख्न त मद्दत ग¥यो । तर, यस नीतिको अनपेक्षित परिणामस्वरूप वित्तीय राजस्वमा ठूलो गिरावट आयो । २०२२/२३ को पहिलो ६ महिनामा आयात घट्दा वृद्धि सुस्तियो । यसबीच, रेमिट्यान्स आम्दानी २७.५ प्रतिशतले बढेको छ, जसले बाह्य क्षेत्रलाई स्थिर बनाउन मद्दत गरेको छ । पछिल्लो समय नेपालले मासिक एक खर्बभन्दा बढी रेमिट्यान्स भिœयाइरहेको छ । वैदेशिक रोजगारीमा जाने कामदारको संख्या बढेसँगै रेमिट्यान्स बढ्ने अपेक्षा गरिएको छ ।

पर्यटक आगमन पनि कोभिडपूर्वको स्तरमा पुग्न थालेको छ । यस वर्ष निजी क्षेत्रको आम्दानी घटेको र कर्पाेरेट कर पनि घट्दै गएकाले राजस्व बढाउन चुनौतीपूर्ण छ । यस वर्ष आयातबाट राजस्व बढ्ने कुनै संकेत छैन । नेपालको वित्तीय सुशासन निजी र सार्वजनिक दुवै क्षेत्रमा कमजोर भएको छ । देशको व्यापार घाटा बढ्दै गएको अवस्थामा बैंकिङ क्षेत्रको लगानी अनुत्पादक क्षेत्रमा गरिए देशले सोचेजस्तो आर्थिक प्रगति गर्न सक्दैन ।

आर्थिक जटिलता र महामारीका कारण हालै नेपालको सरकारी साधारण खर्च राजस्व आर्जन क्षमताभन्दा छिटो बढेको छ । नेपालले चालू आर्थिक वर्षमा निकै ठूलो राजस्व अभावको सामना गरिरहेको छ । अर्थ मन्त्रालय र महालेखानियन्त्रक कार्यालयका अनुसार चालू आर्थिक वर्षको पहिलो सात महिना (२०२२ को मध्यदेखि २०२३ मार्चसम्म)मा राजस्व परिचालन लक्ष्यको ४० प्रतिशत मात्रै रहेको छ । आव २०१६/१७ मा सार्वजनिक ऋण जिडिपीको २५ प्रतिशत थियो भने २०१९/२० मा उल्लेखनीय सार्वजनिक ऋण वृद्धिका लागि कोभिड महामारीको प्रभाव र त्योसँग जुझ्न अपनाइएका प्रक्रिया जिम्मेवार छन् । ०२०/२१ मा नेपालको ऋण जिडिपी अनुपात ३९ प्रतिशत पुग्यो ।

राजस्व आम्दानी घट्दा नेपाल सरकारलाई ऋण तिर्न र नयाँ ऋण लिन कठिन भएको छ । वैदेशिक सहायता अनुदान घटिरहेको अवस्था छ । आइएमएफले नेपालका लागि विस्तारित ऋण सुविधाअन्तर्गत ३९ करोड ५९ लाख डलर स्वीकृत गरेको थियो । हालैमा आइएमएफको बोर्डले विस्तारित ऋण सुविधालाई औपचारिक रूपमा अनुमोदन गरेको छ । कोभिड– १९ महामारीबाट नेपालको दृढ पुनरुत्थान र दिगो विकासलाई प्रवद्र्धन गर्न विश्व बैंकले १५ करोड डलरको विकास नीति ऋण स्वीकृत गरेको थियो । ब्याजदरमा वृद्धि हुँदै गर्दा बढ्दो ऋणले राष्ट्रको सरकारी बजेटलाई असर गर्छ ।

विदेशी विनिमय सञ्चितिको आधारमा देशको ऋणको अवस्थालाई विश्लेषण गर्नु पनि महŒवपूर्ण हुन्छ । अमेरिकी डलरको तुलनामा नेपाली रुपैयाँ कमजोर हुँदा स्थानीय मुद्रामा नेपालको ऋण दायित्व बढेको छ । अपर्याप्त आन्तरिक स्रोत परिचालन, अत्यधिक वित्तीय घाटा, निर्यात–आयात असन्तुलन, राजस्व र खर्चको अन्तरका कारण वैदेशिक ऋण थप बढेको हो । तसर्थ केही लेखकले दिगो आर्थिक वृद्धि र लगानीलाई हतोत्साहित गर्नुको सट्टा प्रोत्साहन गर्ने सम्भावना रहेसम्म घाटा वित्तपोषणलाई ध्यानमा राख्नुहुँदैन भनी तर्क गर्छन् । यसबाहेक, ऋण चुक्ता गर्ने क्षमतामा कुनै सुधार आउन सकेको छैन । कुल सार्वजनिक ऋणराशि र ब्याजमा वृद्धि भएको छ । अमेरिकी डलरको तुलनामा नेपाली रुपैयाँको अवमूल्यनले वैदेशिक ऋण महँगो साबित हुनेछ ।

नेपालले विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चिति घट्न नदिन विलासिताका सामानको आयातमा प्रतिबन्ध लगाउनेजस्ता विभिन्न उपाय पनि अपनायो । विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चिति बढेपछि प्रतिबन्ध हटाएको छ । अमेरिकी डलरको सट्टा भारत–बंगलादेशको व्यापारमा भारतीय रुपैयाँको प्रयोग परीक्षणको चरणमा छ । केही विषयमा द्विपक्षीय निर्णय गरेपछि मात्रै दुवै देशमा रुपैयाँको कारोबार सुरु होला । भारत नेपालको ठूलो व्यापारिक साझेदार हो र यो नीतिबाट नेपालले पनि ठूलो राहत पाउनेछ । यसले नेपाली मुद्राको अवमूल्यन कम बनाउन मद्दत गर्न सक्छ ।

निराशाजनक पक्ष के भने अर्थ मन्त्रालयले जारी गरेको विवरणअनुसार पछिल्लो सात महिनामा ८५ अर्ब ६० करोडभन्दा बढी बजेट सिद्धान्तविपरीत परिचालन भएको छ । राष्ट्रको सार्वजनिक ऋण बढ्ने क्रममा रहेको अवस्थामा सिद्धान्तविपरीत बजेट परिचालन गर्नु कत्ति जायज हुन्छ ? यसको जवाफ देश विकास गर्छु भनेर चुनिई आएका जिम्मेवार जनप्रतिनिधिले संसद्बाट जनतालाई पारदर्शी र जवाफदेही भएर अवगत गराउनुपर्छ ।

नेपालको प्रत्यक्ष वैदेशिक लगानी (एफडिआई) जिडिपीको ०.५ प्रतिशत छ, जुन दक्षिण एसियामा सबैभन्दा कम हो । एफडिआई थ्रेसहोल्ड एनपिआर दुई करोडमा घटाउँदा एफडिआईको प्रवाहमा थप कमी आउनेछ । पुँजी प्रवाहमा प्रतिबन्धले जिडिपीमा नकारात्मक प्रभाव पार्न सक्छ । सरकारले लामो समयदेखि थाती रहेको एफडिआईको सुधार गर्नुपर्छ । नियामक स्वीकृति प्रक्रियालाई सरल बनाउदाँ विदेशी मुद्रा प्रवाह बढ्नेछ । पुँजी र प्रविधिको आप्रवाहलाई प्रोत्साहित गर्नेछ ।

मौद्रिक नीतिले बैंकिङ र निजी क्षेत्रलाई वर्तमान वातावरणमा ऋण प्रयोग गर्दा बढी सावधानी र जवाफदेहिता अपनाउन निर्देशन दिनुपर्छ । तीन दशकसम्म कर्जा वृद्धि उच्च भए पनि आर्थिक वृद्धिदर ४.४ प्रतिशत मात्रै रह्यो । यसले हाम्रो कर्जा वृद्धि नीतिले आर्थिक वृद्धिमा सकारात्मक प्रभाव पार्न नसकेको देखाउँछ । आगामी दशकमा आर्थिक वृद्धिलाई प्रत्यक्ष रूपमा सहयोग गर्ने क्षेत्रमा ऋण प्रवाह केन्द्रित हुनुपर्छ । कर्जाको वृद्धि पनि निक्षेप वृद्धिसँग मिल्दो हुनुपर्छ । बैंकको चर्काे ब्याजविरुद्ध आन्दोलन चल्न थालेको छ र मिटरब्याजपीडित काठमाडौंमै आएर धर्ना दिने स्थिति राम्रो संकेत होइन ।

आइएमएफले नेपाल राष्ट्र बैंकले दिएको कर्जाको गुणस्तर शंकास्पद भएकाले देशका केही ठूला वाणिज्य बैंकलाई अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय लेखापरीक्षण संस्थाबाट लेखापरीक्षण गराउन आग्रह गरेको छ । कागजमा नेपालका बैंक तथा वित्तीय संस्थाको निष्क्रिय कर्जा (एनपिएल) अनुपात सहज छ । पुस मसान्तसम्ममा नेपाली बैंक तथा वित्तीय संस्थाको औसत निष्क्रिय कर्जा अनुपात २.७३ प्रतिशत मात्र रहेको केन्द्रीय बैंकले जनाएको छ । क, ख र ग वर्गका बैंक तथा वित्तीय संस्थामध्ये वित्त कम्पनीको खराब कर्जा (७.८२ प्रतिशत) अनुपात सबैभन्दा धेरै रहेको छ । वाणिज्य बैंक र विकास बैंकको खराब कर्जा अनुपात क्रमशः २.४९ र २.८२ प्रतिशत रहेको छ । आइएमएफले बैंक तथा वित्तीय संस्थाको वित्तीय स्वास्थ्यको वास्तविक तस्बिर जाँच्न गरेको पहल एकदम ठीक हो ।

नेपाल एउटा यस्तो राष्ट्र हो, जसलाई संरचनात्मक परिवर्तनको नितान्त आवश्यकता छ । समस्या मौलिक भएकाले संरचनात्मक सुधार नै छोटो र दीर्घकालीन जवाफ खोज्ने एक मात्र उपाय हो । भुक्तानी सन्तुलन कायम गरी बाह्य क्षेत्रमाथिको दबाब कम गर्न ऋण विस्तार र क्षेत्रगत वितरणको व्यवस्थापन, अत्यधिक आयात घटाउने र औपचारिक माध्यमबाट रेमिट्यान्स आप्रवाहमा सुधार गर्न आवश्यक छ । नयाँ जनगणनाअनुसार १५ देखि ५९ वर्षसम्मको सक्रिय उमेर समूह बढेको छ जुन कुल जनसंख्याको ६१.९६ प्रतिशत रहेको छ । जनसांख्यिक लाभांश पूर्ण रूपमा प्राप्त गर्न नेपाली युवाको सीपमा लगानी आवश्यक छ । हामीले नेपालको श्रमशक्तिलाई कृषि र गैरकृषि क्षेत्रबीच सन्तुलन कायम गर्दै उत्पादनशील क्षेत्रमा कसरी परिचालन गर्ने ? यो अहिलेको ज्वलन्त प्रश्न हो । विशेषगरी आर्थिक रूपमा सक्रिय जनसंख्यालाई रोजगारीको ग्यारेन्टी सरकारहरूको मूल मन्त्र हुनुपर्छ । रोजगारीको ग्यारेन्टी भनेको अर्थतन्त्रको उत्पादनशील क्षेत्रमा रोजगारी प्रवद्र्धन गर्न सरकारले अपनाउन सक्ने संरचनात्मक स्थिरता दिने वित्तीय नीति हो । नेपाली श्रम बजारले धेरै वर्षदेखि उच्च अनैच्छिक बेरोजगारी सामना गरिरहेको छ, जसलाई कोभिड– १९ महामारीले निस्सन्देह बढाएको छ ।

सरकारले यो वर्ष कर छली रोक्न र आफ्नो राजस्वको आधारलाई फराकिलो बनाउन संघर्ष गर्नुपर्नेछ  । अपेक्षितभन्दा उच्च मुद्रास्फीतिले घरायसी क्रयशक्ति घटाउने र आर्थिक वृद्धि घट्ने अनुमान गरिएको छ । नयाँ अर्थमन्त्रीले वित्तीय र मौद्रिक नीतिलाई ‘सिंक्रोनाइज’ गर्दै उत्पादनशील क्षेत्रमा लगानी बढाउन तरलता अभावलाई कम गर्नुपर्छ । व्यापार र प्रत्यक्ष वैदेशिक लगानीलाई प्रोत्साहन गर्ने वातावरण बनाउनुपर्छ । वित्तीय क्षेत्रको वृद्धि, मानव पुँजी निर्माण र सुशासन अभिवृद्धिमार्फत विकासको सम्भावना बढाउनुपर्छ ।

राष्ट्रले ऋण लिएको रकम उत्पादनशील क्षेत्रमा उपयोग गरी सरकारको ऋण न्यूनीकरणमा सहयोग गर्ने कार्यक्रम बनाउनुपर्छ । नेपालले सन् २०२६ मा एलडिसी समूहबाट बाहिरिने योजना बनाएकाले ऋण चुक्ता गर्न उत्पादक क्षेत्रमा लगानी गरेर दिगो अर्थतन्त्र निर्माण गर्नुपर्छ । यसका लागि लामो अवधि र न्यून ब्याजदरका ऋणबाट फाइदा उठाउनुपर्छ ।

OP-EDs and Columns

Job Guarantee for Social Security


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 13 April 2023. Please read the original article here.

The recently published Nepal Population and Housing Census 2021 shows an alarming trend: The population of children is decreasing, and the dependent population over 60 is increasing. In 10 years, the population under 14 dropped from 34.91 to 27.83 percent while the population over 60 rose from 8.13 to 10.21 percent. As the average life expectancy of citizens grows, the age imbalance in the population increases the state’s financial responsibility, primarily social protection, in future.

The window of opportunity for Nepal to take advantage of the demographic window is pretty small. To fully realise the demographic dividend, it is necessary to increase the domestic job environment and investment in the skills of Nepali youth. The government has two options with regard to job creation: Making the Prime Minister Employment Guarantee Programme more effective or creating a favourable environment for the private sector to create better jobs.

Job guarantee

On the one hand, Nepal’s share of economically active people working in the agriculture sector is decreasing due to increasing attractiveness in the service and industry sectors (according to the 2021 census, 57.3 percent of the population depends on agriculture). On the other hand, the share of the economically inactive population is found to be students, as well as those engaged in household work and family care, old age people, and persons with disabilities, etc. So the question is: How do we leverage Nepal’s labour force by employing them in productive sectors, striking a balance between the agriculture and non-agriculture sector?

In this regard, job guarantee is one of the structural stabiliser fiscal policies that the government can undertake to promote employment. With a basic wage and benefits package for anyone, especially the economically active population willing to work, a job guarantee should be the mantra of the government. The Nepali labour market has seen high involuntary unemployment rates for several years, and the Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated it. A targeted job guarantee programme can be an effective and equitable policy for achieving full employment and reducing poverty and income inequality.

The government should work in partnership with companies in the private sector to implement creative employment interventions, such as skill development and job placement, that raise wages for workers and boost productivity at businesses in high-growth industries. While creating jobs, the government must check if employers adhere to employee welfare, labour rights, workplace safety, and social protection regulations. Building a solid base for employment opportunities helps the government generate revenue in the form of taxes.

Nepal is currently working with the World Bank to create an Integrated Social Registry, which can act as a platform to link social protection programmes and information systems and address several other issues, including those related to the front end (service delivery) and back end (information system). Touting social protection programmes looks politically appealing, but it is financially challenging. Promoting job guarantee would reduce the impact on the public budget, and employing the job guarantee workers on projects that encourage domestic production could minimise the trade balance.

Existing laws

Nepal’s social protection system comprises contributory social insurance for formal sector workers, non-contributory social assistance, and employment initiatives. Significant legislative reforms, such as the Contribution-based Social Security Act, Labour Act 2017 and the Civil Service Act (Third Amendment 2014), have been enacted to strengthen the country’s social protection system. The primary contributory social insurance programmes for formal private sector workers are the Social Security Fund (SSF) and the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) for public sector employees. The non-contributory side of the system is intended to benefit “the most vulnerable sectors of the population.” The four programmes, namely, medical, health and maternity protection, dependents protection, accident and disability protection, and old age protection, were also introduced. The social protection coverage rate is modest, with pensions having the highest coverage rate. Two recent guidelines, one pertaining to migrant workers and the other to those employed in the informal sector and who are self-employed, on expanding social security safety nets are a step in the right direction.

The gradual expansion of social security programmes over the years is a positive step towards ensuring social security and protection for the people. However, their effectiveness has been hindered by insufficient human resources, planning, and coordination. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that Nepal’s social protection system is inadequate in protecting children from poverty and perpetuates inequalities between formal and informal workers. The targeted programmes are often too narrow in scope, while the selection processes can be expensive, inaccurate, and susceptible to corruption. Additionally, many eligible individuals may face difficulty applying or choose not to apply due to the associated stigma. For example, social institutions and welfare policies may consciously or unconsciously stigmatise impoverished children, reinforcing their sense of failure and shame. This is especially so in cases where poverty is attributed to individual shortcomings rather than structural factors. Universal child benefits are more likely to foster social cohesion. They are cognisance recipients as rights holders entitled to support rather than merely beneficiaries, which can affect their civic engagement and the government’s accountability.

Past experiences

The Karnali Employment Programme (KEP) was designed similarly to the Prime Minister Employment Guarantee Programme currently implemented in Nepal, as it involved the creation of employment through infrastructure projects at the local level, resulting in the construction of physical assets. The KEP was marketed under the slogan “one family, one job” (Ek ghar, ek rojgar) and aimed to provide 100 days of employment to each participating household, specifically targeting households without any employed members. The programme provided a specified number of work days to participating households every year rather than a limited period of employment on a one-time basis.

Although KEP faced budgetary and operational constraints at the local level, which hindered its effectiveness in providing employment to all eligible households and compromised its performance as an employment guarantee scheme, these challenges should not be taken to mean that similar initiatives cannot be developed in Nepal. It is important to note that KEP was designed to address the historical underdevelopment of the Karnali region rather than to serve as a blueprint for a nationwide scheme in the future. Just like in Bangladesh, the government can prioritise certain sectors like the garment industry to create a favourable environment for the private sector or strengthen government-led employment programmes to create more jobs.

Most social protection is linked to formal employment. This social protection system exacerbates inequality since informal sector workers are likely to be poor due to low wages and unpredictable employment. Low minimum wages and good job opportunities in Nepal have led to large-scale out-migration. Hence, creating a favourable environment for the private sector to generate more work opportunities or strengthen government-led employment programmes is important. Domestic employment aids the government’s financial responsibility to support the social security system in Nepal.

OP-EDs and Columns

सार्वजनिक ऋण परिचालनमा श्रीलंकाबाट सिक्नुपर्ने पाठ

– निश्चल ढुङ्गेल

यो लेख १७ मार्च २०२३ को नयाँ पत्रिकामा प्रकाशित भएको थियो। मूल लेख यहाँ पढ्नुहोस्

बदलिँदो आर्थिक र राजनीतिक परिस्थितिका कारण आधुनिक विश्वव्यापीकरण इकोसिस्टम प्रणालीले सार्वजनिक ऋण बढाएको छ । सरकारले स्वदेशी वा विदेशबाट ऋण लिने अवस्थालाई सार्वजनिक ऋण भनिन्छ । आर्थिक जटिलता र महामारीका कारण हालै सरकारी खर्च राजस्व आर्जन गर्ने क्षमताभन्दा छिटो बढेको छ । ब्याजदर वृद्धि हुँदै गर्दा बढ्दो ऋणले विकासोन्मुख राष्ट्रको सरकारी बजेटलाई असर गर्छ, जसले गर्दा यस्ता अर्थतन्त्रमा लगानी गर्नुपर्छ ।

आर्थिक र राजनीतिक परिस्थिति सन्तुलन र सार्वजनिक ऋण व्यवस्थापन एकसाथ जान्छ । मुख्य ऋणदाताबीच सहमति हुन नसक्दा श्रीलंका आर्थिक र सामाजिक कठिनाइबाट गुज्रिरहेको छ । तसर्थ, श्रीलंका भूराजनीतिक विचारको चपेटामा पर्दा सार्वभौम ऋण पुनर्संरचना हुन सकेको छैन ।

श्रीलंकाको सार्वजनिक ऋण कुल गार्हस्थ्य उत्पादन (जिडिपी) अनुपात २०१८–२१ बीच ९१ बाट ११९ प्रतिशत बढेको थियो । यस्तै, सार्वजनिक ऋण जिडिपी अनुपात २०२२ मा १२२ प्रतिशत थियो । यसमध्ये जिडिपीको ७० प्रतिशत विदेशी मुद्रामा निहित छ ।

श्रीलंकाको संकट बाह्य आर्थिक झट्का र नीतिगत गलत कदमको संयोजनले भएको हो । उसले लिएको सार्वजनिक ऋण न्यून प्रतिफलका पूर्वाधार आयोजनामा लगानी गर्दा सदुपयोग हुन सकेन । सार्वजनिक ऋण सन्तुलनमा नराख्दा, थप ऋण व्यवस्थापन गर्न देश कसरी भूराजनीतिक विचारको जटिलतामा फस्न सक्छ भन्ने ज्वलन्त उदाहरण श्रीलंका हो । नेपाल र श्रीलंकाको सार्वजनिक ऋणको अवस्था फरक भए पनि नेपालले केही पाठ भने सिक्न जरुरी छ ।

नेपालले सन् १९५१ मा बजेट ल्याउन थालेको थियो र बजेट अभ्यास सुरु भएको ११ वर्षपछि ऋण लिन थालेको थियो । हाम्रो सार्वजनिक ऋणको इतिहास धेरै पुरानो छैन । सरकारले सन् १९६२ मा स्वदेशी ऋण लिन थालेको थियो भने वैदेशिक ऋण सन् १९६३ मा मात्रै स्वीकृत भएको थियो । भूकम्पपछि संघीय सरकारमा परिणत भएपछि नेपालको सार्वजनिक ऋण विगत केही वर्षदेखि बढेर आर्थिक वर्ष सन् २०१९–२० मा कुल जिडिपीको ४२.२ प्रतिशत पुगेको छ ।

 आव २०१६–१७ मा सार्वजनिक ऋण जिडिपीको २५ प्रतिशत थियो भने २०१९–२० मा भएको उल्लेखनीय सार्वजनिक ऋण वृद्धिका लागि कोभिड महामारीको प्रभाव र प्रतिक्रिया जिम्मेवार छन् । आव २०२०–२१ मा नेपालको ऋण जिडिपी अनुपात ३९ प्रतिशत छ ।

नेपालले बहुपक्षीय संस्था र विदेशी मुलुकबाट सहुलियतपूर्ण विदेशी सहायता (अनुदान वा लामो चुक्ता अवधिको २ प्रतिशतभन्दा कम ऋण) मा पहुँच भएका कारण नेपालले उच्च ब्याजदरमा ठूला व्यावसायिक वैदेशिक ऋण लिने आवश्यकता कम छ । विश्व बैंकका अनुसार नेपालको ऋण संकट जोखिम बाह्य र कुल ऋण दुवैमा न्यून छ । अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय विकास सहयोग नीति (२०१९) ले नेपाललाई वैदेशिक व्यावसायिक ऋण लिन अनुमति दिएको भए पनि नेपालले यो अवसरलाई सदुपयोग गर्न सकेको छैन । नेपालले उच्च ब्याजदरमा ठूला व्यावसायिक वैदेशिक ऋण लिँदा होसियार हुनुपर्छ । 

उच्च ब्याजको व्यावसायिक ऋणले प्रभावकारी प्रतिफल दिन्छ कि दिँदैन भन्ने विश्लेषण गर्नुपर्छ । ताराप्रसाद उपाध्याय र टोनिक पुनले सन् १९७८–२०२० सम्मको तथ्यांक प्रयोग गरी गरेको नेपालको आर्थिक वृद्धिमा सार्वजनिक ऋण प्रभावको अध्ययनले नेपालको सार्वजनिक ऋणको स्तर र देशको आर्थिक विस्तारबीच कुनै स्पष्ट सम्बन्ध नभएको संकेत गर्छ । राजस्वका सीमित स्रोतका कारण सरकारी राजस्वभन्दा सरकारी खर्च द्रुत गतिमा बढेको छ । 

सरकारले मुख्यतया कमजोर क्षेत्रका लागि ऋण लिएको छ । राजस्व अभावले अघिल्लो ऋण तिर्न र अर्काे ऋण लिन बाध्य पारेको छ । हालको पुँजी ऋणको केही रकम सेयर बजार र जग्गामा छ । अपर्याप्त आन्तरिक स्रोत परिचालन, अत्यधिक वित्तीय घाटा, निर्यात–आयातको असन्तुलन र राजस्व र खर्चको अन्तरका कारण वैदेशिक ऋण झनै बढेको छ । तसर्थ, केही लेखकले दिगो आर्थिक वृद्धि र लगानीलाई हतोत्साहित गर्नुको सट्टा प्रोत्साहन गर्ने सम्भावना रहेसम्म घाटा वित्तपोषणलाई ध्यानमा राख्नुहुँदैन भनी तर्क गर्छन् । यसबाहेक, ऋण चुक्ता गर्ने क्षमतामा कुनै सुधार हुन सकेको छैन, अझै बाँकी रहेको सार्वजनिक ऋणको कुल रकम र ब्याजमा वृद्धि भएको छ ।

विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चितिको आधारमा देशको ऋण अवस्थाको विश्लेषण गर्नु पनि महत्वपूर्ण छ । अमेरिकी डलरको तुलनामा नेपाली रुपैयाँ कमजोर हुँदा स्थानीय मुद्रामा नेपालको ऋण दायित्व बढेको छ । विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चिति घट्दै गएको र विदेशी ऋणदाताबाट सरकारी उधारो बढिरहेका वेला विदेशी मुद्रा ऋण भुुक्तानी अझ चुनौतीपूर्ण हुन सक्छ ।

नेपालको प्रत्यक्ष वैदेशिक लगानी (एफडिआई) जिडिपीको ०.५ प्रतिशत दक्षिण एसियामा सबैभन्दा कम हो । एफडिआई थ्रेसहोल्ड एनपिआर दुई करोडमा घटाउँदा एफडिआईको प्रवाहमा थप कमी आउँछ । थप पुँजी प्रवाह प्रतिबन्धले जिडिपीमा नकारात्मक प्रभाव पार्न सक्छ, तर एफडिआईले राष्ट्रको ऋण नबढाउने र विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चितिमा तनाव कम गर्ने अतिरिक्त लाभ प्रदान गर्दछ । 

सरकारले लामो समयदेखि ढिलाइ भएको एफडिआईमा सुधार ल्याउनुपर्छ । जस्तै, नियामक स्वीकृति प्रक्रियालाई सरल बनाउने, जसले विदेशी मुद्रा प्रवाह निम्त्याउने र विकासलाई बढावा दिन पुँजी र प्रविधिको स्थानान्तरणलाई प्रोत्साहित गर्ने । सरकारले अहिले मुलुकको विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चिति बढाउन विभिन्न प्रयास गरिरहेको छ ।

बढ्दो ऋण रोक्न नयाँ पारित सार्वजनिक ऋण व्यवस्थापन ऐनले जिडिपीको एकतिहाइमा बाह्य ऋणको सीमा तोकेको छ । यो उपाय सरकारलाई लापरबाहीपूर्वक ऋण लिनबाट रोक्न र भविष्यमा थप पैसा उधारो गर्न समय तालिकामा ऋण तिर्न उत्प्रेरित गर्नका लागि हो । नेपालले विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चिति घट्न नदिन विलासिताका सामानको आयातमा प्रतिबन्ध लगाउने विभिन्न उपाय पनि ल्यायो र विदेशी मुद्रा सञ्चिति बढेपछि प्रतिबन्ध हटायो । यी अन्तर्निहित विशेषताले हालको विश्वव्यापी उथलपुथलको बढ्दो मूल्य, रेमिट्यान्समा प्रभाव र फराकिलो व्यापार असन्तुलनप्रति नेपालले कस्तो प्रतिक्रिया देखाउँछ भन्ने कुरालाई निरन्तरता दिनेछ ।

आव ०७९/८० माघ मसान्तको पहिलो ६ महिनाको राजस्व संकलन गत वर्षको तुलनामा १५ प्रतिशतले घटेको छ । प्रक्षेपणअनुसार राजस्व उठाउन नसक्दा अर्थ मन्त्रालयले संघीय सरकारको बजेट २० प्रतिशतले घटाएको छ ।पारिश्रमिक, निवृत्तिभरण, सामाजिक सुरक्षा र रासायनिक मल र विपद् व्यवस्थापनमा दिइने अनुदानको बढ्दो दायित्वले सरकारको चालू खर्चमा बाधा पुगेको छ । स्वदेशी तथा अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय ऋणको ब्याज सरकारले तिर्नुपर्छ । अमेरिकी डलरको तुलनामा नेपाली रुपैयाँको अवमूल्यनले वैदेशिक ऋण तिर्न महँगो साबित हुनेछ ।

चालू आर्थिक वर्षको बजेटमार्फत ८ प्रतिशत आर्थिक वृद्धि हासिल गर्ने लक्ष्य लिएको सरकारले ४.५ प्रतिशत मात्रै पुग्ने बताएको छ । चालू आवमा लिएको महत्वाकांक्षी लक्ष्य पूरा नहुने देखिएको छ । बाह्य क्षेत्रको दबाब र आर्थिक चुनौतीलाई बेवास्ता गरी निर्धारण गरिएका यस्ता लक्ष्यले सरकारलाई संसद्प्रति वित्तीय जवाफदेही बनाउँदैन । सरकारले विगत सात महिनामा सिद्धान्तविपरीत थप रकम परिचालन गरेको छ । अर्थ मन्त्रालयको विज्ञप्तिअनुसार मंसिरमा भएको संघीय र प्रदेशको निर्वाचनलाई लक्षित गरी असोजमा रकम वितरण गरिएको उल्लेख छ । 

अर्थ मन्त्रालयले जारी गरेको विवरणअनुसार पछिल्लो सात महिनामा ८५ अर्ब ६० करोडभन्दा बढी बजेट सिद्धान्तविपरीत परिचालन भएको छ । बजेट जनप्रतिनिधिमूलक सर्वाेच्च संस्था संसद्बाट पारित गरिन्छ । सरकारले गर्ने आय–व्ययको हरहिसाब संसद्ले अनुमोदन गरेपछि मात्रै निर्धारण हुन्छ । देश विकासको नारा लगाउँदै सरकारमा बस्ने राजनीतिक नेतृत्वले चुनावमा मतदाता रिझाउने गरी पैसा बाँड्न ढुकुटी दोहन गर्नु कत्तिको जायज छ ?

नेपालका राज्य संस्थामा ‘चेक एन्ड ब्यालेन्स’ समस्या भइरहेका छन् । सुशासनका लागि उत्कृष्ट नेतृत्वको अलावा पारदर्शिता, जवाफदेहिता, चेक एन्ड ब्यालेन्स आवश्यक छ । सरकारले ०२३ मा कर छली रोक्न र आफ्नो राजस्वको आधारलाई फराकिलो बनाउन, सार्वजनिक उधारोका लागि देशको आवश्यकता बढाउन संघर्ष गर्नेछ । नयाँ सरकार आएसँगै वित्तीय र मौद्रिक नीतिलाई ‘सिंक्रोनाइज’ गर्दै उत्पादनशील क्षेत्रमा लगानी बढाउन तरलता अभावलाई कम गर्नुपर्छ । 

संरचनात्मक अवरोध सम्बोधन

पूर्वउपलब्धिको निर्माण र संरचनात्मक अवरोधलाई सम्बोधन गर्नाले विकासलाई गति दिन, निजी लगानी आकर्षित गर्न, उत्पादकत्व बढाउन र अल्पविकसित देशको स्थितिबाट सफलतापूर्वक उत्तीर्ण हुन र सन् २०२६ सम्म निम्नमध्यम आयको स्थिति हासिल गर्न जलवायु अनुकूलता विकास गर्न मद्दत गर्नेछ । आर्थिक वृद्धिका लागि नेपालको योजना र कसरी व्यापार, पूर्वाधार, विनिमय दर र अन्य आर्थिक नीतिले आर्थिक विकासमा सहयोग पु‍¥याउँछ भन्ने अझै स्पष्ट छैन ।

व्यापार र प्रत्यक्ष वैदेशिक लगानीलाई प्रोत्साहन गर्ने वातावरण, वित्तीय क्षेत्रको वृद्धि, मानव पुँजी निर्माण र सुशासन अभिवृद्धि गरी विकासको सम्भावना बढाउनुपर्छ । राष्ट्रले ऋण लिएको रकम उत्पादनशील क्षेत्रमा उपयोग गरी सरकारको ऋण न्यूनीकरणमा सहयोग गर्ने कार्यक्रम बनाउनुपर्छ । नेपालले सन् २०२६ मा एलडिसी समूहबाट बाहिरिने योजना बनाएकाले ऋण चुक्ता गर्न उच्च दक्षता स्तर भएका उत्पादक क्षेत्रमा लगानी गरेर दिगो अर्थतन्त्र निर्माण गर्न ऋण लिएको रकमको लामो समयमा चुक्ता गर्ने अवधिसहित कम ब्याजदरको फाइदा उठाउनु महत्वपूर्ण हुन्छ ।

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जलविद्युत् र हाइड्रोजन ऊर्जाको उपयोग

– निश्चल ढुङ्गेल

यो लेख १६ फेब्रुअरी २०२३ मा प्रकाशित भएको थियो। मूल लेख यहाँ पढ्नुहोस्

जलवायु परिवर्तनमा नवीकरणीय ऊर्जाले गति लिइरहँदा विश्वको ध्यान नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा स्रोतलाई दोब्बर बनाउनेतर्फ केन्द्रित छ । सन् १९६५ मा ९४१ टेरावाट घन्टाबाट सन् २०२१ मा ७,९३१ टेरावाट घन्टामा नवीकरणीय स्रोतको उत्पादनमा उल्लेखनीय वृद्धि भयो । यस सन्दर्भमा धेरै नदी र खोला भएको नेपाल दक्षिण एसियाका लागि ऊर्जा सुरक्षाको आधारशिला बन्न सक्छ । देशको अप्रयुक्त जलविद्युत्ले भविष्यको ऊर्जा आपूर्तिमा महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका खेल्न सक्छ । साथै, भारत र बंगलादेशको कार्बन फुटप्रिन्टलाई पनि कम गर्न सक्छ ।

ऊर्जा विकासको मार्गचित्र कार्यान्वयन गर्न नेपालले ऊर्जा तथा जलस्रोत दशक (२०१८–२८) घोषणा गरेको छ । नेपाल अहिले विद्युत् उत्पादनमा आत्मनिर्भर छ । सन् २०१३ मा ४,२५८ गिगावाटबाट ०२२ मा ११,०६४ गिगावाट उत्पादनका साथ उल्लेखनीय वृद्धि भएको छ । अरुण चौथो (क्षमता ४९०.२ मेगावाट), पश्चिम सेती (७५० मेगावाट), अरुण तेस्रो (९०० मेगावाट) र तल्लो अरुण (७६९ मेगावाट) प्रमुख जलविद्युत् आयोजना हुन्, जसले सन् २०३० देखि०३५ सम्म वितरण सुरु गर्नेछन् । ऊर्जा उत्पादन र निर्यातमा वृद्धि र ऊर्जा आयात घटेको छ । हामीले यो अतिरिक्त ऊर्जा कहाँ प्रयोग गर्ने ?

आदर्श जवाफ यो परम्परागत वा गैरनवीकरणीय ऊर्जा प्रतिस्थापन गर्न प्रयोग हुनेछ । भारतले दक्षिण एसियामा व्यापार विस्तार गर्ने लक्ष्य राखेको इन्डियन इनर्जी एक्सचेन्जमा सहभागी हुने नेपाल दक्षिण एसियाकै पहिलो देश बनेको छ । आज देशको कुल आयातको १४.१ प्रतिशत पेट्रोलियम पदार्थको हुन्छ । यसलाई विद्युत्ले सजिलै प्रतिस्थापन गर्न सकिन्छ । नेपालको जलविद्युत्ले दक्षिण एसियाको एकतिहाइ भागलाई गैरनवीकरणीयबाट नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा उपभोगमा परिणत गर्न सक्छ । यसो गर्दा सन् ०४० सम्म विश्वभर हुने कुल हरितगृह ग्यास उत्सर्जनको झन्डै ३.५ प्रतिशत घट्नेछ ।

नयाँ विद्युत् ऐन कहिले पारित होला ? :  डेढ दशक बितिसक्दा पनि नेपाल सरकारले नयाँ विद्युत् ऐन ल्याउन सकेको छैन । कानुन निर्माणमा भएको ढिलासुस्तीले देशको ऊर्जा क्षेत्रको अपेक्षित विकासमा बाधा पु¥याएको छ । अहिले विद्युत् ऐन–१९९२ संशोधन गर्ने विधेयक राष्ट्रिय सभाको कार्यक्षेत्रमा छ । विद्युत् ऐन–१९९२ लाई संशोधन गर्ने विधेयकमा विद्यमान विद्युत् ऐनलाई परिमार्जन र एकीकृत गर्ने परिकल्पना गरिएको छ ।

निजी क्षेत्रलाई देशभित्र र बाहिर विद्युत्को व्यापार गर्न लाइसेन्स दिने प्रावधान राखेको छ । तर, विधेयक संसद्मा टुंगो लाग्न सकेको छैन । सम्बन्धित ऐन नहुँदा नेपाल विद्युत् प्राधिकरणले नयाँ विद्युत् खरिद सम्झौता गर्न नसकेको, निजी क्षेत्रले विद्युत् व्यापारको स्वीकृति लिन नसकेको र मुलुकले विद्युत् बजार विस्तार गर्न दुवै पक्ष असफल भएको छ । देशको ऊर्जा क्षेत्रमा रहेका विद्यमान समस्या समाधानका लागि नयाँ सरकारले प्रभावकारी भूमिका खेल्न अपरिहार्य छ ।

हाइड्रोजन ऊर्जाको उत्कृष्ट उपयोग :  नेपालले जलविद्युत् र हाइड्रोजन ऊर्जाको उपयोग गर्नतिर ध्यान दिनुपर्छ, जुन ऊर्जा व्यापारमा तुलनात्मक लाभ छ । हरित हाइड्रोजन पानीलाई हाइड्रोजन र अक्सिजनमा विभाजन गरी नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा र इलेक्ट्रोलाइजर भनिने प्रविधि प्रयोग गरेर उत्पादन गरिन्छ । जलविद्युत्को रूपमा नवीकरणीय ऊर्जाको प्रचुर मात्रामा भएकाले नेपाल हाइड्रोजन उत्पादनका लागि अनुकूल अवस्थामा छ ।

सार्वजनिक र निजी निकायबाट प्राप्त प्रतिवेदनअनुसार नेपालमा सन् २०३० सम्म कम्तीमा १० हजार मेगावाट जलविद्युत्को माग  हुनेछ । ०४० सम्म कुल क्षमता ३९ हजार मेगावाट हुने अपेक्षा गरिएको छ । यसरी, अतिरिक्त जलविद्युत्लाई प्रतिस्पर्धी मूल्यमा हरित हाइड्रोजन उत्पादन गर्नका लागि च्यानल गर्न सकिन्छ । ०५० सम्ममा हरित हाइड्रोजन उत्पादनको लागत प्रतिकिलोग्राम एक डलरभन्दा कम हुने अनुमान गरिएको छ ।

अतिरिक्त स्रोतको उपयोग गर्नुका साथै हरित हाइड्रोजनलाई इन्धनको प्राथमिक स्रोतको रूपमा प्रयोग गर्दा नेपालले आफ्नो आर्थिक विकासको कथालाई परिवर्तन गर्न अनुमति दिनेछ । किनकि, हरित हाइड्रोजनको व्यावसायिक प्रयोगले रासायनिक उद्योग, यातायात, ऊर्जा–सघन उद्योगहरू (फलाम र स्टिल) का साथै आवासीयजस्ता विभिन्न क्षेत्रलाई समेट्छ । यद्यपि, सम्बन्धित क्षेत्रमा हरित हाइड्रोजन ल्याउनुअघि पूर्वाधार र प्राविधिक बाधालाई ध्यान दिनु आवश्यक छ । युरियालगायत अमोनियममा आधारित मल उत्पादन गर्न रासायनिक उद्योगमा हरियो हाइड्रोजन प्रयोग गर्न सकिन्छ ।

आपूर्तिभन्दा तीन गुणा माग बढेसँगै नेपालमा रासायनिक मलको अभाव दीर्घकालीन समस्या बनेकाले आगामी दिनमा हरियो हाइड्रोजनको व्युत्पन्न रूपमा रासायनिक मल उत्पादनमा केन्द्रित हुनुपर्छ । उदाहरणका लागि तीन हजार मेगावाटको अतिरिक्त जलविद्युत्बाट करिब २१ लाख ५० हजार टन हरियो युरिया उत्पादन गर्न सकिन्छ ।

नेपालले आर्थिक वर्ष २०२१–२२ मा एक लाख ८० हजार टन अमोनियममा आधारित रासायनिक मल आयात गरेको थियो, जसमा ६० प्रतिशत युरिया हो । तसर्थ, रासायनिक उद्योगमा हरियो हाइड्रोजनको तत्काल प्रयोगले रासायनिक मलको बहुप्रतीक्षित स्वदेशी उत्पादनको थालनी गर्नेछ । साथै, नेपाल सरकारमाथिको वित्तीय भार पनि घटाउनेछ । सन् २०२१ मा सरकारले मल अनुदान कार्यक्रमका लागि १५ अर्ब रुपैयाँ विनियोजन गरेको थियो ।

हरियो हाइड्रोजनको आवासीय प्रयोग, विशेषगरी तताउन र खाना पकाउन दीर्घकालीन सम्भावना छ । आवश्यक टेक्नोलोजी अझै प्रारम्भिक चरणमा छ । हाइड्रोजनलाई घरेलु प्रयोगार्थ सम्भावित इन्धनका रूपमा परीक्षण गर्ने परियोजना विश्वव्यापी रूपमा सञ्चालनमा छन् । नेपालले पनि विश्वव्यापी प्राविधिक विकासका आधारमा घरेलु प्रयोगका लागि इन्धनको स्रोतको रूपमा हरित हाइड्रोजन प्रयोग गर्न सक्छ । प्राविधिक अवरोधबाहेक, हालको पूर्वाधार, आवासीय भवनहरू जस्तै, हाइड्रोजन अत्यधिक ज्वलनशील इन्धन भएकाले सुरक्षा चिन्ताको कारणले हाइड्रोजन प्रयोगलाई समर्थन गरिँदैन ।

जलवायु वित्त :  जलवायु परिवर्तनका प्राथमिकता र रणनीति सरकारी योजना र बजेट प्रक्रियामा समावेश भए पनि प्रत्यक्ष सरकारी लगानी निकै कम छ । कानुनी र व्यावहारिक अवरोधले प्रत्यक्ष वैदेशिक लगानी, निजी क्षेत्रको लगानी र द्विपक्षीय एवं बहुपक्षीय सहयोगमा असर पार्छ । 

आर्थिक वर्ष २०२०–२१ को मार्चसम्म ऊर्जासँग सम्बन्धित उद्योगले ५९.७ प्रतिशत लगानी प्रतिबद्धता पाए पनि वास्तविक लगानी ३५ प्रतिशत मात्रै आएको छ । जीवन्त ऊर्जा क्षेत्रमा थप विदेशी लगानी भित्र्याउन कानुनी अवरोधहरू खुकुलो पार्दै अनुकूल वातावरण सिर्जना गर्न आवश्यक छ ।

जलवायु उद्देश्य पूरा गर्न वित्तीय आवश्यकता ठूलो छ । हाल प्राथमिक जलवायु कोष सरकार, बहुपक्षीय कोष एजेन्सी र साना निजी क्षेत्रको योगदानबाट आउँछ । जलवायु बजेट २०१७–०१८ मा ३.७५ बिलियन डलरबाट २०२१–०२२ मा ४.६६ बिलियन पुगेको छ । सन् २०१० देखि नेपालले जलवायु परिवर्तनसम्बन्धी संयुक्त राष्ट्र फ्रेमवर्क कन्भेन्सनबाट मात्रै अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय जलवायु कोषमा  ३० करोड डलरभन्दा बढी प्राप्त गरेको छ ।

पछिल्लो तथ्यांकअनुसार सन् २०१५–०२० को बीचमा नेपालले अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय विकास बैंकबाट जलवायु वित्तमा २.५९ अर्ब डलर प्राप्त गरेको छ, जसमा सन् २०२० मा १.२ अर्ब डलर (समन तथा अनुकूलन कोषबाहेक) हुन आउँछ । अधिकांश स्वदेशी बैंकले स्थानीय मुद्रा ऋणमा जलविद्युत् आयोजनालाई वित्तपोषण गर्छन् । तर, ठूलो मात्रामा ऋण दिने उनीहरूको क्षमता सीमित छ । 

नेपालको ऊर्जा क्षेत्रमा सन् २०१० देखि २०१७ सम्म वार्षिक औसतमा ५२ करोड ७० लाख डलरको लगानी आएको थियो । ऊर्जा उत्पादन क्षेत्रले धेरैजसो रकम (७० प्रतिशतभन्दा बढी) प्राप्त गरेको छ । यसमध्ये लगभग सबै जलविद्युत् आयोजनामा गएको छ । जलविद्युत् उत्पादनमा लगानीका आधारमा स्थानीय स्वतन्त्र ऊर्जा उत्पादक र नेपाल विद्युत् प्राधिकरण क्रमशः दोस्रो र तेस्रो मा पर्दछन् । सन् २०१८–२०४० को अवधिमा विद्युत् क्षेत्रमा कुल २९ देखि ४६ अर्ब डलर लगानी आवश्यक पर्ने अपेक्षा गरिएको छ । ठूलो रकम भए पनि वार्षिक आवश्यकता पूरा गर्न अपर्याप्त छ ।

ऊर्जामा लगानी :  यसबाहेक, निर्यातकेन्द्रित जलविद्युत् परियोजना वार्षिक रूपमा ०.५–१.० अर्ब डलरको वृद्धिशील लगानी चाहिन्छ । धेरै आशावादी अनुमानअन्तर्गत पनि वित्तीय क्षेत्रका क्षमता सीमित छन् र थप लगानी आवश्यक छ । निर्यातमुखी परियोजनाको अन्तर्निहित अर्थशास्त्र र ऊर्जा वाणिज्यका लागि ठोस संस्थागत र नियामक वातावरणको सृजनाले राष्ट्रिय अर्थतन्त्रमा योगदान पु‍र्‍याउन लगानीको सफलता निर्धारण गर्नेछ । विकास साझेदार पहिले नै बोर्डमा छन् ।  विश्व बैंक, मिलेनियम च्यालेन्ज कोअपरेसन कम्प्याक्टका साथै भारत र चीन पनि ऊर्जा लगानीमा आकर्षित नभएका होइनन् ।

सरकारले  ऊर्जा लगानीमा गति बढाउनुपर्छ र अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय समुदायबाट थप समर्थन प्राप्त गर्नुपर्छ । साथै, अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय समुदायले यस क्षेत्रको दीर्घकालीन जलवायु लक्ष्यमा योगदान पु‍र्‍याउन सक्ने नेपालको अप्रयुक्त ऊर्जा क्षमतालाई बुझ्न जरुरी छ । आगामी वर्षमा लगातार बढ्दो विद्युत् उत्पादनको उपभोग गर्न घरेलु खपत (औद्योगिक र घरायसी) मात्र पर्याप्त हुनेछैन ।

भारत र बंगलादेशले विशेष गरी क्षेत्रीय ऊर्जा जडानलाई छलफल, प्रतिबद्धता र सहकार्यको केन्द्रमा ल्याएर यस क्षेत्रलाई ऊर्जा गरिबीबाट बाहिर निकाल्न र वातावरणीय उद्धारतर्फ औंल्याउने नेपालको प्रचुर ऊर्जा क्षमतामा चासो राखेको देखिन्छ । तसर्थ, नेपाल सरकारले ऊर्जा व्यापारलाई ध्यानमा राखी यसलाई बढावा दिनुपर्ने देखिन्छ । 

OP-EDs and Columns

The monetary policy’s upshots


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 21 February 2023. Please read the original article here.

The Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB), the central bank of Nepal, took an accommodating policy stance during the pandemic to support households and businesses. The average inflation rate in fiscal year (FY) 2020/21 stood at 3.6 percent and doubled to 6.32 percent in FY 2021/22. For the first six months of the current FY 2022/23, it stands at 7.2 percent. Inflation has significantly increased due to the detrimental effect of the supply chain post-Covid19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. Rising inflation raised the cost of fuel and raw materials, causing production costs to skyrocket. As a result, the output capacities of both small and large-scale industries have decreased. The government imposed an import ban to safeguard the diminishing foreign exchange reserves, but it lifted the ban recently as the demand for goods and services increased amidst economic recovery.

These factors contributed to the first half of the current fiscal year’s revenue collection falling short of expectations. The revenue collection for the first six months of mid-January 2023 decreased by 15 percent compared to last year. The Finance Ministry reduced the federal government’s budget by 20 percent because of its inability to generate revenue as projected. The increased liabilities for wages, pension, social security, and subsidies for chemical fertiliser and disaster management have strained ongoing government expenses. The government needs to pay the interest on international and domestic loans. The depreciation of the Nepali rupee versus the US dollar will prove expensive to re-pay foreign loans.

World Bank and IMF support

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved $395.9 million as part of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) Arrangement for Nepal. The ECF provides financial support to nations with a persistent balance of payments issues. This arrangement would help the government lessen the pandemic’s effects on people’s health and economic activity, safeguard vulnerable populations, maintain macroeconomic and financial stability, and promote long-term growth and poverty reduction. The program will encourage significant funding from Nepal’s development partners and help reduce funding shortfalls. These actions supported a subsequent credit boom by cutting loan rates early in the pandemic. To aid Nepal’s tenacious recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and promote sustainable growth, the World Bank approved a $150 million development policy credit. The Nepal Programmatic Fiscal Policy for Growth, Recovery, and Resilience Initiative, funded by the World Bank, will work to enhance the country’s institutions and laws, especially those governing debt management, public capital investment, and tax and customs systems.

Effect of monetary policy

At the beginning of FY22, NRB monetary policy aimed to strike a balance between tightening needed for economic and financial stability and assistance for the nascent economic recovery. The NRB’s main policy targets are maintaining the policy floor of foreign exchange reserves covering seven months of imports and setting the inflation ceiling at 7 percent for the year FY 2022/23. The goal of monetary policy is to limit total credit to the private sector by 12.6 percent and total money supply by 12 percent for FY 2022/23. NRB raised the cash reserve ratio (CRR) from 3 percent to 4 percent. As a result of the credit boom, imports peaked in the first half of FY22, and foreign exchange reserves declined. The NRB increased its policy repo rate targeting both credit demand and supply. A change in monetary policy was in response to worries about faster-than-expected credit expansion, the growing import bill, dwindling reserves, and rising inflation as loan growth soared beyond estimates in the first half of FY22. To bring down inflation and discourage credit lending, the NRB increased the interest rates. The weightage average interest rate for inter-bank rose from 4.76 percent in mid-January 2021 to 7.48 percent in mid-January 2022. Similarly, weightage average interest rates for lending increased from 9.44 percent in mid-January 2021 to 12.79 percent in mid-January 2022.

A credit constraint occurred as the additional liquidity injections weren’t enough to make up for the drop in loanable funds. By the end of FY22, private sector credit had fully returned to FY21 levels as a proportion of GDP due to the higher lending interest rates offered by commercial banks to borrowers, which increased from 8.5 percent to 11.6 percent between mid-July 2021 and mid-July 2022. Credit to the private sector stabilised at comparatively higher prices, falling from 102 percent of GDP at the end of FY21 to 101.5 percent of GDP at the end of FY22. The NRB injected a total of Rs3094.76 billion in liquidity until mid-January 2023. NRB provided Rs318.09 billion through a repo, Rs83.85 billion through an outright buy auction, and Rs2692.83 billion through a standing liquidity facility (SLF).

The NRB introduced a merger and acquisition policy with the aim of strengthening financial stability. After the mergers of the commercial banks, the number of commercial banks decreased from 27 in mid-July to 22 in mid-January 2023. Micro-finance institutions decreased from 70 in mid-July to 64 until mid-January 2023. The central bank of Nepal mandates that banks maintaining higher paid-up capital help reduce the number of banks and financial institutions. Bank and financial institutions’ (BFIs) private sector credit increased by Rs137.33 billion (3 percent) during the first six months of FY 2022/23 compared to a growth of Rs492.63 billion (12.1 percent) during the same time last year. Out of the total outstanding credit held by BFIs until mid-January 2023, 67.2 percent went to real estate and 12.2 percent to current assets (such as goods used in agriculture and non-agriculture).

BFI soundness

Despite liquidity restrictions, indicators of BFI soundness were high. The average capital-to-risk-weighted assets ratio, which measures the sufficiency of bank capital, remained more elevated than the legal requirement of 11 percent. After massive credit expansion, NRB raised interest rates which is also the byproduct of the misuse of loans. In addition, due to the lengthening of loan repayment schedules as part of the central bank’s response to Covid-19, the overall number of BFIs’ nonperforming loans (NPL), defined as loans that are past due by 90 days or more, also marginally decreased. As of mid-July 2022, commercial banks had an NPL ratio of 1.3 percent, development banks had an NPL ratio of 1.5 percent, and finance businesses had an NPL ratio of 7 percent. Even though these numbers are encouraging, some swift forbearance measures should be in place to assess the asset quality in the banking sector. Banks are issuing fresh disbursements to reduce the level of nonperforming assets.

Nevertheless, given the adverse economic effects of Covid-19, the IMF should closely monitor the system to ensure NPLs are accurately measured and that all banks’ provisioning and capital are still sufficient. The NRB should improve the regulatory environment to offer precise restructuring guidance to address BFI assets and loan quality. NRB issued Working Capital Loan Guideline 2079, which mandates banks to issue working capital loans secured by the current assets. Credit Policy Guidelines of the licensed institution shall clearly mention the margin and adequacy of the existing assets required for the security. Hence, the NRB should encourage banks to monitor borrowers’ creditworthiness continuously and establish asset categorisation and reclassification criteria that accurately evaluate banks’ asset quality. Lastly, Nepal should facilitate bank financing to productive businesses, invest in infrastructure and education, and adopt digital technology and research and development.

OP-EDs and Columns

Public debt paradox


The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 2 February 2023. Please read the original article here.

The modern globalised ecosystem has increased public debt due to changing economic and political circumstances. Handling public debt goes hand in hand with an effort to balance those circumstances. Public debt is a domestic or foreign loan issued by a government, which remains a viable option to support government spending, and development initiatives, for which the government lacks funding. Owing to economic complexity and the Covid-19 pandemic, government spending has recently increased more quickly than its capacity to generate revenue. With interest rates skyrocketing, the rising debt severely impacts the budgets of developing countries that must invest in their economies.

Nepal started budgeting in 1951, taking debt 11 years after the budgetary practice began. The history of our public debt is not very old. The government started taking domestic loans in 1962, while foreign loans were only accepted beginning in 1963. Post-earthquake and transition to federalism, Nepal’s public debt has increased over the past several years, reaching 42.2 percent of GDP in fiscal 2019-20 from a progressive reduction of 25 percent of GDP in fiscal 2016-17. The impact of Covid-19 and responses to it are responsible for the significant increase in fiscal 2019-20. The debt-to-GDP ratio for Nepal stood at 39 percent in fiscal 2020-21. Due to Nepal’s access to concessional funding (grants or loans less than 2 percent with long repayment periods) from multilateral institutions and foreign countries, its foreign debt servicing needs are low. As per the World Bank, Nepal’s debt distress risk is rated low for both external and total debt. The International Development Cooperation Policy (2019) allows Nepal to obtain a foreign commercial loan, but Nepal has yet to utilise this opportunity. The country needs to be careful while borrowing large commercial foreign loans with highinterest rates.

The impact of public debt on Nepal’s economic growth, examined by the journal Public Debt and Economic Growth of Nepal utilising data from 1978 to 2020, indicates no clear link between public debt levels and economic expansion. The limited revenue sources have resulted in a rise in government spending more quickly than government revenue. The government has borrowed money primarily for weak areas, leaving it cash-strapped and forcing it to take out another loan to repay the previous ones. Some of the current capital loan money is in the stock market and land. Due to insufficient domestic resource mobilisation, excessive fiscal deficit, export-import imbalance, and gaps in revenue and spending, the external debt has worsened. Thus, some authors argue that deficit financing should not be considered as long as there is sustained economic growth and the possibility of encouraging investment rather than discouraging it. Furthermore, there has been no improvement in the country’s capability to repay debt; there has only been an increase in overall public debt and interest.

It is also crucial to analyse the country’s debt condition in light of its foreign exchange reserves. The depreciation of the Nepali rupee against the US dollar has increased Nepal’s debt liability in local currency terms. Foreign currency debt payments may become more challenging at a time of shrinking foreign currency reserves and rising government borrowing from foreign creditors. Nepal’s foreign direct investment (FDI) is the lowest in the region at 0.5 percent of GDP. The impact of lowering the FDI threshold to Rs20 million will further decrease the inflow of FDI. Further, capital flow restrictions may have negative effects on GDP, but FDI offers the extra benefit of not increasing the nation’s debt and relieving strain on foreign exchange reserves. The government should put in place long-delayed FDI reforms, such as simplifying regulatory approval processes, which would lead to foreign currency inflows and spur the transfer of capital and technology to boost growth.

Lesson from Bangladesh

Thanks to a robust economy and a stable government, Bangladesh has avoided relying on foreign forces for domestic survival. Three factors—exports (second largest clothing exporter), remittances (one of the biggest recipients), and fuel prices (relies on imported fuels)—together account for the majority of the economic health of the country. But these factors are in jeopardy due to a global economic slowdown that is particularly destructive in developing nations. Bangladesh has less money to import fuel as exports fall and prices rise simultaneously. It has decided to postpone non-urgent projects and expressed concerns about a growing trade deficit and a decline in remittances.

However, Nepal’s exports are not as strong as Bangladesh’s, and will be less affected by the global slowdown. The government of Nepal is making several efforts to boost foreign reserve exchange. To stop the mounting debt, the newly passed Public Debt Management Act set a limit on external debt at one-third of the GDP. This measure is intended to prevent the government from borrowing carelessly and motivate it to pay down its debts on schedule so it can borrow more money in the future. Nepal also came up with a slew of measures to ban imports of luxury goods to prevent the depletion of its foreign exchange reserves and ended the ban as foreign reserves rose. These underlying traits will continue to shape how Nepal and Bangladesh react to the current global upheavals, including growing prices, impact on remittances, and widened trade imbalance.

State institutions in Nepal are fragile and continue to have problems with checks and balances. The government will struggle in 2023 to stop tax evasion and broaden its revenue base, increasing its need for public borrowing. With a new government in place, synchronising fiscal and monetary policy should ease liquidity shortage to fuel investment in productive sectors. A significant issue with the democratic history of Bangladesh is the absence of robust and viable opposition. Despite political hiccups and mounting public debt, Bangladesh has made commendable economic progress. Nepal and Bangladesh are unlikely to have the same situation as Sri Lanka if their policy measures successfully utilise public debt, and balance national goals and domestic capabilities.

Addressing structural barriers

Building on prior accomplishments and addressing structural barriers will help to accelerate growth, attract private investment, boost productivity, and develop climate resilience to successfully graduate from the least developed country’s (LDC) status and achieve lower middle-income status by 2026. Nepal’s plan for economic growth and how trade, infrastructure, exchange rates, and other economic policies can help with economic development is still unclear. The growth potential will be increased by fostering an environment, encouraging trade and foreign direct investment, growing the financial sector, building human capital, and enhancing good governance. The country must spend the borrowed funds wisely and enact programmes to reduce debt. As Nepal plans to leave the LDC status in 2026, it is crucial to leverage the advantage of a lower interest rate with a long repayment period of borrowed funds. It should then work towards building a sustainable economy by investing in productive sectors with high-efficiency levels to repay the loans over time.

OP-EDs and Columns

Putting national interest first


Dhungel is a non-resident fellow at NIPoRe. The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 18 January 2023. Please read the original article here.

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, foreign relations trembled among major economic powers. While condemning Russia’s aggression and barraging the country with a series of sanctions, the West expected India to follow suit. However, New Delhi adopted studied public neutrality and abstained from successive votes condemning the Russian move in the UN Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council. Just like India, China maintained relative neutrality, with a solid foreign policy stance in response to the conflict. Despite its closeness with Russia, Beijing stopped short of supporting it in the war. It also stopped short of calling Russia the aggressor and abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote denouncing the ‘invasion’. Beijing and New Delhi had made their decision loud and clear. And they were not going to listen to anybody.

Assertive New Delhi

Speaking at the Globsec 2022 forum in Slovakia, Minister of External Affairs of India, Dr S Jaishankar laid clear India’s increasingly confident foreign policy. “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems,” Jaishankar said. He criticised the West for hoarding vaccines, which impacted the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). It is crucial to understand how India came to this position, which was unimaginable until a few years ago.

India’s political, social and economic fabric had been damaged after 200 years of colonialism. Its foreign policy could not remain untouched. Following independence, New Delhi slowly started to chart its own path, pursuing different strategic approaches from 1946 to 2013. Nehruvian influence persisted from 1946 to 62, an era of strategic non-alignment amidst US-Soviet Union rivalry. From 1962 to 1971, considered the decade of realism and recovery, India made pragmatic choices in national security and political challenges despite a lack of resources. The country went through a complex phase from 1971 to 1991 as the US-China-Pakistan axis came up. From 1991 to 1999, it had challenges in retaining its strategic autonomy in a unipolar world, whereas from 2000 to 2013, India focused on balancing power.

But since assuming office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made an unprecedented transformation of Indian foreign policy. Modi has put India as an emerging superpower on the map and sought to engage rather than remain ‘non-aligned actively’. New Delhi now understands that it deals with multiple global complexities, making decisions based on calculated risk-taking. As a result, India is slowly standing out, drifting away from strategic ambiguity to strategic freedom and taking a solid foreign policy stance on international fora. This is a significant departure from the older ‘non-alignment’ tenet that had long established India’s typical social values and norms, at least in foreign relations.

India’s central foreign policy tenet under Modi is seen to be guided by the Eastern principle of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which translates to “the world is one family”. This was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic when New Delhi delivered more than 100 million doses to countries in Asia and Africa. While Modi has spearheaded this new brand of foreign policy, his bureaucrats and ministers have helped implement it. In 2015, just two days before his retirement, the Narendra Modi government appointed a highly agile foreign service officer, a foreign ambassador to the US and China, to the position of foreign secretary. Jaishankar has been the flag bearer of Modi’s foreign policy ever since Modi’s second term in office. Jaishankar openly admits India’s shortcomings and stays committed to securing its national interest with/without taking any sides.

‘Wolf-warrior’ in Beijing

Coinciding with India’s assertive stance in global politics is China’s equally aggressive stance, especially against the West. The Chinese foreign policy has been so assertive and aggressive in recent years that it has earned a new name: ‘Wolf-warrior’. While aggressive Chinese rhetoric might appear quite normal now, it is a shift from China’s earlier foreign policy. And the man to bring about this shift is none other than Xi Jinping. At heart, Xi’s diplomacy calls for a more active role for China as a great power on the world stage, including reforming the Western-dominated international order and creating what China calls “true multilateralism”.

When the architect of China’s economic reform, Deng Xiaoping, came to power following Mao Zedong’s death in the late 1970s, he prescribed a foreign policy which was subtle and cooperative. His approach focused on “biding one’s time without revealing one’s strength”. As a result, in the 1980s and 90s, Beijing was focused on “securing position, coping with affairs calmly and hiding capacities”. The leaders who came to power after Deng continued the policy.

But Xi’s ascendance since 2012 has slowly changed things in Beijing. Far from “biding time and hiding strengths”, it is now focused on making its stance clear on the global stage. Most importantly, it is open to show its strength. Take, for instance, its recent response to the Taiwan issue. Just before the then US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island in August last year, the Chinese President issued a stern warning to his American counterpart, allegedly saying that “… those who play with fire would perish by it”. When its alarm went unheeded, the Chinese military launched targeted military exercises.

Xi’s ambitions to help China regain its glory of the Middle Kingdom years have been evident since he took office. Upon gaining power in 2012, he immediately identified “national rejuvenation” as his primary goal. The ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was announced a year later. At the 19th Party Congress in 2017, Xi stated that China would no longer shy away from world leadership and efforts shaping the international order. The BRI is an important example of how China has pursued its foreign policy interest. The initiative has 147 signatories and includes US allies and partners such as Saudi Arabia, Greece and UAE.

Quite naturally, the West has been critical of this stance, often saying that it might invite dangerous confrontations between China and the West. But Beijing has maintained that it is not the real aggressor but simply responding to Western threats. Defending China’s aggressive foreign policy, the then-Chinese Foreign Vice Minister Le Yucheng said last year that Beijing “had no choice but to fight back against constant ‘nagging’ and ‘insults’ from foreign critics”. Interestingly China has many flag bearers of this new assertive foreign policy, most notably the foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. Zhao has had public spats with US diplomats and has been a vocal critic of the West.

If there is any lesson that Nepal should learn from its neighbours, it is that we need to pursue an independent foreign policy, especially in light of the geo-political games often played in the country.