First Regional Conference
A Report on the Doha Regional NRN Convention: Prepared for the Members of the North American Diaspora
January 20-23, 2005
Dr. Alok K. Bohara
Professor, University of New Mexico
This report is prepared at the request of some of the members of the North American Diaspora. It is a personal reflection, and is not an official report. I am responsible for any inaccuracies, inconsistencies or shortcomings. I present my digression at the end of this document that you may want to take it as a grain of salt.
The Doha convention was attended by about 40/50 or so delegates from places like Myanmar, Germany, Belarus, Russia, Cyprus, Australia, Gulf countries, US, and Nepal. Hon. Ministers Raghujee Pant and Ishwar Pokhrel graced the meeting along with the HE Ambassador to Qatar, Mr. Shymanandan Suman. Dr. Shyam Karki (Maryland), Dr. Bishwa Acharya (Atlanta), Mr. Ratan Jha (Houston), Mr. Aditya Jha (Toronto) and Dr. Alok K. Bohara (New Mexico) were there from the North American side.
It was an educational experience for me, and I was very impressed by the hospitality displayed by our hard working Nepali Dohabasis.
About 200/250 people attended the inauguration ceremony. Some business personalities like Mr. Suraj Vaidya (FNCII), the Chairman of the Nabil bank, an officer from the Kathmandu Bank, the Chaudhary group representative, some owners of the manpower companies, and two journalists (Himal and Kantipur) were also present. A highly enthusiastic and strong presence of the Doha community was quite visible.
Mr. Dangol, Dr. Mahato, and Mr. Udas were busy as usual running the meeting with much efficiency, but the hard working Doha crowd deserves the credit for making it a successful convention. The FNCCI's Executive Director Dr. Hemant Dabadi and the Kathmandu-based administrative employee of the NRN worked very hard to make a preparation for this convention.
A young Nepali named Sagar Nepal (Coordinator of Organizing Committee) of Doha gave a very emotional speech outlining the problems faced by eighty thousand hard working Nepalis in Doha. The town hall type meeting also generated interactions between the ministers and the audience. The dialogue brought out issues such as, 1) excessive fees charged by the manpower agencies (80,000 Rs. for Gulf, and 300,000 Rs. for the Far Eastern countries like S Korea), 2) poor living condition (15/20 living in one room), 3) delays in payments by the employers, 4) harassment and early deportation cases, 5) inadequate justice (police mistreatment and jail terms for minor offences), 6) other work related hardships, 7) "unsanctioned" manpower exports through India and Indian agencies, and 8) the delay in the passing of the Act.
Mr. Pokhrel and Mr. Pant both tried their best to show the Nepali government's sincere concern about the conditions of the Nepali workers and urged the manpower agencies to bear some of the responsibilities. They also pointed out their inability to keep track of the statistics because of the Nepali workers' tendency to use agencies in India to avoid Nepali embargo against countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Both realized that there was a need for a good labor law and some sound export related regulations, and applauded the NRN organization for its "lobbying" effort. Mr. Pant promised that the government will be a good facilitator, and displayed much optimism about Nepal and her future. Mr. Pokhrel highlighted some accomplishments such as: WTO membership, declaring 11 Oct as an NRN day, and the NRN Act. He also urged the NRN to help Nepal in areas such as: FDI, exports promotion, lobbying, tourism, trade fair, and investments. Without any elaboration, both Ministers urged the NRN organization to be "different".
The remittance worth b. generated by about 1.2 million NRN has been a vital source of foreign currency for Nepal (25% of GDP & equivalent to of the state budget). Against this backdrop it was only appropriate for the session to begin with the discussions on the investment related issues.
The Nepal Venture Fund
Mr. Aditya Jha did a presentation on the Nepal Venture Fund. His contention was the following: a mere 8% of the 1.2 million Nepalis would raise 0 m. The NVF would put mini-max limits of K and K. The profit distribution would look like as follows: 30% would be reinvested; 30% distributed among the investors; 20% for fund managers; 20% for capacity building (health and education). The NFV could be incorporated in Singapore, for example, to avoid the low rating problem of Nepal. Management expenses would be limited to less than 3%.
An illustrative example of its operation: troubled companies in Nepal (e.g. the Royal Nepal Airlines) would be purchased at a low cost and sold at a profit after seven years of professional management. International funding agencies will be sought to find the matching funds. Checks and balances would be built to avoid any excessive risks.
Various committees would be created to ensure checks and balances: Investment Policy Council, Ethnic Governance Council, Fund Advisory Council, and Social Venture Council...
Hamro Gaunko Afnai Utpadhan
(One Village, One Product)
Mr. Suraj Vaidya gave a good presentation outlining a program that sounded very similar to a typical village integrated program but was different in many respects. The four villages were picked out of 74 proposals. Each village basically picks a product and specializes in its production and makes profit by selling it in the market. The model was followed after a Japanese program. The objective is to use local resources, build skill, and work as a team. The goat meat production was used as an example to show how this import substitution scheme can be used to make profit and empower the villagers. The project would be run like an NGO and will require large sums of investment monies. The FNCCI plans to start it in March of 2005. They are working to get it funded by various sources.
Planned Community Development in Nepal - the Texas Way
The topic presented by Ratan Jha of Houston, Texas. Municipal Utility District (MUD) is extensively used as a financing tool by Land Developers in Texas to develop masterplanned community. The MUD based development does not only lead to a financially self-supporting entity but also to a planned and affordable community. This presentation was sort of a "Concept Paper" to analyze and explore if the tax-supported development (as MUDs in Texas) alone can be feasible to develop an affordable and planned community in Nepal - especially in Kathmandu; or a hybrid model consisting of taxsupported revenues combined with external aids (direct govt. subsidies, foreign donors, etc.) will be needed in the context of Nepal.
Minister Pokhrel found this idea to be useful for Nepal and applauded Mr. Jha for exploring it.
Nepal Study Center / Liberal Democracy Nepal Project
(Mr. Naresh Koirala did not come to Doha for his presentation of "Sustainable Road Projects". Mr. Udas was very gracious in giving that spot to me. So I moved my presentation one day earlier.)
I gave a brief account of the Nepal Study Center and its scope and the objectives. Established at the University of New Mexico (Department of Economics), the Center's mission is to conduct high quality research on Nepal and train Nepali doctoral students. It envisions bringing in Nepali scholars on a short term sabbatical to conduct important interdisciplinary research (conflict, environmental degradation, water resources, child labor, land use, poverty mapping, remittances, GIS mapping just to name a few). Other activities could be 1) help students with travel grant for conferences, 2) run workshops, 3) provide dissertation fellowships, and 3) conduct seminars. In addition, the Nepal Study Center will forge links with the Nepali Universities to promote knowledge transfer (e.g., help set up public policy school). The idea of a think tank type outfit in the US can be very stimulating. Other countries like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have their studies program in the US, and the NSC would be the first of its kind for Nepal.
The Government of Nepal could be a very useful source of socio-economic information and databases for the Center. Mr. Pokhrel showed much interest in helping the Center in this regard and welcomed a proposal.
I also talked about the Liberal Democracy Nepal project. The LDN project brings together political leaders, policy makers, civil society members, and the grassroots level people within a common forum (on the web) to discuss and comment on issues related to promoting liberal democracy in Nepal. We define liberal democracy broadly to mean a system that values regular elections, multi-party system, social justice, protection of ethnic and political minorities, and the rule of law. The LDN project also intends to publish a journal two times a year. The LDN project is very proud to have received an endorsement by an intellectual giant like Noam Chomsky of MIT. This project is a result of collaboration between the North American Diaspora and the Nepal Study Center.
I also notified the audience that the LDN idea would be discussed extensively by the North American Diaspora during a meeting with the Nepali Ambassador (HE Mr. Shrestha) in Washington DC (January 29th, 2005).
(The power point did not work so I had to do the presentation extemporaneously.)
From the floor, an audience member expressed his uneasiness with the word liberal in front of the word democracy. I gave several examples as to why it was important to demonstrate that the concept of democracy was an evolutionary idea and the word "liberal" is not meant to diminish the universal ideal of democracy.
23rd ICC (International Coordination Committee) meeting
Non-ICC members were allowed to observe the ICC discussion, so I sat in the meeting as an observer.
The committee decided to hold the next convention in Kathmandu (2005: October 7, 8, and 9) during the time of Dashain.
The Nepal Venture Fund idea would be pursued and the members were selected: Mr. Aditya Jha,
Dr. Upendra Mahato, and Mr. Kunjar Sharma, and Mr. Sharda Thapa's name from the US was also suggested as a fourth member of the committee.
Dr. Shyam Karki briefed the committee of his fund raising activity (,000) related to Devighat Bidhyashram. He was congratulated and urged to continue to put efforts to make progress on the project.
Dr. Upendra Mahato reported that the Pashupati Nath Ashram project, named after his mother, was budgeted at 1 cror Rs.
Mr. Dangol reported that his 7 years old orphanage project with 50+ children was going well, and he was more than willing to bring it under the NRN umbrella.
The scholarship-for-girls project would be contemplated soon and Mrs. Mahato and Mrs. Udas would be involved along with Dr. Shyam Karki.
The ICC acknowledged the Nepal Study Center's initiative, and I was urged to explore possibilities. The target of raising million from various sources to make it a sustainable entity would require much thought and energy.