Here follows views of analysts, economists, energy expert, mayors of municipalities, chief minister, educator, litterateur, columnists and others regarding their hopes and expectations for the year 2019
Radio Nagarik Covered
Electrification of transport
Swarnim Wagle (Former Vice-chair, National Planning Commission)
I began 2018 with a high hope that an incoming government with a massive mandate for strength and stability would take Nepal on a new course. I no longer harbor that illusion. My hopes for 2019 lie on our young entrepreneurs who I expect to take steps to ramp up the adoption of electric transportation, as well as digitalization in commerce, two areas where we can leapfrog to the global frontier based on on-the-shelf technologies.
Last December, as Vice-Chair of NPC, we procured Nepal’s first electric vehicle funded by the government’s own internal resource. Since then, the President and the Minister for Energy have followed the suit. A plan to purchase 300 electric buses for the Kathmandu Valley has also just been announced.
Nepal will soon move from a state of electricity shortage to seasonal hydropower surplus. Major technological advances have prompted many countries to announce bans on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles starting a decade or so in the future.
The long-term implications of Nepal’s transport fleet beginning to go all-electric will be transformative. First, by replacing import of fossil fuel with domestic energy, we reduce our external vulnerability. Second, combustion of fossil fuels involves pulling carbon from deep underground and adding it to the atmosphere which warms the planet and changes its climate. By acting fast, we can brand Nepal as a clean destination and a responsible actor on the global stage. Third, electric vehicles carry batteries that can be charged during off-peak hours, making better use of installed hydropower capacity, thus lowering the per-unit cost of electricity.
For individual owners, too, there are incentives. Taxes are ten times cheaper for electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are quiet, don’t require gear changes, and have instant torque, so they are less stressful to drive even in heavy traffic. It was for these reasons that just last week, exactly a year after NPC’s public purchase, I got rid of my private petrol car and swapped it for an electric one.
Where do challenges lie? We need better roads and long-distance charging facilities. We will need to set up systems for clean disposal of old batteries. Most crucially, we will need to reform our tax regime such that the Ministry of Finance weans off its addiction to sales taxes on fossil fuel vehicles. I am hopeful that in 2019 Nepal will substantially augment its electric vehicle fleet aligned with the expansion in off-peak electricity.
Three signs of hope
Biswo Poudel (Economist)
This year we are again on track to achieve the growth rate of six percent. The momentum of last two years is on its side, and so is the peace and stability prevalent in the country after the successful election yielded a stable government. Although the Doing Business Survey ranked Nepal below its last year’s ranking, the finance minister seems genuinely concerned about it. This has raised the hope that 2019 will be different. Indeed, the government is introducing measures that will significantly reduce the time to register the firms. The Minister of Industry is still an unpredictable, unrepentant revolutionary who seems to view all industrialists as the representatives of capitalist class against whom his class will eventually clash. But the signs are that he doesn’t have a free hand in industrial issues. Everything else being constant, we may see increased investment next year, at least domestically.
Second, despite the presence of many centrifugal forces in the country, the government is so far able to maintain the law and order in the country. The biggest protests this year were related to violence against women and young girls. These protests were legitimate expression of anger and unlikely to spin out of control. Introduction of federal system has calmed the population living in Kirat, Madhes and Tharu regions that threatened serious violence against the state until two years ago. The failure to devolve adequate authority to the nascent provincial governments may again threaten the current peaceful status. But at present, the government seems to be able to keep things under control.
Third, the government has shown commitment to implement a sweeping social security program that will eventually cover workers in the informal sector. Although specific menu offered by this program is yet to be made clear, this program will provide a real safety net for many people and decrease the risk of abrupt revolution if the country starts to grow. It will also contribute to improved labor relationship in the country.
Along with the normalized relationship with our two giant members, and arrival of increasing number of tourists, these three signs indicate that investment in hotels, light manufacturing industries, ICTs, and hydropower are likely to increase this year. There is unlikely to be any attempt to overthrow the prime minister this year. The government may face challenges from increasingly assertive civil society, but if it doesn’t respond to these protests disproportionately, this year is likely to be a better year for the government than the last year.
Lal Babu Raut (Chief Minister, Province 2)
I have plenty of work and projects to accomplish in 2019. However, among all the plans I have decided to prioritize ‘save daughter, educate daughter’ campaign the most. As a part of this campaign, we will make it mandatory for people living in all eight districts of my province to have education insurance for their newly born daughters.
This will be effective from January 15. We have made almost all preparations to carry out this campaign successfully. I believe this will help curb child marriage and dowry system, which are widely prevalent in Madhes. We have assured 50 percent reservation for females in province Police. Preparations are underway to provide reservation for women in government jobs as well.
We will soon commence a program of distributing cycles to the female students of community schools so that they don’t have to drop their education due to long distance. In 2019, we will start building 100 toilets in community schools. We have already started preparations for conducting free classes to girls appearing for various examinations of Public Service Commission.
Furthermore, we will do everything possible to make our province the ‘hub’ for technical education. We have already started holding discussions with the federal government for Sunkoshi-Kamala Diversion project, which will solve irrigation problem of farmers.
This year we will intensify afforestation program in all districts, which will play pivotal role in Chure conservation. I hope Province 2 will get new name in 2019 as the commission formed for this purpose is about complete its work.