(Preparation of the budget for the new fiscal year 2079-80 is underway as the dateline for the same is approaching. There is a provision to present the budget in the Parliament by Jestha 15 every year as per the constitutional provision. The government has also collected opinions and suggestions regarding the new budget from consumers as well as various organizations working for the rights and welfare of entrepreneurs and experts. In the same manner, Nepal Chamber of Commerce has also submitted a number of suggestions to be included in the new budget for the welfare and interest of the people and country. Talking to The Nepal Weekly, Rajendra Malla, President of Nepal Chamber of Commerce, has expressed the view that while formulating the new budget the government should give priority for the promotion of industries, commerce and hydroelectricity sectors as well as modernizing agriculture sector. His emphasis is to bring prosperity in the country by promoting agriculture sector, providing various incentives such as tax cuts on imports of fertilizers, agricultural equipments and basic necessary items. He has also underlined the need for installing international standard quarantine facilities on border check points so as to ensure supply of quality goods to the customers. His suggestions to the government also include promotion of electric vehicles and increasing use of electric household appliances through providing subsidy and tax exemption. Here are excerpts from an encounter with chairman Malla.)
The Nepal Weekly: What suggestions have you included when the Nepal Chamber of Commerce submitted a letter to the government regarding the upcoming budget ?
Malla: There is an urgent need to maintain the Balance of Payment (BoP) through regulating imports with the inclusion of necessary provisions in the upcoming budget. Also, it is equally important to promote exports by making necessary adjustments while formulating the budget. Our import business is almost nine times higher than the exports resulting in a huge trade deficit. We need to utilize our natural resources and capital in such a way as to make the country self-reliant and increase employment opportunities in the days ahead. We need to modernize and mechanise agriculture sector, tourism, hydropower and make maximum utilization of our natural resources so as to promote industries and increase production. Although around 60-65 percent of the population are dependent on agriculture, we could not attain self-reliant in agriculture sector as we are confined to traditional farming. It is very sad to mention here that we are currently importing food grains worth more than Rs.300 billion on annual basis. Keeping this in mind if we focus on agriculture sector for reduction of imports, I am confident that, we could get positive results within 3 to 6 months period. We have advised the government to generate more electricity by utilizing our vast water resources, to regulate the incoming remittance through banking channels and focus on the development of infrastructure. If we could reduce the consumption of fossil fuel by converting the household cooking stoves into electric ones and switch to electric vehicles, we would be able to save a huge amount of foreign currency. By doing so we could save Rs. 200 million worth petroleum products. If we are to attract more foreign currency we need to focus on exporting processed goods instead of exporting raw and unprocessed goods. I think that the upcoming budget should focus on increasing production by utilizing domestically available raw materials and resources if we are to become self-reliant. Instead of increasing the tax rates and exert pressure on the people who are already paying taxes we need to increase tax coverage and include new people in tax net. We have also advised the government to distribute PAN cards while distributing citizenship
TNW: In your opinion what should be the priorities of the upcoming budget?
Malla: We need to move towards self-reliance through the promotion of production and self- employment. It is not sufficient to present a good budget, effective implementation is also equally important. We have urged the government to ensure effective and timely implementation of the provisions made in the budget to get good results
TNW: In which areas the government should focus its attention to increase exports and reduce imports?
Malla: We should install international standard quarantine laboratory in each and every customs checking point. We need to discourage uncontrolled import of low quality goods. If we can conduct laboratory tests of goods being imported into the country it could check imports of low quality items into the country, which will automatically regularize imports. Such type of quarantine labs will also help in the export of high quality goods produced in our country. This will also help in enhancing public health as low quality food items get reject in the quarantine laboratories.
TNW: What is your suggestion to the government to increase youth employment opportunities within the country?
Malla: The immigration office here should compulsorily maintain detail database regarding the youths who returned to Nepal from foreign countries, including the knowledge and skills they have learnt abroad. Those who are willing to utilize their experience and expertise within the country should get proper opportunities to do so. The government should make arrangements for providing them employment in international standard companies being operated within the country. At present we have enough hydroelectricity and sufficient land for establishing new industries. The government should develop necessary infrastructure to establish new industries so that our youths returning from abroad can utilize their knowledge, skills and experience to develop the country. Every day hundreds of youths are going abroad for employment. Now we must discourage them and provide employment opportunities by creating conducive environment within the country. We need to arrange necessary training to develop their skills.
TNW: What measures do you suggest for the government to take to reduce the impact of Ukraine war in our country.
Malla: At a time when we are gradually recovering from the impact of Covid – 19 pandemic and returning the business to normal, we have been hit by the Ukraine war. The market prices have sky rocketed due to the Russia-Ukraine war. In such a situation we need to focus on producing goods domestically whenever it is possible by utilizing our own resources. We need to regulate imports by keeping in mind international standard and maintain BoP. Our economy is import oriented at present and import is also necessary to increase revenue. But while allowing imports we should also encourage exports by mobilizing our domestic resources.
TNW: How chamber is helping for the promotion of cottage and handicraft industries in the country?
Malla: Although the production of handicrafts in the country has increased in the recent time, it is not yet sufficient to meet the demands. In order to promote handicraft sector, I think, the government should give attractive duty draw back concerning the export of handicraft items. Besides, the government should introduce one-window policy for handicraft producers instead of going through multiple channels for the export of handicrafts.
TNW: What are the achievements made by Chamber under your leadership?
Malla: The Chamber is always concerned for the rights and welfare of the business entrepreneurs. Since its inception, the Chamber is paying attention towards providing services to the people, to safeguard interest of the business community as well as to increase revenue to the government. In the recent period we have been focusing on tourism, hydropower, agriculture etc. We are now focusing more on processing agricultural products instead of exporting raw and unprocessed goods. Recently I have raised the issue of introducing laws to legalize hemp, which has big commercial value. We can produce clothes and handicraft items by using hemps and to regulate the business we need to bring necessary rules and regulations. Now hemp has been recognized internationally as a commercial product and its production and consumption should be regularized so as to avoid misuse.
TNW: In what type of activities the Chamber is involved for the protection of consumers’ interest and welfare?
Besides the Chamber, various consumer protection forums are also actively engaged in works related with protection of consumers’ rights and ensure their good health. We regularly cooperate and coordinate with the consumer protection forum and the ministry of commerce and industries to conduct market inspection and penalize the guilty. We are very much concerned about the rights and welfare of the consumers and those who undermine the health and rights of the consumer must get punished.
TNW: What is the main problem business entrepreneurs are currently facing in Nepal?
Malla: Nepal is currently facing liquidity crunch mainly due to the government’s inability to make adequate development expenditure allocated in the budget. In the past ten month’s period only 31 percent of the development budget allocated for different activities are actually spent by the government, which is responsible for stagnation of the market and the business entrepreneurs are bearing its consequences.