The great festival of Dashain is here. Throngs of people are seen busy shopping in malls and other markets catering to the needs of the festival. This is also a time when a huge sum of money floods the market, cheering the businessmen and gratifying the consumers.
But not all businessmen are able to do brisk business; some even stare at the disappointing sales. This is especially true in border towns in the southern plains. While the markets across the border are packed with shoppers, those on the opposite side wear a deserted look. There is no reason to blame the shoppers for ditching their own markets, for nobody in his/her right mind ever thinks of paying more when cheaper option is at their disposal. And just asking them to shop within the country is going to fall on deaf ears.
Business communities in the border town of Bhairahawa, worried about the lukewarm sales even during this time, have demanded that measures be taken to discourage the trend of consumers going the markers across the border on festive occasions. Their concerns are genuine, and so worthy of government attention and intervention. They cite irregular power supply, rising bank interest rates and inadequate infrastructure as the major reasons for high cost of manufacturing goods blunting the competitive edge of domestically-produced goods.
Why is there irregular power supply or frequent power cuts when the country has been exporting surplus power for months now? In a country where labour costs are low by every measure, production costs of goods shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive. Ever since globalisation took hold of the world, people in the rich and developed world have been outsourcing manufacturing to those parts of the world where labour costs are relatively cheaper. When enough electricity supply and the right manpower and infrastructure are available, it should create a perfect condition for goods to get manufactured at competitive price. Probably the missing variable in the equation is the infrastructure. We should work on it.
We have Special Economic Zones (SEZs) made to produce goods meant for export, and we been successful to some extent in that endeavour. But without right and sufficient infrastructure which underpins the manufacturing, we cannot go far enough. Zeroing in on building infrastructure should feature prominently in the government’s policy. Doing so can save us a lot of much-needed foreign money at a time when fast depleting foreign exchange reserve has caused the Nepal Rastra Bank to take drastic steps in a bid to turn the table – measures that have also produced unintended consequences.
“Not all goods across the border are cheaper, things like sugar are cheaper here,” said one Bhairahawa-based businessmen. Consumers, on their part, should acquaint themselves with all the available price rates so that doing so can not only be of service to their countrymen, but also to the country as a whole. That said, without keen focus on manufacturing from the policy level, things cannot be expected to improve overnight. And time has come to shift the economic policy in favour of establishing industries by creating enabling atmosphere to operate them without any hindrance. The prudent policy must be sought to push for building a real economy that will help the nation to attain self-independence in basic goods and services.