Bad business

  • Govt decision to allow all and sundry to import fuel sets a dangerous precedent
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Dec 24, 2015-

The government has decided to allow private industry, non-governmental and international organisations, schools and other similar bodies to import fuel for their own use over the next three months. It is clear that this is a move born of desperation. This decision means that the government has admitted that it cannot do much to address the continuing crisis of fuel and other essential commodities. In effect, the government is also telling the Nepali people and groups that they would do well to fend for themselves at this difficult time. Nonetheless, some groups, including the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries, have cautiously welcomed the decision. There is recognition that it will not be easy for private entities to bring in goods, since there are still restrictions at border points and Indian authorities will be reluctant to allow private entities to transport fuel. At the same time, however, private groups have been given a bit more freedom. At least they do not have to be burdened by the government’s callously enforced bureaucratic red tape.

However, there should be no mistaking that this 

decision consists of a major abdication of responsibility by the government and it could very well have 

serious fallout on larger society in the days ahead. Given the history of the Nepali state, it seems quite likely that the government will now say that it is no longer its responsibility to ensure efficient movement of supplies and that private organisations and individuals should take care of such matters themselves. A similar situation occurred in the aftermath of the April earthquake. While the government allowed some non-governmental organisations to work in the earthquake-affected areas, it came up with other decisions saying that those who had benefited from such aid had lost their right to receive anything from the government. Civil society will have to be cautious and ensure that the government does not take this opportunity to shirk its responsibilities yet again. 

In addition, there is a danger that the new decision will enable a further expansion and flourishing 

of the black market. There is now a well-established black market for essential goods in Nepal. Fuel and gas are being sold for exorbitant prices, well beyond the reach of a common Nepali. Sadly, the authorities have not been able to do much to control this market. Allowing private entities to import fuel would mean an easing on whatever restrictions that currently exist, but it also allows unscrupulous entrepreneurs to bring in fuel to sell at massive profits. Needless to say, such a situation will only benefit the wealthy and the powerful. The poor will be badly hit as they will not be able to buy fuel at high prices. 

There is thus an urgent need to regulate the black market. The government cannot run away from carrying out its responsibilities, more so in times of crisis. Measures to ensure private entrepreneurship and ease fuel supplies are welcome but this should not be allowed to turn into a license for further abdication of responsibility and corruption.

Published: 24-12-2015 09:43

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