Breaking the cartels

  • Govt action against transport cartels welcome but it shouldn’t exceed its bounds in all areas

May 7, 2018-

Rarely in recent Nepali history has the government taken as firm an action as it has been doing in recent days against the transport syndicates. Associations of transport entrepreneurs went on strike after the government made a decision to ban their syndicates. These syndicates have stubbornly opposed competition in the market and consumers have been forced to make do with poor services.

The transport cartels’ strike against the government’s move was expected to cause widespread hardship to the population. But the government acted swiftly. It took leaders of the strike into detention, stating clearly that they had illegally attempted to hamper essential services. It also cancelled route permits for vehicles belonging to those who participated in the strike. And it has been steadily issuing new permits. These steps have made an impact. The Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE) has backed down. It has called off the protests and has asked the government to create a ‘conducive environment’ for negotiations—a clear indication that it has relented in the face of strong government action and widespread public support for the government’s move.

The government has been both weak and unstable for most of the past decade and more. As a result, it hasn’t been able to fulfil some of its responsibilities, such as adequately regulating various bodies in society. Unsurprisingly, numerous associations of entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this lacuna. Syndicates and cartels in almost every section of the private sector created regulations that allowed for the establishment of monopolies. They prevented competition from new entrants, and provided shoddy services for high prices. The government’s efforts to wrest greater control over syndicates and cartels has thus been long overdue. We hope that recent steps will bring major reforms and improvements to the transport sector. We also hope that the government will take action against other syndicates and cartels, too—many of which have historically been supported by influential political leaders.

At the same time, however, we would like to caution against the official overreach.  The government can legitimately intervene in areas where there is clearly an abuse of authority, such as in the transport sector. However, influential political leaders might feel the temptation to use highhanded tactics against organisations and civil society groups simply because they don’t like them for various reasons, or view them as rivals. This would be a grave mistake.

The government has so far received public support for its actions. But public opinion could easily turn against it if it is seen to be taking action against societal groups solely due to political disagreements or because of vested interests. There are already some worrying signs that at least some members of the ruling left alliance seem to believe that any opposition to the government is unhelpful for governance and hence needs to be curtailed.

For example, there have been steps taken to prevent protests in certain areas of the capital.

While monitoring certain areas deemed sensitive to security is understandable, there are risks that the idea of ‘good governance’ could be unduly stretched. It should be said that broad attacks on non-state groups will constitute an attack on democracy. While the government is legitimately entitled to curtail organisations that abuse their authority, as the transport syndicates had in the recent case, it should be careful not to exceed the bounds allowed by democratic norms.

Published: 07-05-2018 06:58

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