The recently held International General Assembly of the Non-Resident Nepali Association has elected Bhaban Bhatta as president of NRNA till 2019. Bhatta, who has been associated with the non-resident Nepali movement since the beginning, had started his journey in NRNA as an executive member of the adhoc committee in 2003 while the organisation was being established and has served in various posts of the International Coordination Council of NRNA. Bhatta has been living in Japan for the last 21 years. He owns a chain of restaurants and a resort in Japan. Bhatta has investments in various sectors in Nepal too such as hospitality, media, brewery, education and aviation sectors, among others. After being elected as NRNA president, Bhatta said that he would try his best to channelise even small funds from diaspora community by designing a common investment vehicle. Pushpa Raj Acharya of The Himalayan Times caught up with Bhatta to talk on how he plans to take the NRNA forward under his leadership. Excerpts:

The country has high expectations from the diaspora community as they could be a good catalyst in achieving economic prosperity. How do you plan to utilise the strength of Non-Resident Nepali Association to support the Nepali society’s desire of economic prosperity?

It is obvious that society always looks for change and has expectations from potential actors. We know that the Nepali society has a lot of expectations from the NRN community and we have tried to make people understand on things that we can do and what we cannot. I think we raised the expectations of the Nepali society in the beginning of the NRN movement but we have not been able to fulfil those expectations accordingly. This is why we have started to promise small and manageable things rather than talking about big projects. Despite that there is expectation from the diaspora community and the country also can take advantage by utilising the skills, knowledge and financial resources of this community, which I think has been utilised to a large extent so far. It has been around one-and-a-half decades since the NRN movement began and we have become quite mature now. We have been working together with various stakeholders including the private sector umbrella bodies and the government. We have always focused on ‘what to do next’ but we have never given a thought to ‘what we could do together’ with our stakeholders for the betterment of society and to attain the common goal of economic prosperity of the nation. As the president of NRNA, my focus will be to work together with stakeholders to achieve substantial output from the contribution of the diaspora community in the country. We need support from the political parties, government, private sector, and every actor of the society who aspire for change for the development of the Nepali society and we believe that we can bring about substantial changes by working together.

After being elected as NRNA president you said that the association would design a vehicle to provide investment opportunity to every NRN who wants to contribute to the economic development of the country. But the concept of collective investment was initiated by your predecessors and it has been ineffective till date. How do you plan to bring even small funds from the diaspora community?

The concept of collective investment was not ineffective. We have initiated the Dordi Khola Hydropower Project through collective investment of NRNs and there are several other projects in the pipeline. I have revamped the idea of collective investment, which will give an opportunity to every NRN to invest in projects initiated by NRNA. We will design the common investment vehicle for every NRN through which we will create a basket fund by showcasing the projects and those willing to invest in the particular project can make investments in particular projects. We are planning equity investment from NRNs for projects and are also looking to mobilise funds from the Nepali people through initial public offerings. We will also discuss with the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Confederation of Nepalese Industries and Nepal Chamber of Commerce on how NRNA can work together with them to raise the quality of infrastructure and improve the investment climate because these are critical for the Nepali economy to leap forward. We need to seriously work together with the government to improve the investment climate and quality of infrastructure as well as to bridge the yawning gap in infrastructure development to unleash the country’s economic potential.

Are there any projects that NRNA has to showcase to attract investment from the diaspora community?

Infrastructure projects like hydropower and roads could be potential areas but we do not have particular projects right now. We are not thinking of big projects. We will seek investments in other areas like establishing a cleaning company because Khem’s Cleaning Pty Ltd, a company promoted by the NRN community, is currently responsible for cleaning the Tribhuvan International Airport and it has shown exemplary performance. The government had invested millions in the past for the aforementioned purpose but was unable to achieve the desired result. But recently NRNA took the initiative and we have been doing a better job with an investment of just one million rupees collected from the NRN community. We think Nepal has remained underdeveloped due to lack of managerial capacity. Apart from a few infrastructure projects, we may select even small projects like airport cleaning to invest in from common investment of NRNs which we believe will deliver quality results.

You have stressed on the need for improvement in investment climate and proper infrastructure to unleash the economic potential of the country. What should the government do to improve the investment climate?

The government should lower the tax rates for NRN investments, which could be catalytic to bring in foreign investment. Dual taxation avoidance agreement with countries that are potential source nations for NRNs as well as foreign investment should be given due priority. I have been living in Japan since the last two decades and what I have seen in Japan is prudent management in every sector, which we lack in Nepal. We need to keep things in order to deliver. Kulman Ghising of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) is an example of an efficient manager. He has ensured regular electricity supply through efficient management of the demand side even though the quantum of electricity supplied now is equal to that in previous years. This is why management is important. There should be prudent public service delivery and efficient regulatory regime. Currently, Nepal has deficit of around 200 megawatts to end load shedding but it is not possible to generate that amount of power in two years. To help NEA in load management, NRNA has decided to provide 10 million power-efficient LED bulbs within two years. Saving electricity in a way is an income for the country as money that will be spent to purchase electricity from India will be saved. We have not announced this programme to gain popularity but it is with a pious objective to be a partner of NEA’s brighter Nepal campaign. Regular electricity supply is also a critical factor to help build investor confidence and NRNA is willing to support moves initiated to improve the doing business climate in the country.

The NRN movement started one-and-a-half decades back and it has a network of people who can contribute in Nepal through their knowledge, skills and capital. What plans does NRNA have to make optimum utilisation of these aspects?

We can contribute in various areas. We have top-notch scientists, doctors and engineers among other professionals in our network and the objective of the NRN movement is to contribute to the motherland. Now we are working to connect the second generation diaspora community with Nepal because the country can reap benefit of their skills, expertise and creativity in the coming days. Things are happening but we know it is at a very slow pace. We are trying to do more by utilising our network. The unified contribution of NRN community for the development of Nepal is my priority.  We will also take forward the social works and philanthropic works together with our other programmes. I am thinking of developing NRNA as ‘smart’ NRNA. Smart NRNA means working together with the optimum use of technology. For example, we are thinking of developing at least one hospital in each rural municipality and connecting them with one big hospital so they can provide health care services to rural people through telemedicine. Use of technology to achieve optimum results is the concept of smart NRNA and I will give due priority to it.

–  By Pushpa Raj Acharya for THT

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