It was an ironic coincidence that the week Nepal hosted its Investment Summit, the country signed an MoU with Japan for the export of Nepali skilled workers. Also last week we saw photographs of thousands of young Nepali men sleeping out in the open as they waited in line for Korean language tests which they need to pass to work in Korea. Nepal’s long-awaited G2G deal with Malaysia that will remove labour middlemen will soon come into effect.
As Nepal woos investors to create employment at home, overseas countries are vying for our cheap labour. This trend will only increase as East Asian countries age, and as traditional labour-exporting countries like the Philippines and our South Asian neighbours attain higher standards of living.
If all the new energy, infrastructure and tourism FDI projects committed at the Nepal Investment Summit actually come through, we are surely going to need the workforce here at home.
Officials at the Summit vowed that no Nepali youth will now have to seek jobs abroad. That is hyperbole. It is also duplicitous. A government that is promising huge employment opportunities at home is signing deals with Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Qatar to export our youth.
This is likely to go one for some time as Nepal is already addicted to remittance revenue to sustain the economy, pay for imports of everything from to vegetable to fruits. For now, about the only arena where remittance inflows have shown an impact is in driving up land prices in Kathmandu and urban centres.
If we want to see Nepal ‘developed’ in our lifetimes, we shall have to aggressively go out into the world and recruit. Many hotels, international non-profits, foreign-aided projects and bilateral and multilateral agencies already have foreigners as heads. To push this line of argument further, if Nepalis can serve in the British and Indian armies and the Singapore Commandos, why not a Japanese or Korean heading an irrigation or hydropower project in Nepal?
We can already offers jobs to the Japanese and Koreans in Nepal. Proof of whether the Investment Summit was really successful to generate $30 billion will be if Nepal finally turns into a country that offers employment to Koreans and Japanese. Workers from India and China already have jobs in Nepal, and in fact Nepal is the country that is the sixth largest source of remittances for India.
Given that the summit is organised every two years and every day of the past two years at least 1,500 Nepalis left for work overseas, we need to start thinking of reversing the flow. No more is it time for afno manche or hamro party ko manche, Nepal now needs ramro manche from all over the world.
When Nepal Airlines presses its new Airbus 330 flights to Incheon and Kansai the seats should be booked both ways. Investment is also about technology transfer, and induction of skilled human resources — Nepal needs trained and experienced human capital that helped build the modern Japanese and Korean economies.
This would be a perfect match, and one that Nepal can take full advantage of. They benefit from the energy of the young Nepali, and we profit from their experience. Further, Nepal always seems to have money to hire more police and administrative staff but not the technical and managerial people who can build this country. Buying cars for the government and politicians is done in an instant, while we hem and haw about procuring the services of qualified managers and technicians.
Like many other countries, Nepal has embraced the idea of the free flow of goods and services. We have benefitted from the one-way free flow of human capital as well, now we need to reciprocate and relax our work visas. The real advantage of hiring globally will also be to get inside knowledge about how to do business in those countries. We would know, for example, what to grow, how to process and export value-added agricultural products from the Himalaya to Japan or Korea.
At social gatherings and in private communications, Nepalis who are likely to oppose the idea of reciprocity will tell you proudly how their children are now earning lots of money working abroad. Why should we deny this opportunity to those who are in the host countries? We need them now. We may not have this need in the future. Let us all watch carefully who gets hired to head FDI projects. We can go for Nepali afno manche first, but then let us do a global search.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc