If you mention any sector that is worst affected and debilitated by reason of political conflict, partisan oriented bickering and lawlessness in the country, it is, most probably, the industry and business sector. If you talk with any entrepreneur – big or small - from any part of the country, he or she will share an endless list of problems and hardships faced down the road. The problems stem from the flawed policy or lack of enabling rules and regulations, bureaucratic ineptitude, lawlessness and impunity, strikes and agitations, poor civic amenities and decrepit infrastructure including load shedding, constricted market base and so on. Many enterprises or plants have been closed down while others are partly operational. Some that operate are also hit due to erratic power outage and politically motivated strikes, slowdowns and closures.
Size and scale of business does not matter much when it comes to discerning problems and hindrances straining the business sector. The issues are similar and inchoate. Most of them spring from bad and meddlesome politics while others result from the lethargy, inefficiency and opacity in the functioning of the public sector. According to a news report, a program supported by The Asia Foundation organized meetings of the small entrepreneurs in four locations - Biratnagar, Pokhara, Butwal and Nepalgunj – recently to discuss and ascertain the problems and issues faced by them. They listed general and sector specific problems and issues. According to the report, the enterpereneurs’ list mostly related to policy, infrastructure, services and governance as hinted above. It is found that some local problems and issues owe their genesis to flawed policy whereas some policy issues falter because of lack of implementation at the local level.
However, not all the problems and issues are irresoluble or cannot be tackled at the local level. They can be handled or redressed through dialogue and communicative action among the stakeholders concerned. Some issues that strain the business and industrial sector are purely local or operational that have resulted from the neglect and apathy of the public service providers while others are due to absence of communication, dialogue and engagement between the public and private sector. The Business Climate Perception Survey Report (unpublished) conducted by Interdisciplinary Analysts (IDA) in cooperation with Institute of Governance and Development (IGD) reveals the prevailing reality as it states that the private sector is neither consulted while conceiving and designing policy and framing programmes nor informed of the policy issues, changes and relevant communications(circulars) issued by the government agencies affecting the enterprises from time to time. The only government authority that mostly comes into contact with the private enterprises is the Inland Revenue Department (IRD). This indicates that the government carries out the extractive and predatory functions more than the responsive and regulatory ones. The service providers and regulators such as municipalities, DDCs, line agency offices concerned are remote and far removed without contact of and interaction with private enterprises.
Problems lie more in the lack of contacts, dialogues and interfaces than in the complexity and character of the issues. Some issues of local scale and nature can be operationally defined and resolved if private entrepreneurs and public service providers come together to understand, own the problems and share their responsibilities and resources to address them in a collaborative manner. New paradigm of positive relationship and engagement has, therefore, to be fashioned to take cognizance of the fact that problems and issues can be resolved through dialogic process, not through recourse to the dialectic process. Underneath the dialectic process lies the conflictive attitude and behavior characterized by antagonistic interests and irreconcilable contradictions. But the dialogic process rests on the premise of appreciation and co-ownership of the problems and issues.
This is validated and corroborated, according to a news report, by the dialogues and interfaces facilitated between private entrepreneurs and public service providers recently in Butwal, Biratnagar and Nepalgunj. Firstly, private sector meeting was held to share and identify the pressing, doable and urgent tasks and problems faced by the local entrepreneurs. The local needs and issues were identified and listed in order. The urgent, appropriate and feasible of them were singled out. The private sector entrepreneurs discussed the issues thoroughly by themselves to ferret the possible solutions as perceived and understood by them. The issue was then presented to the public agency concerned amicably in an ambient dialogic setting.
A dialogue definitely calls for an adequate preparation accompanied by a deft, easy and non-directive facilitation. Once both private and public sector engage in dialogue in an appropriate ambience they get to know about and appreciate each other’s needs, interests, constraints, capacity and concerns. Finally, in most of the cases if they are doable and backed by the mandate conferred to the local agency concerned, the problems and issues are addressed. For example in Rupendehi, the concerned governing agency agreed to implement a customized skill based training on hotel enterprises management for the owners while in Banke the municipality started to clear garbage and wastes causing pollution or negatively affecting the operation of the small enterprises especially in the locations they are concentrated. Moreover, in Biratnagar, the local apiculturists had been delivered training, for the first time, to scale up their operation for honey production in a commercial scale.
Besides, many more regulatory and governance issues are on the anvil to be thrashed out in the public-private dialogue in the time to come. It shows that problems and issues can be properly assessed, identified, prioritized and addressed though interfaces and dialogues between the public and privates sector. This experience can be useful to resolve issues at the macro level if the government and business sector engage in positive dialogue and interfaces. After so much of conflict and hostility have affected our politics, business and development in the country, let us give participatory dialogue and interfaces a meaningful chance to sort out problems and issues stalking the country.