The aim of lighting up South Asia with Nepal’s hydropower can wait
Bonuses. That’s what they all seem to be after. Well, I am talking about the workforce at Nepal’s ever-reliable public enterprises like Nepal Electricity Authority, Nepal Telecom and Nepal Oil Corporation. Recently, there was much hype in the media about NOC management’s efforts to distribute a small fortune to its staff in bonuses for their ‘great performance’. While the NOC side said they deserved it for excellent services, others outside the company said they most certainly should not get it. The outsiders suggested, and rightly in my view, that NOC use the profits to improve its infrastructure.
Isn’t this ironic? I mean NOC is a public enterprise that imports petroleum products, keeps its cut, and only then supplies these products to distributors, passing the added cost to the helpless motorists. The more oil it sells, the more profit it garners in a country that is ‘rich’ in water resources (though taps often run dry in its cities and villages). The country can, theoretically, produce thousands of megawatts of electricity to light up not just Nepal but also many parts of South Asia.
As the recent Indian blockade showed, NOC does not have adequate infrastructure to store petroleum products and deal with emergencies like blockades for, say, six months.
In this context, instead of eyeing bonuses and other perks, NOC staff should focus on developing facilities that can store huge quantities of petroleum products, for you never know when the next blockade will happen! (Or perhaps the NOC staffers do.)
You may ask: What’s wrong in taxing motorists as they are all affluent folks? Well, most of the motorists may not be that affluent, after all. Most, I am sure, would opt for public transport if there was an efficient and reliable public transport system in place. Basically, these people have been buying and using private vehicles by paying heavy taxes because of the state’s inability to develop a public transport system that caters to their needs. And why would it when our ministers and top bureaucrats are free to import SUVs from taxpayer money?
This means motorists have been paying for the absence of the state as a regulator in a transport system where syndicates have long ruled the proverbial roost.
In a country so ‘rich’ in water resources, PEs like NOC should, in the long run, invest whatever profit they accumulate in generating hydropower so that Nepal is one day completely free from load-shedding. Electricity is greener and cheaper, at least compared to the dirty fossil fuels. So, why should we not go green and reduce our carbon footprint? Just so those at NEA can continue to collect their fat checks and bonuses?
The aim of lighting up the whole of South Asia by exporting Nepal’s hydropower through the satellite, the dream of an exceptionally visionary former prime minister, can wait, at least for now. At this juncture, the idea is to reduce our energy dependence on other countries. We can, of course, dream big if are able to get rid of the scourge of power outage completely.
Now more about NEA and NT. These days, in my neighborhood in Nagarjun municipality, electricity supply tends to go off abruptly now and then. I have talked to a number of people in Kathmandu to see whether this problem is prevalent only in my locality. I find that they are all facing the same problem. Is there some foul play that aims to undo what NEA Chief Kul Man Ghising has done? I know not.
One of these days, telephone line also went dead at my home, taking me offline.
Repeated complaints at 198 and some other helplines did not help. So, one day, I went to the NT exchange at Chhauni from where I got this gem of information from a top official: The official said 150 lines at my locality had gone dead because some NEA staffers had cut off phone cables that passed through the poles belonging to the NEA!
While I had gone there to lodge my complaint, I, a helpless member of the public, ended up receiving NT’s complaint! The official lamented to me thus: ‘We pay them for using their electric poles, and still they do this to us’. How do you reply to that?
Soon after the telephonic disaster, power supply also went off and I started to wonder if NT staffs were paying back their NEA counterparts with the same coin. Whatever the case, consumers were again at the receiving end.
It’s public knowledge that officials at NEA and NT are also not shy when it comes to staking their claim on unearned bonuses and other perks, whenever there is an opportunity, by pointing that they have done this and that. Despite their claims, these days, electricity goes off abruptly and so does the phone line. Is it only because of windy weather conditions? In case of electricity, is inverter mafia again trying to disrupt power supply and aspiring to make way for prolonged power outage? Those at the helm of affairs at NEA probably know better.
While staffers at these PEs seldom fail to claim more pay, bonuses and perks, no one comes to the fore when it comes to claiming responsibility for losses arising from unannounced power cuts and disruption in telephony—like breakdown of machines, loss of business, useless trips to PE offices, so on and so forth.
This tendency of claiming benefits and shrugging off responsibility should stop, once and for all. Carrot is fine for excellent service delivery; but these people should also get sticks if they fail to do their jobs properly. It works both ways.
These state monopolies, long used to claiming bonuses and fat paychecks, should be made to pay for losses to the public arising from disruption in services in which they enjoy monopoly. Only then can one expect to get excellent services from these entities. Or am I too optimistic in hoping that these seasoned public sector employees can change their time-worn ways?