KATHMANDU, March 20: At a time when the COVID-19 menace looms over the economic life of the country, the big corporate houses appear to be taking a back seat in the exercise of social responsibility.
The private sector is indeed hard hit by the downfall in business and the government needs to provide them special relief packages at the moment. However, the big corporate houses that have profited hugely in more normal days cannot shy away from going hand in hand with the government in these times of crisis. At such times, they are expected to just sustain their business rather than making a killing.
Exceptionally, the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) on Wednesday handed over 10,000 face masks and 250 sets of personal protective gear to the government. This is probably a singular case of the exercise of corporate social responsibility amid the gathering COVID-19 menace. Apart from this, no such help has been forthcoming.
Meanwhile, the government has announced some packages, albeit in small volume, to help private companies weather the financial difficulties the current crisis is likely to bring.
Speaking at a press meet on Thursday, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada said the government has started studying the financial losses that have overtaken private companies, and on the basis of its findings it would bring in relief packages. Likewise, Nepal Rastra Bank has also spoken about rescheduling loans and introducing refinancing facilities for troubled firms.
But the profit-making domestic businesses have remained nearly silent when it comes to providing any relief to the public. In the wider world, there are instances of private firms readily stepping in to fight back the impact of the coronavirus.
Silicon Valley philanthropists Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates recently announced new attempts to expand testing for the novel coronavirus in their local areas. Zuckerberg’s CZI Biohub has announced that it would purchase two clinical diagnostic machines to quadruple the capacity for testing and diagnosing possible cases of the disease in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said this week that it is going to fund its own testing kits that people in the Seattle area can use at home and send in for analysis, reports international media.
Economist Deependra Bahadur Kshetry said now is the time for private firms to show their sense of corporate social responsibility. “Apart from maintaining smooth supply chains, they should lend their expertise to the government to minimize the risks and do so without expecting anything in return,” he said.
Pashupati Murarka, past president of the FNCCI, said however that the private sector has been cooperating with the government to soften the impact of current situation. “Although we have not announced any financial offers, private firms have acted promptly to manufacture face masks and sanitizers and help prevent a shortage of these health kits,” he said.
Private firms are also helping to maintain a smooth supply of essentials and prevent any black marketing, Murarka claimed.
“As a result, there is no shortage of essentials in the market and prices have also remained fairly stable,” he said, adding that the private sector, apart from the tourism business, is keen not to cut the workforce even in the current business slump.