Vishnu Kumar Agrawal has recently taken the leadership of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI), one of the leading private sector bodies of Nepal. As the new president of the CNI, Agrawal, who is the Managing Director of MAW Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., has a challenging job ahead to lead the private sector in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as making the CNI’s flagship programme ‘Make in Nepal’ a success. The HRM Magazine sat with Agrawal to talk about the impacts of the pandemic in the Nepali private sector and economy, the CNI’s plans to help revive the economy, post-pandemic challenges, and opportunities for the Nepali economy.
How do you see the prospect of Nepal’s economic recovery from the pandemic-induced slowdown? How effective are the arrangements in the budget and monetary policy for economic recovery?
The Covid-19 vaccination in Nepal has gathered noticeable momentum. And, I am very hopeful within few months, as promised by the State Minister for Health Umesh Lal Shrestha, we would be able to get a large number of general public vaccinated. This will bring us to a threshold where we will be in a safe zone. And, this would be one of the very important things for the recovery of the economy.
After the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown imposed to control it, I am now seeing things are picking up. Although we are yet to return to normalcy, the signs are promising. Industries are now operating and shops are now open and most of the restrictions are gone. The good thing is, we are able to give at least the first dose of vaccines to almost half of the population.
With the new government, there are talks of a replacement budget very soon. As far as monetary policy is concerned, the last fiscal year (2020/21)’s policy played a crucial role to provide a positive environment to business people. The central bank gave facilities to restructure the loans as well as refinancing to businesses badly hit by the pandemic. The current monetary policy also continued these facilities. Although, we were asking for the refinancing for medium and large industries to be taken care of. However, that has not been taken care of. But I feel the monetary policy for the current fiscal year overall will be good for the private sector and would be able to propel the growth.
How do you envision taking CNI forward and help the government in the country’s economic revival? What plans do you have in this regard?
As a private sector body, CNI can play a very important role as far as the formulation of policies is concerned. Industrialization of the country is one of the focus areas of CNI. The manufacturing sector today contributes only 5 percent to the country’s GDP, which if we compare with other countries, is very small. I strongly feel that the industrialization of the country will help in creating more jobs and employment. Hence, it is our focus area and we are going to lobby with the government also.
How is CNI moving ahead with its ‘Make in Nepal’ campaign?
The ‘Make in Nepal’ campaign is one of the very important initiatives that CNI has undertaken which goes with the objective of industrialization of Nepal and the creation of jobs. We have taken very specific objectives under this campaign, which is to increase registration of industries by 1000 every year, creating 1.5 million new jobs every year, by increasing the contribution of the manufacturing/industrial sector to the GDP and increasing our exports to NRs. 400 billion within the next four years. With these things in mind, we have gone ahead with this campaign. In these specific areas, we have created 34 numbers of interventions that are required at the policy level. For those 34 interventions, we are going to do deep dive and going to come out with suggestions and going to implement this, and going to lobby with the government. And, the good part is that the government has taken it very positively, and their objectives match with the ‘Make in Nepal’ campaign.
What challenges and opportunities do you think are there for Nepal’s economy post-pandemic? What kind of preparedness do we need for the post-pandemic world?
First, we should be able to survive this pandemic. Though this is a difficult time, survival is one of the most important things. For that, the government through monetary policy has come out with a lot of issues. If we are able to sustain this period, we should use this time to develop our capabilities and digitalize our businesses.
Currently, it takes a lot of time to register the industry, start the business.
So, if we are able to work on these agendas i.e, making doing businesses easier, and going digitalized, it will give good confidence to us (private sector). In nutshell, this is the time to initiate policy reform and digitization of the economy.
Strains have been seen in the industrial relations in the sectors like hospitality and tourism most affected by the covid crisis. Is this occurring across all sectors or is just limited to some sectors only? How do you think the disputes between employers and employees could be settled to keep the industrial relationship intact?
The sectors which are more affected are aviation, tourism, hospitality, MSMEs and, public transport. And, in these areas, employment is also an issue. But the rest of the sectors are not hugely impacted. They may be in medium or low-impact areas.
I don’t think there are many issues related to employment in medium or low impacted sectors. They have been able to manage these issues and sustain.
As for the sectors majorly hit by the Covid-19, we are taking up the issues with the government, both at the policy level and individual level.
How has the pandemic affected the human resource sides of industries and businesses?
Human resources (HR) was hugely impacted at one point in time. Barring few sectors, the situation is improving now in most of the industries/sectors. If you see the advertisement in daily newspapers, we can see new hirings are happening and jobs are being created. And, businesses are also thinking of expansion and growth.
What are the lessons learned for the private sector from this Covid-19 pandemic?
We have been able to improve our efficiency in terms of cost and in terms of production. Secondly, the digitization of the economy has happened. Payments have been digitalized. In spite of setbacks on the balance sheet side, these are the capabilities development that has happened.
Many migrant workers have returned to Nepal after the start of the pandemic one and a half years ago. What is needed to be done to utilize this workforce in the country?
We have started a skill development initiative in the CNI whereby we are trying to develop skills, so they can be easily absolved by the industries. Instead of looking for people elsewhere, we can get the workforce in Nepal. It will help in the creation of jobs. The CNI has signed MoU with UKaid Skills for Employment to expand an apprenticeship-based job creation campaign called Skill for Nepal. The collaboration intends to work together to enhance transformational enterprise-driven partnerships to propel the growth of employment and enterprise growth opportunities in priority sectors across Nepal, such as commercial agriculture, light manufacturing, tourism, ICT, and construction.