With the May deadline for the constitution looming, our legislators will be burning the midnight oil again. However, with national attention focused on the constitution, we forget that the parliament is also responsible for addressing state bills and policies and endorsing necessary reforms.
Perhaps it's wrong to expect any extra effort from our lawmakers, who have failed to complete their primary task even after several extensions of the deadline. But it's been over a year since any major bill facilitating trade and commerce was endorsed by the parliament. In fact, over two dozen acts and policies pertaining to the business sector have been collecting dust in the parliament and ministries, some for over five years.
With changes in local and international business dynamics and technological transformation it is essential to review existing laws and introduce new policies. Acts and policies, and their reviews are drafted by the concerned ministries, forwarded to the government which then tables it at the parliament for endorsement. However, in Nepal's case, this route seems to take years to complete. Our economy is forced to run on guidelines that are more than two decades old in some cases.
More than three months into the "Investment Year", our Foreign Trade Regulation Act and Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Policy are still under review. Also under inspection are the Intellectual Property Policy and Anti-dumping Act. According to UNCTAD's latest World Investment Report, Nepal is in the bottom rung alongside Afghanistan, North Korea and Bhutan when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment. FDI commitment to the country declined by 48.35 per cent in 2010-11. Among other factors, bureaucratic hurdles and unclear policies discourage foreign investors. The review is expected to comb out unnecessary clutter from the policies and streamline the investment process. If we want the investment year to bear fruits, we must expedite the review method.
Hydropower, our most prized investment sector has received much attention. But the proposed Electricity Act and the Electricity Regulatory Commission Act, prepared in 2008 and registered in the parliament in 2009, are pending. The Industrial Enterprise Act is dated 1992 and has not moved forward from the review stage for years. Garment manufacturers and exporters have been seeking speedy approval of the bill for setting up two Special Economic Zones for garment, carpet and handicraft industries. The bill has been awaiting the parliament's approval for the past three years. Bills relating to labour, competition, quality standardisation, property and asset management are also pending.
Bills have not been passed even when we are bound by our pledges to international organisations. Nepal narrowly escaped being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, the global anti-money laundering watchdog for not endorsing three bills- Mutual Legal Assistance Bill, Extradition Bill and Bill Against Organised Crime two months ago. The bills have still not been passed and as the extended deadline ends, we are bound to run into trouble again. Our Bank and Financial Institution Act has not set the operational guidelines either for international banks which are scheduled to enter the Nepali market soon.
The lack of political will to make the economy a priority and push for timely reforms is preventing these bills from being approved. The only area where there is no backlog is tax laws, which are conveniently changed with the budget. The private sector has been lobbying for the endorsement of these bills. But in order to have a more conducive business and trade environment, our lawmakers need to be pressurised. Of course, this doesn't mean every bill in question should be given the green light in a hurry. But what can be completed in a few days, should not take five years.