Interviews

 

 

 

Bijaya Krishna Shrestha
Muni Sakya

   


Leading Country to a High-Tech Track

 

Published in CORE, Jul/Aug, 95

 

"The Middle East has oil, Nepal has vast hydel potential. The water may be free, but unfortunately everything else that is required to harness it costs massive amount of money: dams, roads, generating equipment, transmission lines. Carpet, ready-made garments and tourism have Generated employment to some extent, but there is no sector in Nepal offering adequate employment to the educated manpower. How can Nepal survive in the long run?"

 

There is a great shortage of computer professionals in the world but Nepal is in the process of developing a surplus of computer manpower. Because even doctors and engineers are today unemployed in Nepal, the coming generation seems to have primarily switched-to computer education. Where will be the jobs for them?”

 

These are the words of Mr. Bijaya Krishna Shrestha who has been working in the field of electronics and computer in Nepal for the last the last two decades. He is the founder of Beltronix, a leading electronics and computers engineering  company. "When I started, only a few computer existed in Nepal: Data Systems International, MlPS, Mercantile. Some of these companies used to consult Beltronix on matters dealing with electronics", Mr. Shrestha the father of three sons, recalls his past. After five-six years of establishment of Beltronix, he entered into the computer industry to expand his business. “Being involved in only one sector in Nepal, it is really hard to survive”, he says. In 1992, Beltronix opened up a branch in Patan.
 

Export of Software Services

“NEPAL shoudl give priority to the export of software services”, Mr. Shestha gives his opinion. “ I hardly foresee the traditional forms of development working in Nepal. Computer software services could be the answer for the rapid development of Nepal. "He realizes that Nepal should initially emphasize on development of software services rather than software export which requires specialized manpower, much more efforts and wide experience. Examples of computer services are: data entry, digitization, GIS and DT.P.  "In the Third World countries, labor rate is low and that comparative advantage needs to be exploited. By doing labor intensive work of Western computer companies such as typing text of 'Help' file and DTP work of software manual, we' can work in tandem with those companies and solve our unemployment and underemployment problem".

 

“We can take an example of Singapore. Although it is a sea-locked, resource starved country of the size of Kathmandu valley, it made a target of becoming an information technology island and has become the third richest country of the world in dollar reserves. I think we' have much to learn from Singapore", the chief engineer of Beltronix with valuable working experiences at National Semiconductor Corp., Santa Clara, California, USA, and General land, Illinois, Electric Corporation, Cleveland IISA, suggests.

 

"In the SAARC region, Nepal is growing as the preferred centre for regional activities. We should try to capitalize on this strength and build on it further. Today's satellite, telecommunications and computer technology finally frees us from the shackles of the problems steaming from landlockness of our country. However, the role of Nepal. Tele-communications Corporation becomes very crucial", he suggests.

 

He was a member of the non-government initiated task force for the Development of Informatics, formed under the Vice Chancellor of RONAST. The taskforce also conducted a field survey in Bangalore, India. "That trip completely changed my perspective on the computer software and services sector. It made me realize the potential of this sector as the key to the development of Nepal. Nepal should reorient its priorities towards this." He shares his impressions.
“Taskforce explored the potential of software development and software services in Nepal. The National Planning Commission was very supportive and had even undertaken a joint site-selection survey. The former government had allocated Rs. ten crores for the development of Technology Park. Unfortunately the government changed and we are back to square-one. Unless political stability comes, the idea is on hold, the economy is on hold and even the whole country is on hold", he recollects.

 

Government Policies for Import of Computers

Born on 7th Nov., 1948 in Kathmandu. He was Senior Cambridge student from St. Xaviers and a board 3rd in I.Sc. from Amrit Science. How does he feel about the government policy for import of computers?
"In the past, computers were a controlled commodity with limited quotas on which the government collected premiums by auctioning off the import license. After liberalization, open general license system has been in practice as a result of which the import of computers into Nepal went up fourfold and is still rising. However the valuation process of import items is not at all realistic, not reflecting the dynamic situation peculiar to electronics and computers where things get bigger and better but cheaper very fast. Government officials fail to understand this, as in every other case, prices go up from general inflation or currency fluctuations."

 

Computer Sales

There are two types of computer vendors in Nepal. One represents an international company and promotes its brands in Nepal and the Other brings in computer parts assembles a computer and sells them as assembled or clone computer.

 

What is Beltronix doing regarding the representation of a brand of computer? "Having the reputation of a solid engineering service company, we are not eager to join the rat race between different brands and push only a particular brand on our customers just to meet the quota. We are more interested in tailoring our offerings to the needs of our customers. Furthermore branded computers eventually need branded spare parts, which are generally hard to find by the time they wear out.”

 

"The West call afford to dispose their computers as the technology advances and buy new ones. But in country like Nepal with scarce resources, throwing computers away after using it for a couple of years is unthinkable. This is also true with laptops and notebooks. Therefore we feel that fully tested computers with completely interchangeable parts are a much better investment in the Nepalese context", the Chief Engineer of Beltronix stresses.

 

Quality Education and Training Institutes

Every corner of the country saw the emergence of computer training institutes over the last five years. But have these institutes been successful in producing qualified, trained work force? How does the graduate from University of Detroit Michigan, USA (1971) in Bachelor of Electrical Engineering feel about this?

 

"There are always good and bad sides to anything. The private sector is responding with numerous training institutes which is good because there is a great demand and need for such training course among the job holders and job seekers. However, the potential student at these computer institutes is confused by their conflicting claims. Students have no idea which courses they should take or how much to pay for the quality. So there is a requirement of standardization and gradation of these institutes. "Mr. Shrestha has a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) from Southern Illinois (University, Carbondale, Illinois, IISA(1972). He perceives, "This is entirely a new for the government to handle. Also, trying to put absolute control over the system can make the matters worse. For instance, if Tribhuvan University or Ministry of Education was given responsibility, then it may instead ruin the market.

 

"He further expresses, "the government could put in voluntary standardization package for the training institutes like 'Nepal Standard' system which is not mandatory. Government has appointed Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) to formulate polices for this sector but being a new organization itself they seem to be covering other areas first. CAN has a committee working on this sector. It had organized a seminar on Computer Education and Training, which also discussed the issues of quality control and standardization." "Computer literacy has become inevitable. In the formal sector we have seen St-Xavier's Campus and Kathmandu University coming up with computer education coursed. It is also the responsibility of us in the computer sector to educate the people and the government. It requires some effort and long term commitment", the 47 year did scholar believes. 

 

Computer Association of Nepal

The Executive member of Computer Association of Nepal (CAN), Mr. Shrestha, foresees the things that can be done by CAN. "In Nepal there are many organizations which exist only on paper. Thankfully, this is not the case with CAN".

 

"CAN has already achieved a few constructive things in its first year. Within the association, competitors are co-operating with each other for the common goal. That spirit has been achieved. We are aware of many things that we should do but could not do because, we do not have a base to operate. Our membership dues hardly give us enough budget to run our single room-one man office. Inspite of all these constraints, 1 think we have done quite well in the first year, a very promising beginning with activities like Info-Tech 1995 and the seminar on Software Export".

 

"We have become a member of FNCCI. In the past, when CAN did not exist, naturally some one else was representing the computer community. But now that CAN is alive and active, we need to make our presence felt. There is no reason in the near future we should not be as influential as HAN or other similar organization."  

 

Future

"Computer Industry could be the key for Nepal to leapfrog several stages of traditional  development right into the 21st century. With computers and communications we could possibly remove the traditional bottlenecks to Nepal's development. Nepal has so few long term options. I see computers as the core industry for the future of Nepal."

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