digital Nepal

Digital Nepal: What do the poor think about the cashless economy?

Too long, didn’t read: They don’t think anything. They’re too poor to waste time thinking about it. Or, to even own a smartphone.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten rid of people who want a quick answer (Nobel Dahal, I’m looking at you). Let’s try to get deeper down this rabbit hole.

1. What is Digital Nepal and Cashless Economy?

The man who must not be named (Nepal’s prime minister) has been quoted saying that the country now moves towards Digital Nepal. Now, in that news report, he seems to be talking about Supercomputers and what not. And, I have no clue how much of a ‘Digital India’ he understands but the term seems to be shamelessly lifted from Modi’s Digital India Campaign.

For those of you who don’t know who Modi is, he’s a ‘guffadi’ that our ‘guffadi’ takes notes from. Rumors has it he even listens to his speech with such awe in great detail. I mean, politicians need a lessons on fooling their citizens and who can be a better teacher than Narendra Modi himself.

So, yeah, coming back to the point, on the surface, it deals with providing government services electronically through Internet connectivity. It includes making the country’s citizens digitally empowered (whatever that means!).

Umm..Abhishek? What’s so wrong with that?

Let me make some bullet points for no reason other than I love making bullet points.

Dreams without policies seldom work

remember, gas pipeline?

Lack of digital literacy

Nepal’s rural population is 80%, we are are talking about digital literacy when Nepal’s literacy itself is 65.9%

Internet Connectivity

Connection speed is shameful in so-called urban areas itself, imagine the speed in rural Nepal and to provide connectivity in remote places is a mammoth task. Maybe, we should start with something as simple as electricity in remote places, no?

Data Security

We live in a country where government websites get hacked every other day. How am I to believe that the same people are going to be able to provide security to my finances? I know some of you may point out that private corporations are already doing it but, to do that on a huge scale, for a country like Nepal, with such low-quality technical manpower, still is a big threat. It’s something that has the potential to hurt the economy badly. Now, we don’t want some expert hacker out in US or idk Somalia or even India rendering our economy completely useless.

Scalability

What are measures that are going to be in the place that grants 99.99% uptime? I mean imagine, you have some important transaction to make but you can’t do that because the system can’t support too many users at the same time. Remember, we live in a country where university websites go down when too many students look for their results.

Ummm.. you didn’t explain cashless economy yet though?

It’s just a society where financial transactions aren’t made by cash such as banknotes, coins etc but rather by the transfer of digital information i.e. the electronic representation of money. Think of esewa and khalti but on a bigger scale. The scale of whole Nepal itself.

On theory, there’s nothing wrong with that when the society is ready, apart from the fact that the problems I’ve mentioned above need to be handled. Japan, Korea, and similar countries are moving towards it. Now, there’s a whole debate to be had if that’s good or not. I am not going there, you may read the debates yourselves. There are problems with it but these countries are in the state that they can defend themselves against or at least mitigate these risks.

2. Cashless society hurts the poor

If only our politicians did not observe Indian politics to copy and paste policies but rather thoroughly investigated their ramification.

India tried it with something called ‘Demonetization’. Demonetization, no matter what the excuse was an exercise to reduce the cash in the economy.

The problem, however, lies in the fact that poor people seldom use banks and solely live off on cash.

Here’s whole research done by Misha Ketchell on this very issue. The devil is in the details. And, the devil is in the details of how its implementation is done.

In its article, A cashless society is dangerously disruptive for the poor, elderly, and homeless Quartz magazine mentions homeless people may need cash to make payments. 1.3 million people in the UK don’t have bank accounts. More than 300,000 people in the UK are also homeless. It’s also hard, if not impossible, for banks to make bank accounts for people who don’t have a permanent address. Banks need proof of identification and an address.

Also, a survey of Sweden shows it might go Cashless by 2022 due to payment app called Swish. But, there are 1 million people in a population of 10 million who aren’t ready for this. It includes 600,000 elderly along with refugees and people with disabilities. It’s bad because even the public toilets there demand digital payment. Parking cars requires knowing how to use a smartphone app.

In such circumstances, it’s crucial to teach marginalized group how to deal with technology.

“We are not against digitalization,” Tallberg said, “but we think that when you talk about cash, it’s going a little bit too fast.”

Quartz

There’s an article published in 2016 that states One year after the Nepal earthquake – Millions of survivors remain homeless. Now, following it up with a 2019 news article by Kathmandu post, it says, Four years after Nepal’s deadly earthquakes, survivors continue to live in disarray.

3. Perhaps, there are other issues that need immediate attention

Blaming everything on previous Congress government, taking credit for previous governments’ works seems like step by step copy of what Modi tends to do. Nepali citizens might vote and elect our visionary leader that only has visions but no proper plans, policies to support that. But, be mindful about the fact that while Ship Office (Panijahaj Karyalaya) has been established, the real issues concerning the nations are not being solved.

Dr Swarnim Wagle (Economist) talking about Nepal’s future and Remittance economy

Wagle is too delicate to mention it clearly that their (current government’s) economic policy is a joke. The growth rate they’ve projected is not overoptimistic but an outright lie. But then we’re going to vote them straight into power again.

  • Poverty
  • The high maternal mortality rate
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of health education
  • Lack of health services
  • Rapid population growth
  • Corruption
  • Lack of investors and investments
  • Failure of government projects such as Melamchi
  • Lack of industries
  • Lack of infrastructures (roads etc)
  • Brain Drain
  • Slow economic growth

What are we doing about the real issues while pretending to build Digital Nepal or pretending to take Nepal to an “aantarikshya yug”.

Signing off,

Abhishek Acharya

4 thoughts on “Digital Nepal: What do the poor think about the cashless economy?”

    1. The number 1 thing these developing countries need to do is to listen to their credible economists. Some economic reforms are counter-intuitive. For eg.sometimes reducing taxes actually helps the government to collect more taxes because it’d get cheaper to pay the damn taxes than to lobby.

      For job creation, entrepreneurship should be promoted, foreign investments should be promoted, as developing countries are rich in their labor resource. And, the most important of it all: Education. Educate your citizens, train them to have a knowledge of the trade. Provide subsidies to farmers to improve the export rate. There are many things that can be implemented at a policy level.

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