Nirvana Chaudhary, Managing Director of Nepal’s only billion-dollar conglomerate Chaudhary Group, talks about the group’s business plans and government’s role in promoting private sector in this conversation with Arun Poudel.
What are your current plans for investment expansion in Nepal?
At the moment, we are committed to taking forward the commitment we made at last year’s Investment Summit in Kathmandu. As we said at the summit, Chaudhary Group is working on four joint ventures: in solar power, logistics-park, mobile network service, and hydropower. We have already entered a JV agreement with Sharaf Group to develop a multi-model logistics park. Likewise, there is a deal to develop 600MW solar photovoltaic project with the US-based Sky Power. Our plan is to take 200MW out of the 600MW to Province 2. We have almost completed our 18MW Middle Modi and started Super Madi 44MW project. We have been waiting for the government to respond to our approval request for the past three years. We were under the impression that after witnessing the $250 million commitment from CG, the government would have acted in a fair and transparent way. But this has not happened.
What is the level of investment in these projects?
We and our partners will inject 50/50 percent funds into both the solar power and logistics park projects. Sky Power will invest Rs 25 billion in the solar project. Sharaf Group will bring about Rs 6-7 billion in the logistics park.
There has been much hype about the telecom services that the CG has been planning. Could you enlighten us on this?
We want to offer telecom services at the most competitive rates. Right now, Nepal has extremely poor telecom services with sky-high rates. Why should people pay high charges for poor services? Our aim is to provide HD-quality voice calls and the fastest data package at the lowest price. Currently, the telecom charges in Nepal are possibly the highest in South Asia. Voice calls are way more expensive than they should be. And the charges for data are too much for ordinary people. We need to realize that telecom services and internet aren’t luxuries anymore, but rather necessities. Why have such high rates in Nepal? Data penetration in the country is 60 percent and 4G penetration is not even 20 percent. This is a pure case of monopoly and it’s the people of Nepal who are suffering. This does not help in the creation of a digital economy, and the people are at the receiving end.
But the CG telecom project seems stuck. Why?
We have been trying to advance our telecom plan for the past three years, but maybe the government doesn’t want new players in this field. It has been holding our telecom license for the past three years. We have no over-dues. We have fulfilled all the criteria, and there have been two cabinet decisions so far. Yet there have been many obstacles in the past three years in the implementation of those decisions.
At the Investment Summit, CG Communications announced an agreement with Istanbul-based Turkcell for 5G mobile network service in Nepal. CG is the sole investor in this project. We plan to invest Rs 25 billion, with Turkcell providing only strategic and technical support.
What is your advice for up and coming entrepreneurs?
First, there is the need to identify the right opportunity. Combining right opportunity with right partnership can give you amazing results. Whatever the challenges, one should never give up. Focus on what you want to achieve.
Go outside Kathmandu Valley and see what the whole of Nepal needs. Try to tap the potential in the provincial areas of Nepal. What can you offer to the people? Think not only in terms of making money, but also in terms of how you can come up with the best products and services. Business will come to you automatically if you have the right products, you develop the right channels, target the right audience, and communicate properly.
Learn from successful businesspeople from around the world, and replicate their success in our context whenever possible. But most importantly, find your passion, use your creative capacity and imagination to build the future you want.
What should be the government’s role in promoting industries?
The existing concerns of investors need to be addressed first before the country can attract FDI. Nepal needs big investments. The government should implement commitments made at the Investment Summit. Investors need a supportive environment to come forward. Big investors would like to see that their money won’t go to waste. Nepal Investment Board and concerned government agencies need to be serious and play the roles of facilitators, not inhibitors, for investors. The government needs to see that the projects proposed at the Summit under its own auspices are implemented.
How do you see the future of doing business in Nepal?
There is organic growth in all sectors of the economy. It is all due to market dynamics. So I see great prospects here. We only need an environment conducive to investing money and doing business. We need to see stable government policies that don’t change overnight. The private sector is always in need of a government that works as an honest and impartial guardian.