Sluggish developmentResidents of Kathmandu have been awaiting water from the Melamchi river for the last two decades. Over the years, the Asian Development Bank-funded project has suffered numerous delays for one reason or another.
Residents of Kathmandu have been awaiting water from the Melamchi river for the last two decades. Over the years, the Asian Development Bank-funded project has suffered numerous delays for one reason or another.
But in a positive signal last week, the project developer completed construction of 22 kilometres of the tunnel by blasting the two-metre section of the earth that divided the tunnel into two segments. This was hailed as a major breakthrough in the project. Tunnel construction will be over after digging the remaining section measuring 5.5km. The recent development has given hope that the work will be completed by June and water delivered to Kathmandu by October, in line with the developer’s target.
The Melamchi venture has been categorised as one of Nepal’s 21 ‘national pride’ projects—a concept introduced during the prime ministership of Baburam Bhattarai in 2012 in an attempt to accelerate the construction of schemes considered vital for Nepal’s development. Experts claim that the completion of these projects could change the country’s face and put it on a high growth trajectory—something Nepal desperately needs.
Unfortunately, however, the progress of many of these pride projects is far from satisfactory. According to the latest report of the National Planning Commission (NPC), the apex body that formulates the country’s development plans and programmes, more than half of these projects failed to meet even half their performance targets in the first four months of the current fiscal year.
The worst performer during this period is the Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track Project, which met a paltry 0.1 percent of each of its physical and financial targets. Many other projects have not performed significantly better.
While there are some immediate difficulties such as delays in land acquisition and disputes between project officials and locals over compensation, low capital expenditure is an entrenched and long-standing problem in Nepal. In an effort to buck the country’s disastrous spending trend, this year the budget was presented and approved by Parliament before the beginning of the fiscal year. Yet this does not seem to have made much difference. According to the Financial Comptroller General Office’s daily budgetary status as of January 2—half way through the fiscal year—only 9.04 percent of the capital expenditure has been spent.
Prime Minister Dahal’s instruction to the NPC to design an implementation modality for all national pride projects within a month and his statement that it is time to think radically to expedite the construction of these projects are welcome. But his talk will ring hollow if he does not follow up his words with concrete action.