An annual ritualNepal owes its underdeveloped status to multiple reasons, but one factor that has a direct bearing on it is constant political wrangling and the inability of our leaders to reach a consensus even on issues of vital national interest.
Nepal owes its underdeveloped status to multiple reasons, but one factor that has a direct bearing on it is constant political wrangling and the inability of our leaders to reach a consensus even on issues of vital national interest. We witnessed an example of such wrangling only yesterday, which almost prevented the presentation of the annual budget despite the constitutional provision of a fixed day of the calendar on which to do it.
The main reason behind the provision was that on many occasions in the past, political bickering rendered governments unable to even submit budgets to Parliament on time. Presenting the budget well in advance of the fiscal year was expected to lead to timely spending of capital expenditure. But the current fiscal year has shown that such reasoning was not foolproof, and that there are structural obstacles to smooth capital expenditure. With less than two months for the current fiscal year to end, the country’s capital spending stood at only 33.9 percent as of May 27. Such low spending is inexcusable for a country like Nepal that is marred by a huge infrastructure gap.
Therefore, it is crucial that the government address the structural hurdles to timely capital expenditure in the upcoming fiscal year. It should ensure that various processes—establishment of project management offices, acquisition of land for project development, procurement plans, release of funds by line ministries, among others—take place on time.
As happens every year, the finance minister read out a whole slew of plans and programmes for the next fiscal year. Lofty rhetoric about growth, development and efficient service delivery is not bad in itself, but it rings hollow in the absence of robust implementation. While it would be
unrealistic to expect everything stated in the budget speech to be carried out, the government should leave no stone unturned to ensure that a few crucial areas are handled competently.
Reconstruction should be a top priority. Most earthquake-survivors haven’t been able to reconstruct their house even as the country recently marked the second anniversary of the tragedy. Procedural hurdles to expediting rebuilding works should be removed. If carried out properly, reconstruction has immense potential to generate countless economic activities and create thousands of jobs.
The 21 national pride projects, most of which are big infrastructure schemes, should also receive high priority. Swift progress in these projects will bridge the country’s enormous infrastructure gap and lead to a healthy economic growth. It will go a long way towards fulfilling the country’s goal of graduating from the Least Developed Country category by 2022 and attaining a middle-income country status by 2030.
It’s good that local bodies have finally been allowed to formulate budgetary programmes on their own. Locally elected representatives know best what their communities’ true needs are. The bottom-up development approach adopted by the government will help expedite project implementation and facilitate local empowerment. It’s important, however, to closely monitor how the resources are being spent at the local level so as to maintain fiscal discipline.