Washed outOfficials still make it a point to begin work at the last minute in the thick of the monsoon.
It’s a wonder why the term Asarey vikas is still not in the Nepali Brihat Shabdkosh yet. After all, last-minute capital expenditure has long defined our development tragedy.
Asar (mid-June to mid-July) is arguably the least suitable month for infrastructure development. In the thick of the monsoon, many people building new infrastructures, including personal homes, halt work because it is nearly impossible to finish a day’s work without the fear of rain looming large. The same should be the case with public infrastructure development. It is common sense that hydroelectric projects, irrigation channels, airports, roads, transmission lines and bridges cannot be built effectively and efficiently in the middle of the rainy season. But public officials still make it a point to begin work only at the last minute—the last month of the fiscal year, to be exact.
This year, too, the government continued to be lethargic in capital expenditure in the first half of the fiscal year, resulting in increased pressure in the second half to finish it up. Needless to say, capital spending falls short of its target, leaving the country’s development plans in tatters. As if to honour the long-held tradition of delayed capital expenditure, government agencies are now on a spending spree. For the current fiscal year, which has a capital expenditure budget of Rs352 billion, the government had spent only Rs150 billion, or 42 percent, as of the third week of June.
In the fiscal year 2019-20, the government’s capital expenditure shot up by 15 percent within the last month. While capital expenditure stood at 30 percent until June 10, it had reached 47 percent by July 15. In the fiscal year 2018-19, capital expenditure stood at only 4.41 percent of the allocated budget by the end of the first quarter. By the end of the fiscal year, capital expenditure had reached 79.74 percent of the budget allocated, having spent a whopping Rs108 billion in the last month alone.
The story of low capital spending for much of the year and a sudden rush in the last couple of months goes on and on. To end this malpractice, the constitution has a provision requiring the government to present the budget six weeks before the new fiscal year. Although the budget does get presented as scheduled, its implementation is a different ball game altogether. Last year, the Ministry of Finance, in its budget implementation guidelines, made it clear that the contracts were to be completed by mid-October and work to be begun within 15 days of the awarding of the contract. But that was not to be. The result is for all to see: Unspent budget and questionable quality of work.
This trend has to stop once and for all. Government agencies should stop wasting the first half of the fiscal year only devising plans and procurement procedures as if they have all the time in the world. Rather, they should begin work right away. Authorities in the capital expenditure chain, ranging from those in the line ministries to those at the local level, should work in tandem so that there is no unreasonable hurdle in getting the work done as per the existing rules and regulations. The government’s development strategy is only as good as the fiscal responsibility government authorities exhibit.