Initiating development projects after poll announcement is abuse of state resources, analysts sayWeek-long programme of laying foundations of five industrial estates begins even as progress of ongoing projects is poor.
It was more than 25 years ago that the process of establishing an industrial estate in Kanchanpur district began with a budget of Rs200,000 for a feasibility study.
But on Monday that caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who seems to be in election hustings, laid the foundation stone of an industrial estate in the district.
He declared that a new development phase would begin for Sudurpaschim Province and employment for a large number would be generated.
Monday’s programme was part of a number of similar ones that the Industrial District Management Limited announced publicly on Sunday.
Four other similar events are planned. Oli will be laying the foundation stone of the Nepal China Friendship Industrial Park in Jhapa on February 28, and Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel in Rupandehi on February 5 and Industry Minister Lekharaj Bhatta will be laying foundation stones for Naubasta Industrial Zone in Banke on February 23 and Mayurdhap Industrial Zone in Makawanpur on February 26.
“These events are taking place as a part of the weeklong foundation stone laying ceremony,” said Naryayan Prasad Regmi, spokesperson at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supply.
These ceremonies are being organised at a time when Prime Minister Oli has been boasting of his government’s achievements in development fields in every public event he participates.
As if to attract voters, he along with other ministers have been busy inaugurating development projects since elections were announced for April 30 and May 10 with the controversial dissolution of the House of Representatives on December 20 last year.
Although the country’s economic performance has remained dismal and the progress in most of the important development projects has remained poor, Prime Minister Oli has continued to boast the achievements of the government while blaming a rival faction of his own party—led by Puspa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal for obstructing the government to speed up the development works.
On the occasion of the third anniversary of the formation of the current government on February 15, Prime Minister Oli mentioned many achievements in the last three years.
Even in the mass meeting organised by his faction of the Nepal Communist Party, he has been boasting the achievements of the current government. In a mass meeting organised by his faction of the party on February 5, Oli claimed that under his leadership the country has made massive progress and achieved unprecedented development.
“No prior government has ever achieved such quick development,” he declared, while mentioning a number of development projects.
But, critics say that Oli’s assertion about achievement of the government is guided by the mobilizing support for Oli and his faction of Nepal Communist Party as midterm elections have been announced.
“After the elections were announced, Prime Minister Oli has been engaged in activities such as appointments in key constitutional and the government agencies, transferring government employees and inaugurating the development projects that would influence the election results,” said Lok Raj Baral, a former professor of political science at the Tribhuvan University. “But the opposition parties have failed to protest such activities by the prime minister and ministers of the caretaker government.”
Whether the elections would be held on the scheduled dates will depend on the verdict of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the dissolution of the House of Representative which is expected later this week.
Prime Minister Oli on Saturday warned that his faction would start agitation if the Supreme Court decides against house dissolution, which critics blame the act of influencing the court’s decision.
“Irrespective of whether elections will be held in April and May, Oli is taking all kinds of measures including making appointments in key posts and using the state resources that would give advantage to his faction of Nepal Communist Party in the future elections,” said Baral.
Prime Minister Oli could succeed in making appointments in key constitutional bodies including the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the Election Commission itself through the constitutional council by introducing an ordinance.
The appointments were made in a way that the recommended candidates should not go through parliamentary hearing, a compulsory provision as per the constitution.
Many critics claim Oli is making noises presenting himself as the development-friendly Prime Minister.
But speaking in Butwal on February 13, Oli criticized his critics saying that they undervalued infrastructure development taking place in the country while criticizing the government.
But, Former Minister and Finance Secretary Bidyadhar Mallik said that Prime Minister’s boasting of the government’s achievement does not reflect the reality.
“Had development projects been implemented as claimed by the prime minister, the government would not be downsizing the budget for the current fiscal year through the mid-term review of the budget,” said Mallik.
On February 10, the finance ministry revised downward its budget expenditure for this fiscal year by nearly 9 percent citing slowed economic activities and consequent plunge in revenues due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Poudel announced that the budget expenditure had been trimmed to Rs1.34 trillion from the Rs1.47 trillion announced on May 29 last year.
As per the mid-term review of the current fiscal year’s budget, expenditure in the National Pride Projects has remained just 15 percent of the total allocated budget as of the first half of the current fiscal year. Physical progress in the first half of this fiscal remained from zero to 69 percent, according to the mid-term review. Most of the projects have faced time and cost overruns.
Although the mid-term review of the budget has shown poor progress in government expenditure and revenue collection, the prime minister claimed that the economy was heading to the direction of high economic growth.
“In the next fiscal year, the country will achieve more than 10 percent economic growth,” he said.
His claims are contradictory to the World Bank’s recent report.
In its recent report ‘Global Economic Prospect’ the bank said that Nepal’s economic growth Nepal is expected to record 0.6 per cent in the current fiscal year, which is 1.5 percentage points lower than its previous estimate.
The global lender said that Nepal’s economy is estimated to have decelerated to just 0.2 per cent in fiscal 2019- 20, 1.6 percentage points lower than its June 2020 projections.
Even though the government has been blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for poor economic growth and despite Oli’s claims, the government’s own statistics show that the country’s economic performance had been worsening even before the pandemic hit the country in early 2020 when the government imposed nationwide lockdown.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the first slodown began in the last quarter of fiscal 2018-19 when growth came down to 5.2 percent compared to 8 percent in the same quarter the previous fiscal. This was after the current government had presented its first budget.
The downward slide continued in the fiscal year 2019-20 with the economy growing by 5.4 percent in the first quarter against 8.5 percent in the corresponding quarter of the 2018-19. In the second quarter of 2019-20, the economy grew by 4.2 percent against 7 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2018-19.
“The country failed to achieve desired economic growth despite the country getting a stable government for the first time after three decades,” said Mallik.