The New Budget: Colourful Responses
Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and his Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel must rest assured and heave a sigh of relief that all is well with the largest budget ever for the fiscal year 2073/74, dubbed by many as the most populist budget. Former finance minister and UML’s senior economic think tank Bharat Mohan Adhikari had a better word: ‘Not populist but popular.’
In any case, the large size generates both opportunity and challenge for the government. Tracing the history and memorising it, one can see no budget goes clean and safe without attacks from the other side of the parliament floor as it is the ‘dharma’ (duty and responsibility) of the opposition to do so in a democracy. Hence, one could see the colourful responses in the House and out on the street.
Now all eyes and mouths that are opening in the media are fixed on one major point - the budget is not only unnaturally big in size, it will also pose challenges in terms of execution. Here even Oli supporters, including UML high ranks, express doubts about the implementation of the budget. Hopefully, the government will display the same courage, vision and mission to implement it and prove that in a consumer culture we live in, the country cannot move forward with a small purse in hand and a long ‘shopping list’ to pay attention to.
The scribe, with much limited knowledge about fiscal issues such as a budget, will do no justice if he goes deep on this topic. Yet it will be relevant to see the social and human side of the budget in light of the current scenario.
There are a few provisions that deserve loud applause. Take the salary of the employees, for example. For the first time in history, perhaps, the government has considered the daily needs and life of its employees and made appreciable effort to address those needs. Regular expenses, such as the house rent, school fee, health bills for their family, food, transportation and other seen and unseen expenses have always hit their shoulder and back very hard indeed. As it is open to all, there have always been demands on meeting these needs in the form of the salary.
An equally important issue and a very pertinent one is that there is an urgent need to control the market price. Normally, the most often experienced trend of the market is that the price flies high during or right after the budget speech of the finance minister. And sadly enough, there is no effective control mechanism in place. This year has been the year of the post-earthquake scenario. There are problems everywhere in terms of an effective government monitoring mechanism for the market. The long blockade of supply also created problems in this regard.
In such a situation, where the market is like an adamant and unchained “bull” kicking consumers here and hurting them there, the most unwanted is likely to happen. If this happens, the increase in the salary will fall far short of meeting the expenses squarely. This has been the case in the past. In order to give the desired meaning to the hard earned salary, the government has to adopt effective measures to put strict control on this tendency of the market and prove that after all, the well thought of and planned increase in the salary will help the servants of the nation live well and save a bit.
It is commonplace knowledge that the sudden and unusual rise in the market price in the aftermath of the budget speech with a provision on salary hike for the employees generates a host of problems that are not palatable to the government and welfare of the nation. In such a situation, employees are motivated to look out for extra income to meet the rising standard of living and the needs that emerge to meet it. A significant percentage of this section may often go on a ‘corruption spree’ to fulfill the ever un-insatiated thirst for money and help create a huge pile of files at the CIAA office. This happens as if the CIAA has to have a job. Many government designed development projects are also negatively affected by the greed of the perpetrators.
Lord Buddha, the most venerable and the most revered enlightened son of Nepal and the Light of Asia, gave his timeless teachings that are becoming very relevant today when people show excess greed and ignore the fact that it generates the ever unfolding chain of suffering. The Buddha’s teachings are thus urgent to stop the malpractices and change the mind of the wrong-doers to create a healthy and wealthy society.
It is relevant to note here that the international participants attending the 2560th Buddha Jayanti festival, organised two weeks ago in Kathmandu and Lumbini, not only highlighted the universal significance of the Buddha’s timeless teachings, but they also emphasised on the fact that Nepal at this time must make these teachings an integral part of Nepali culture, Nepali life and Nepali civilisation. That is, the Buddha’s teachings have widely acclaimed power to win the heart of the people than the long hands of the law.
The budget also showed serious concern about the senior citizen, the disabled, the endangered minorities and the ‘single’ female/mother who have problems meeting the needs to live a dignified life. Their monthly allowance has been doubled to cheer them. It is a welcome decision.
Finally, despite the severe attacks from the opposition, the budget has won applause from a wide section of citizenry. The business community has appreciated the provisions made to promote their sector, and the mega projects such as the fast track and the international airports have also been appreciated by many. If the budget is ‘ambitious’ as claimed by its critics, the government is well advised to prove it otherwise and complete all the promises it has made to the people.