Nation First, Or Else...
A columnist is not always supposed to go against the government, the leaders and his/her policy and action style. But in the case of our country, there are hardly any issues that deserve a big applause. In fact, good actions must always bring good comments and praise. If there is room for comments and criticisms, they must come also. In any case, a writer is standing in the middle of things and can go either way, depending on what he/she sees and feels, and brings them to the notice of the readers.
The new budget of 073/74 generated a long and huge discussion in the political, academic, media and other circles. The huge size, the allocation style and proposed sources of resources were the issues of arguments, blame and sharp criticism. And on the top, the overall neck breaking burden of loans on the average Nepali citizen was also the issue of discussion and comments. It didn’t take much to get it through the hot water of the parliamentary discussion; however, it was dubbed as the most ambitious budget in history and leaves challenges in terms of managing the proposed resource collection effectively and spending it judiciously.
Prime Minister Oli’s witty speech and pointed remarks have silenced many voices that were concerned deeply about the three basic criteria a) priority, b) capacity and overall effective c) implementation. Even the PM’s senior party comrades with experience in finance and budgeting were not 100% sure about these aspects of the budget.
Populist or Popular?
At a time when many criticisms came and hit the prime minister or the finance minister to prove that the budget was a populist one, senior UML leader and former finance minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari dubbed the budget as ‘not populist but popular.’ This was a defence in style. Like many other leaders who spoke for and against the budget and programmes described in the long speech, he also focussed on the effective implementation.
It now appears the budget is not fully free from being a populist one also. Experts are now pointing at some examples. Now that the government wants to hold the local election in the near future, at least by the middle of this year, there are signs of hope and expectation that the people - old young, female, single - will keep in mind as to who brought several popular programmes to bring positive change in their life.
Then, the lucky people born in the district or areas of the prime minister and the finance minister must be very happy that they did. They are now required to dramatically improve their capacity to spend the budget they are receiving.
For quite some time this writer’s arguments have been against such unjust allocation, showing a few terai districts as highly superior to the remote and highly neglected districts of the remote west, mid-west and north. Why not cut the budget of the already high profile areas of the south and east and divert it to the remote corners? But again, this budget did otherwise, pouring money where there is always ‘more’ and not where there is ‘less and less’ in education, health, transportation and other supply and service areas. Do these people have to wait till they have their classmate and neighbour as their prime minister or finance minister.
It is unfortunate that our leaders see their birthplace first and the nation a bit later. They might argue that it is a bottom up approach. However, when you are distributing the resources, the ‘nation first’ should be the motto, and your district and the village of your birth and childhood will automatically come in the picture. Nobody can avoid it, nobody can hide it.
The machinery and the priority
Budget critics worried as to how the budget would be implemented, and they were not wrong. Our bureaucracy suffers from a lethargic nature built in its nerves. One vividly remembers how a very small but committed and connected group of administrators in a particular ministry could hold a few files forever and not allow the Kodari Highway to be repaired to allow the movement of goods smoothly at a time when there was a blockade in the south. What made them do so and who was the in-charge will never be clearly known, but what is known is that a less committed bureaucracy will always stand on the road to the smooth implementation of government programmes.
The fact is that ‘trade unionism’ is one hurdle for development in our case. It has been a bug in education where public school teachers draw more than the private ones and enjoy several other benefits. When it comes to showing the results it is shocking to say the least. If the government machinery were to use the existing monitoring system effectively with strong will power, it would not take much for public schools to compete with the private ones.
But again, the government protected and politically motivated trade unionism in the school sector will never allow the monitoring and evaluation system to be effective enough. Thus, despite a huge amount of loans and support from a host of international agencies like the World Bank, ADB and others, government schools are unable to show results.
Finally, one can hope, at least a few districts producing national leaders will prosper in these service areas this fiscal year around and will be replicated in other districts and areas in the next budget. Nepal is a country of villages and districts. The villages must prosper at par with the cities. But the question is: whose village, district or region first?