Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis
Nepal is a least developed country trying to attain the status of developing country by 2022. There are many challenges ahead for the country to prosper, the main reason being the weak leadership and unscrupulous leaders who do not think beyond their self-interests. Equally responsible for the country being in a state of underdevelopment is the unreliable and stubborn bureaucracy.
Against this backdrop, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli addressed the nation from the banks of the Rara Lake on April 14, 2018. The Prime Minister dwelt upon the ground realities of the country, specifying the areas that needed reforms to develop the country. The areas covered in the address ranged from infrastructure development to honesty, faith and morality.
In fact, Nepal is very weak in infrastructure development. The government makes plans for development but most of them remain incomplete for a long time and some are not initiated at all. Even if they are implemented, corruption and financial irregularities often eat into them, thus making the work substandard. Blacktopped roads developing potholes within six months or so from the date of completion are a typical example of how development works are carried on in the country.
The Prime Minister has raised the modus operandi of maintaining foreign relations. According to him, foreign relations are not determined by the size of countries, their population and the size of their economies but by sovereign equity. Such relations should be based on respect for sovereignty, non-interference, mutual benefit, mutual respect and belief, etc.
Situated between two economic behemoths India and China, Nepal should adopt a policy of equidistance. It will be undesirable for the country to promote relations with one country by neglecting the other. In recent times, China has also shown great interest in the infrastructure development of the country. The Nepal-China agreement on constructing the Kerung-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railway line is a gesture of interest shown by China in the development initiatives of the country. Likewise, the country has also supported the belt and road initiative (BRI), an ambitious project of China.
On the other hand, India has been the trade partner of Nepal since times immemorial. Most of the trade the country carries on is with India. India has recently shown its keen interest in developing railways and waterways in the country. Agreements to this effect were recently signed between the two countries during the Prime Minister’s visit to India (April 6 to 8, 2018).
There is a challenge of making headway in industrialisation. The Prime Minister has aptly said that it is imperative to give thrust to industrialisation by establishing special industrial zones and special industrial estates. Growth in the industrial sector will reduce imports and increase exports, thus lessening the yawning trade deficit. Further, creation of an investment-friendly environment will attract not only foreign investors but also domestic investors. Security of investments and returns is one of the concerns of investors and the government will ensure such security. The public-private partnership model will be prioritised for the initiation of development projects.
Although Nepal is an agricultural country, the status of agriculture is stygian. Agriculture is sustenance-based, traditional and non-commercial. As such, the country is dependent on imports even for the fulfilment of its basic needs like food grain and textiles. So the Prime Minister has pointed out the need for modernising the agricultural sector. He has also said that the contribution of agriculture to the national GDP, which stands at 33 per cent now, should be reduced to 20-25 per cent, which seems to be a contradictory statement. He has also accentuated the development of hydropower and energy, the development of transport with railways and waterways and other infrastructure development.
Nepal is an idyllic place from a touristic point of view but has not been able to harness its full potential. This is due mainly to lack of infrastructure. Tourists seek comfort and convenience and perhaps do not care a hang about expenses. The inflow of tourists is around one million annually, which is very meagre. The Prime Minister has, therefore, stated that emphasis will be placed on infrastructure development of tourism, propagation of tourist areas, preservation of heritages and other important places and so on.
Education, health and sanitation are the basic necessities of people. Still, these sectors are topsy-turvy. Despite heavy investments in the education sector, desirable results are yet to be notched up. The Prime Minister has pointed out that the government will restructure the education sector so as to produce skilled manpower and make the youth self-dependent with competitive skills. In fact, the education sector needs to be reformed forthwith.
The health sector is highly commercialised. Health costs are high. Health facilities are concentrated in Kathmandu and some other urban areas. So a need for reforming the health sector has been strongly felt. The insurance scheme for the general public recently launched by the government is a praise-worthy step. The Prime Minister has pointed out that the government will provide free healthcare for the people living below the poverty line, senior citizens and children. But what is also important is that good healthcare facilities should be made available in all districts.
Corruption has been entrenched in Nepali society for years. There is corruption from top to bottom of the state machinery. Although the government claims that it has adopted a policy of zero-tolerance towards corruption, it is increasing. The Prime Minister has stated that necessary legal and structural reforms will be made to control corruption. It is a no-brainer that unless corruption is controlled, the development drive of the country cannot pick up momentum.
The Prime Minister has appropriately stated that the government will develop Karnali and other backward regions to the national level. Every year, a huge budget is allocated for the development of the Karnali region but the budget has literally gone down the drain, with no visible signs of development in the region. The government should therefore adopt a policy of positive discrimination to develop Karnali and other backward regions.
The government has adopted the motto of Prosperous Country, Happy Nepalis. The Prime Minister has rightly identified the areas that need improvement. On the one hand, Nepal will have to be graduated to the status of developing country in four years, while on the other it will have to fulfil the SDG goals by 2030. The government should, in synergy with the private sector and other stakeholders, work honestly towards improving the various areas of development like education, healthcare, transport, agriculture and industry as pointed out by the Prime Minister.
Need of action
In a nutshell, there is nothing negative in the address delivered to the nation by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has identified the bottlenecks in the development of Nepal. What is needed is action. For this, the government and leaders, along with the bureaucracy, should change their mindset and devote themselves to development works in earnest. Otherwise, the commitments of the Prime Minister will turn out to be just another dose of gossip.