National Prosperity Through Domestic Employment
Dr. Lok Nath Bhusal
Prosperity has become our refined national development agenda. After many years of transition, Nepal has settled politically, at least for the next five years. The cost of the prolonged political instability has been very extensive, and they are reflected in country’s dismal socio-economic conditions as depicted by the recent White Paper made public by the government. While economic growth is unusually low, poverty, inequality and unemployment are intolerably high in the country. With the political settlement, economic growth is necessary to improve the situation and to bring national prosperity as aimed by the major political parties, the Constitution and the general public. It is through domestic employment channel that growth reaches to the majority of general public. Such an employment-enhancing or job-rich growth is very essential to realize the very essence of national prosperity or to ensure that wealth of nation is created and distributed. It appears that without creating at least 500,000 domestic jobs annually, the notion of prosperity will remain a distant dream. Many structural transformations are required to generate more and better domestic employment. This article is an attempt to explore the prospects and challenges of creating more and better domestic employment opportunities.
On the prospect side, the national agenda for prosperity has set the stage for creating domestic employment on a massive scale, both in the public and private sectors. A number of reports have stated the need for development of physical infrastructures, such as hydro-power, roads, irrigation, etc. if Nepal has to bring about rapid socio-economic transformation. In doing this, there is enormous potential to create domestic jobs for the 500,000 youth who enter the labour market every year. With the local governments now in place, they can carry out a number of labour-intensive-development activities to provide employment opportunities to their youth.
There is also huge potential for the application of labour-intensive industrial technology. We can also emulate from the successful best practices of the 100 days Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes of India and that of the Public Work Programmme of South Africa as a strategic intervention to create jobs at home. It should be noted here that, in the presence of market failure, government interventions for job creation become quite successful, especially in the rural areas.
Furthermore, given the higher risks and lower sustainability associated with foreign employment, there is an acute need to generate productive jobs within the country. It can be reasonably argued that, annually, ensured income of Rs. 1 lakh (recent migration report has noted that the average annual remittance income received by migrant household is about Rs. 84 thousand) will create incentive for many Gulf, Malaysia and India (GMI)-bound youth to work in their villages/communities. This can revive our deteriorating agriculture and thereby reduce food dependency and trade deficits. Recent trade statistics have revealed huge markets for agricultural commodities in the country. With appropriate skill development interventions, such a domestic employment intervention will also overcome labour shortage in some sectors of our economy. Indeed, in creating such jobs, we will also be able to utilize the under-spent capital expenditure for bringing about widespread prosperity in the country.
There is a need to overcome a number of challenges to create massive domestic employment. First of all, the issue of development and prosperity through domestic employment must be mainstreamed in the sectoral policies. The National Employment Policy 2015 was an attempt towards this direction. Other policies should also be harmonized. This policy must be implemented to create more and better jobs at home. Secondly, appropriate institutional arrangements should be made so that all levels of governments create domestic employment in their respective interventions. Reforms are required at the Ministry, Departments and field offices. Thirdly, awareness raising of the public and government must be there about the need to create such employment for tackling poverty, inequality, unemployment and social protection exclusion (through labour market interventions) and thereby upholding the right to employment. It should be noted here that inequality, which is also related with poverty, cannot be reduced without increasing labours’ share of income. There is also a need to create policy environment for launching public employment schemes throughout the country.
To conclude, domestic employment creation is a viable and sustainable route to realize the vision of national prosperity. With the political stability and all levels of governments in place, the prospects for such job creation must be materialized now. Given that all levels of governments are busy in formulating policy, programmes and budget formulation for the next fiscal year, this is an opportune moment to overcome all pertinent challenges in this area and ensure that the right to employment, as guaranteed by our constitution, is realised.
For this to happen, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security should have a focused project intervention for domestic employment promotion/creation. Such a project should carry out comprehensive review of current labour market situation, conduct analysis and research for employment-intensive investment, identify skills training needs and suggest reforms in employment and other sectoral policies.
Besides, the project will also prepare draft law/regulations for conducting a nationwide Minimum Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to provide at least 100 days of work to poor and vulnerable households. Such evidence base will help in overcoming the existing practices of shooting in the dark while formulating employment policies, programmes and projects. This is how Nepal can create the conditions for ensuring national prosperity through domestic employment.