Laying Foundation For Prosperity
Responding to the queries over the government’s policy and programmes for the upcoming fiscal year presented in the joint meeting of the federal parliament on 21 May, 2018, by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Sunday said that the government had not taken impossible ambitions. His argument, however, vindicated that the policy and the programmes were ambitious. To take ambition or to set a dream is nothing wrong. What is difficult is to achieve the ambition and translate the dream into reality. In most cases, the government’s plans regarding the water ways construction, particularly sailing ship to Indian Ocean from Nepal’s rivers and thereby getting linked with the outside world through water, have been ridiculed as dreamy. It may be dreamy but it is not impossible one. It is questionable whether we need to investment in such projects at present or not.
Presenting the policy and programmes, President Bhandari said that the upcoming fiscal year would be the base year for prosperity. She meant that foundation for prosperity will be laid in the upcoming fiscal year. In other words, achievements made in the upcoming years will be compared with the country’s status in various fields at present. Facts and figures included in the White Paper presented by Finance Minister Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada on March 30, 2018, give a picture of Nepal’s macro economy and it could be used to compare the achievements of the government in future. The White Paper states that the country’s public/recurrent expenditure has surpassed revenue, which means the government has no money to make investment for development. And it is at this time that the government is coming up with the policy and programmes to lay foundation for prosperity. Therefore, it is natural for it to be ambitious.
The most important thing in the policy is that development from now onwards will be based on in-depth analysis of information and data, research and evidence. This is what is direly needed given the trend that politicians keep talking in words and not in facts and figures while presenting achievements. It is heartening to see that think tanks will be formed of experts to provide regular suggestion to the government by conducting studies on development, construction, defense and foreign relations. State institutions will be incapacitated and made functional. A comprehensive human resource plan needs to be formulated.
The government has targeted that GDP growth, which for this fiscal is forecasted to remain around 5.5 per cent, will be near double digit in the upcoming fiscal and double digit within the next five years. To double the growth will require heavy investment and it is hoped, the government will come up with concrete plans about investment in its annual budget to be presented on May 29, 2018. Similarly, the government has vowed to double per capita income in five years. It is over a thousand USD presently and it will be over two thousand in next five years. This is something tough job to achieve because remittance inflow, which contributes about 30 per cent to GDP, is decreasing. Nepal’s per capital income has doubled in a decade in 2008. It was around 500 USD. The government aims to change the country into a middle income country by a decade. The government has pledged to narrow the income gap against the trend of only a limited class enjoying the large chunk of national income.
In the policy and programmes, agriculture, energy, industry, transport, infrastructure, information technology, tourism and urban development have been identified as propellers of economic development. Main investment of the public, private and cooperative sector will be centered on these areas. Similarly, foreign investment and resources received from development partners will be mobilised into these.
The government has rightly said that remittance and import based economy will be changed into production and consumption based one. Structure of the economy must be transformed. Amount remaining redundant in different organisations and trust will be mobilised into production sector. Opportunities will be created in such a way that a large section of population presently involved in agriculture, which accounts for about two-thirds of the total population, will be shifted to non-agriculture sector. Agricultural production will be doubled within next five years by augmenting productivity through modernisation and professionalisation of agriculture and by expanding Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project. Division and encroachment of cultivable land will be stopped. Organic production of agricultural products will be started immediately to change Nepal into an organic country in the long run. Irrigation facilities will be expanded. It should be noted here that only 25 per cent cultivable land has irrigation facility. In this sense, if agricultural production is to be doubled, heavy investment in irrigation must be made. If the government can develop the ‘main cities as green cities’ that will be wonderful.
Because of the hydro power project under construction at present, it will not be difficult for the government to achieve its target of producing 5,000MW of electricity in next five years, but to produce 15,000 MW in next ten years will be a tough job. If the government does really want to reduce trade deficit and promote domestic production and consumption, its ‘policy to not import goods and services that adverse impact on people’s health, promote unnecessary consumption and damage domestic industries’ should be strictly implemented. Important highways to be developed into express ways and by five years from now, all centers of the local level governments will be linked with black-topped roads.
According to the policy and programmes, construction works of Mechi-Mahakali, Birgunj-Kathmandu, Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railways will be forwarded. (However, in the election manifesto, the left alliance which has become Nepal Communist Party now, said the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu railways would be built in five years). Investment will be increased in education and health sector and that basic education will be made free and compulsory. But, how? Private investment in education will be regulated and inequality in education will be done with. Life skills, vocational and technical education will be focused right from school levels. It is good to read that a hospital with at least 15-bed will be set up at each of all the local levels and it will be ensured that at least a doctor/physician is deployed at such a hospital. Health insurance programme will be expanded so that all Nepalis are covered in such insurance.
The policy and programmes says that Prime Minister Employment Programme will be implemented in such a way that by five years none will feel compelled to go abroad for a job. Both who take and offer bribes will be punished. The government will not tolerate any forms of corruption. Of course, there is the policy document has many things to make one highly optimistic. But the question is how the government will achieve so many targets if it continues with such budget-scattering programmes like the constituency development programmes?