Government Under Scrutiny
Ritu Raj Subedi
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had kicked off his second premiership in mid-February amidst high public enthusiasm and expectation. Four-and- half-a-half months have elapsed since he assumed office. In the initial days, the government won accolades for a series of its bold announcements and steps. But now it has failed to sustain that momentum and started drawing flak for its lackluster performance. It has been accused of indulging more in rhetoric than action. Of course, this period is not enough for the government to realise its ambitious goals. Yet, the time has come for the ‘all-powerful’ PM to wake up and smell the coffee given that he enjoys a sweeping mandate, and the electorate had reposed their greater faith in his administration.
Oli romped to victory on the planks of stability, prosperity and nationalism in the three-tier elections held last year. In the election manifesto of two left parties - erstwhile CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre - that later unified into Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), they promised a lot of populist schemes to the voters. But, as the technocratic Finance Minister of the communist government unveiled the budget for new fiscal year, a dilemma gripped the ruling party stalwarts. The budget focused more on accumulating resources than spending money on the popular slogans of the CPN that has sold the idea of building a socialist state. Ironically, pro-market politicians gave their nod to the budget of the communist party with ruling lawmakers taking Finance Minister Dr Yubaraj Khatiwada to task for giving short shrift to the distributive side of the economy. Here is the bigger irony: there is an eerie silence in the ruling party camp with regard to the defence of budget. It is only Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli who has been defending the budget, citing that it will eventually create an environment for job creation, infrastructure development and economic growth.
In the question – why did the budget fail to generate enthusiasm?- lies the current conundrum. Dr Khatiwada said he wanted to end fiscal anarchy and bring the shambolic economy back on track. For this, he has expanded the scope and volume of tax to the extent that it riled the commoners greatly. Some days ago this scribe experienced the ire of a tempo driver while riding his environment-friendly three-wheeler from Sundhara to Sanepa. He criticised the government all the time as he noisily passed his views to the passengers. He said: “My wife and I went to village in Kavre district to cast a vote to Bam Gathbandhan (left alliance) with a hope that it would bring prosperity to us. But somebody detonated a bomb at the polling centre. My spouse barely escaped the death but got injured. Today I feel our votes to the alliance went down the tube.” Asked why, he replied that the government ramped up the tax of my vehicle beyond expectation. “I used to pay Rs 5,400 a year but now it has been increased to Rs 18,000. I would not have cast the ballot to the Bam (left) parties if I had known it would increase tax exceedingly.”
Upon hearing the complaint of the tempo driver, this writer faced quandary: Who is right – angry tempo driver or sober Finance Minister? It appears that the Finance Minister is determined to pool as much money as possible to build ‘socialist-oriented economy.’ At the same time, he undermines the social dimension of economy. Progressive taxes are imposed on the rich in order to help the poor. First and foremost, the majority of the people should be lifted out of poverty and made capable to pay taxes to the state.
In the government’s bid to break the transport syndicate, it also aims at accruing national revenues more than easing people’s commuting. Now the vehicle owners have to register their business as a company, which subjects them to pay taxes to the government. This is indeed a good move as it brings the dodging transport entrepreneurs under the tax net. Sometime ago this scribe had asked a bus owner, who also works as conductor of his vehicle, about the impact of the dismantling of transport syndicate. He said that it was only partially successful. “Now the entrepreneurs have registered their vehicles with the Company Registrar Office. This naturally helps to grow revenues of the government. But in order to break the syndicate in real sense, the government should have its vehicles to operate in different parts of the nation. It is the private sector that runs the transport business. Even those newcomers that want to join this sector can’t bypass the district level transport committees to ply their vehicles.”
The intention of the government is beyond question but some of its decisions do not reflect the socialist values. The new budget has repealed the education tax (one per cent) imposed on the private schools. It was levied on the profit-making private schools but they began to charge it from the students. The initial motive of the collection of this tax was to fund public education. The private schools strongly lobbied with the government to annul the education service tax and the government yielded to their pressure.
Inflation has hit the customers hard following the announcement of the budget. Normally, the market witnesses price hike in the essential commodities with increase in the salary of civil servants but this time round the government followed austerity measures and refused to raise their salary. Still the prices of consumer goods have soared largely owing to the increase in the volume of tax. When the people are forced to pay exorbitant prices for the basic goods, their impression about the government can hardly be positive.
Rhetoric sans result
When the people are beset with problems, they are unlikely to be enthused about the distant dream of riding rail and ship. Therefore, the government must improve its uninspiring performance and refrain from indulging in rhetorical talks. PM Oli and his advisors must learn that his popularity is declining. This is indeed a bad omen for the government. PM Oli must not delay in dispelling the confusion and restoring people’s faith in him.