Prime Minister’s Address To The House
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli made a special address to the House of Representatives on January 6. The address came at a time when the government led by the Prime Minister has not passed even a year in office. The government was formed in February 2017. The Prime Minister tried to paint a rosy picture of the economy, apparently challenging the bleak picture portrayed by his own Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada ten months ago. At the time, the Finance Minister went so far as to say that the economy of the country was in ruins. How come it has improved so much just in a span of ten months?
In the address, the Prime Minister mentioned that almost all the economic indicators were positive as if there were nothing wrong with the economy. He went on mentioning replacement of tuins (wire bridges) with suspension bridges; free Internet services to various wards, schools and health centres; the proposed launch of Nepal’s own satellite; a targeted economic growth of eight per cent; increase in production of paddy; declining inflation; increase in revenue and capital expenditure; increase in lending; increase in exports and imports; economic diplomacy; infrastructure development like airports, hydropower projects, the Kathmandu-Terai fast track, the Melamchi Drinking Water Project and the East-West Railway and so on.
But as things stand, the economic picture is not as rosy as the Prime Minister painted in his address to the House. Imports are taking a heavy toll on the economy as they far outstrip exports. In a sense, there is no environment for augmenting industrial development so that import substitution can be enhanced. It may be noted that three umbrella bodies of the private sector have formed an alliance to exert pressure on the government to create a conducive business environment after the government did not heed their problems. Although Nepal is an agrarian country, it is an irony that even daily essentials have to be imported. Oftentimes, the government says that it will draw up a land-use plan for categorising land for various purposes such as residential, industrial and agricultural. If anything, land brokers indulge in plotting land of any kind, whether agricultural or industrial, from venal motives.
In fact, it has been too late to save agricultural land from being used for residential purposes. It is obvious that development in the agricultural sector will lead to development in other sectors. Although agriculture is considered a productive sector, it seems not much importance has been given to the sector. As long as agricultural and industrial development does not take place, the country will be bound to make heavy investments in imports, thus further sending the trade deficit spiraling.
Infrastructure development is a must for any country for rapid development. Several infrastructure development projects are going on or in the process of getting off the ground or being planned. The Nijgadh and Bhairawaha International Airports, the Pokhara Airport, the Kathmandu-Nijgadh Fast Track, the Raxaul-Kathmandu Railway, the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway, the Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railway, the East-West Railway, the Kathmandu Monorail, the Melamchi Drinking Water Project, etc. are the major projects for infrastructure development. Completion of these projects will surely bring about economic transformations. But one cannot say when these projects will be completed given the trend of inordinate delay in or non-completion of big projects, including national pride ones. So it will be an exaggeration to say that just planning for or starting projects will improve then economy of the country.
Post-quake reconstruction activities are moving at a slow pace. Even after three years, the reconstruction of less than fifty per cent of private houses has been completed. The pace of reconstruction of other structures like schools, government buildings, temples, monasteries and heritages is not copacetic, either. This is enough to show the attitude of the government towards development activities.
Be that as it may, there was a pandemonium in the House when Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara did not allow the MPs from the opposition parties to ask questions to the Prime Minister after he had addressed the House. It may be surmised that the Prime Minister thought that he could not answer the questions posed by the opposition lawmakers. This riled the opposition lawmakers so much so that they lambasted the Speaker, accusing him of being dictatorial. Further, although he said that he would not allow anybody to indulge in corruption, the Prime Minister did not mention the aircraft purchase scam in his address. Although the government claims that it is trying to restore good governance and end corruption, the tentacles of corruption are spreading far and wide and the state of impunity is raising its ugly head.
Even the lawmakers from the ruling coalition expressed the view that the Prime Minister’s address was inopportune and that the address should have come after the government had spent at least one year in office. The government has a two-thirds majority in Parliament. There is not any force that can stop the government from embarking on development works designed to change the face of the country for the better.
What is required is the will and determination on the part of the government to go ahead with development works by making a bonfire of corruption and the state of impunity. The rule of law, good governance and zero tolerance to corruption, inter alia, should be the hallmark of the government so as to win back the confidence of the people and to lead the country on the path to prosperity. As it has not spent even a year in office, there is a lot of time for the government to embark on development and public-welfare activities.