Govt’s Priority To Development Projects
The government unveiled its policy and programs for the fiscal year 2076/77 last week. The policy document has focused, among other things, on the development of Nepal by revitalizing the economy by improving various sectors of the economy. In this regard, the judicious execution of development projects is high on the agenda of development.
As things stand, the performance of most of the development projects is dismal. That there are projects running for decades is a matter of disappointment. Even projects designated as national pride are not performing as expected. Out of the 21 national pride projects and 300 other big projects, most of the projects are slow-paced. Delay in completing development projects entails cost overruns on the one hand, while on the other the aspirations of the common people to derive benefits from such projects are often dashed.
The government has adopted the slogan of Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali since it was installed in February 2018. The government has spent its one year in office in building a foundation for development and prosperity such as enactment of necessary laws, rules and procedures. Thus, the first year of the government is taken as the year of foundation. The next year has been designated as the year of expeditious development in Nepal’s history.
The government has taken the private sector, the cooperative sector and even the general public as its development partners. The private sector has been contributing to the economy, especially since the adoption of the liberalisation and open-market policies in the 1990s. The synergy between the government and these sectors is expected to produce desired outcomes in the domain of development.
Nepal is in acute need of infrastructure development. Many development projects are running or in the course of being run. But we have nothing to show for it as far as the performance of such projects is concerned. As mentioned in the policy document, the government will develop a strong mechanism for the selection of appropriate and viable projects, their execution and monitoring, and contract management so that such projects will be completed in time and in a copacetic manner.
The Melamchi drinking water project, which was started in the fiscal year 2055/56, is yet to be completed although it is stated that over 95 of the work has been completed. However, it has been mentioned in the policy document that the project will be completed by the next fiscal year. The problem arose when the Italian contractor CMC abandoned the project in December 2018 citing its financial trouble back home. The government has revoked the contract and is in the re-tendering process.
The Sikta Irrigation Project, which was started in the fiscal year 2061/62 for the purpose of irrigating 43,000 hectares of land in Banke, is now in the doldrums due to poor construction works amid financial irregularities. The progress of the project in 14 years is 58 per cent. The cost of the project was initially put at Rs. 12.8 billion, which has been revised to Rs. 25.2 billion.
The Babai Irrigation Project was started way back in the fiscal year 2045/46 at an initial cost of Rs. 2.87 billion. The project has not been completed even after 30 years. Now the cost estimate has also been revised to Rs. 12.56 billion. The progress of the project is just 30 per cent.
As far as the West Seti Hydropower Project (750 MW) is concerned, it is yet to be started although it was proposed years ago. Once China came forward to construct the project but the government has not been able to decide what to do with the project. At one point of time, the government decided to construct the project on its own. Now the project is in limbo.
The above projects are just some that summarise how development projects are run in Nepal. Anyway, let bygones be bygones. The policy document has generated some rays of hope in that the government will from now onwards take concrete measures to execute any development project in a time-bound manner. As mentioned in the policy document, the Bheri-Babai Diversion Project (48 MW) will be completed in two years, the Sunkoshi-Marine Diversion Project, an irrigation project, will be started from the next year and the Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project (456 MW) will be completed by the next fiscal year. The completion of the construction of the tunnel for the Bheri-Babai Diversion Project one year ahead of the deadline has been taken as a breakthrough.
The policy document has emphasized industrialisation, which has degraded due to the privatisation policy of the government. Now imports preponderate over exports, making a gaping trade deficit. So the government will adopt an industrial policy aimed at import substitution, export promotion, increase in production and productivity and job creation. To accelerate industrialisation, industrial zones will be set up in all the provinces in the next fiscal year. Likewise, industrial villages will be established in all local levels in the next four years. In a similar vein, special economic zones and cross-country economic zones will be set up to support export-oriented industries.
Nepal aspires after double-digit economic growth in four years. Now the rate of economic growth is around six per cent. To attain higher economic growth, various sectors of the economy, especially infrastructure development, need to be dynamically mobilised. Infrastructure development will ensure the utilisation of internal resources and job creation. The government aims at creating 500,000 jobs under the Prime Minister Employment Programme and in the public-private sector.
The government also aims at making 50,000 people self-employed in one year and 300,000 people self-employed in three years. Enhancement of employment opportunities will create an environment in which those forced to go abroad for jobs can be retained in the country itself and they can contribute to national development through their diligence and skills.
The way development works are run in Nepal has come under fire for negligence, lack of monitoring and corruption, among others. The time has come for the country to expedite development works to fulfill its goal of development and prosperity. The 15th periodic plan also starts from the next fiscal year. The government, the private sector, the cooperative sector, the public and other stakeholders should work in tandem to fulfill the development goals as encapsulated in the policy document, which will also act as guidelines for the formulation of the budget for the next fiscal year.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000)