Big budget: Implementation needed

There is no harm in bringing populist schemes, provided the schemes are

actually implemented. Yes Nepal needs its own ship, more infrastructure, a fast track and train between both India and China

Every year, the budget declaration is awaited impatiently by the citizens, to see how it affects their lives.

The Government employees tune in to see how much their salary has been hiked and where the taxes will chip it off.

The business community tunes in to see which announcements might make their business more lucrative and what loopholes they need to tap in this year to hide tax, and where and how to make sure they need bribe to get the biggest tenders, the young entrepreneurs tune in to make sense of the budget, which most never understand, to see how they can get some start off funds to help them move on in their lives.

Most of the population, probably over 70% , don’t give a hoot although the TV and radio near them are blaring the budget speech as they can’t make head or tail of its contents.

This year’s budget also sounds the same like other years. Although it talks of the budget being spread here and there the general population has no idea of how to access the provisions outlined, to decrease the hardships they are facing and have a sustainable livelihood that they struggle throughout their lives.

Then there are a certain group of people in decision making positions be it government, political parties, or the private sector who tune in to see where are the loopholes from where they can siphon off big chunks without leaving any traces or hints that could lead to their arrest.

Therefore, budgets come and go and most of the people have no idea how it has or it will affect their lives. Apart from a small fraction of the population who are the so called educated think tanks most don’t understand the implications.

This year too, like before, the budget speech came with a big bang and created a lot of argumentative debates within households and the media. But before the debate subsides it is indeed very important to actually reflect on how such budget planning actually helps the country.

There is no doubt that this year’s budget has tried to tap all possible areas of being populist keeping in mind the local election that needs to be held, hopefully soon! The budget has been prepared keeping in mind the fact that Nepal has stepped into a Republic State with federal Pradeshes emerging soon.

Investment, Infrastructure, and inclusion have been covered, but raises questions on whether it is realistic and achievable? There are no concrete steps to avoid the backlogs and inefficiency of the budgets of previous regimes.

Very populist declaration like ambitious infrastructure creation, health insurance for all Nepalis, increase in the social security that already exists, allocation of larger budgets to local authorities, significant hike in the salaries of government employees have been outlined among other several similar populist packages.

While travelling to very remote areas of Nepal doing work related to microfinance that I have been involved in for the last two decades one thing is clear that insurance schemes have now started reaching nooks and corners of the country and collection of “insurance premium” has been offered since quite some time.

Many people still believe that insurance is a saving scheme and the money will come back to them after a certain period of time, which is not entirely true.

Majority of the population are not aware of the social security provision that Nepal government has been implementing so access to the hiked social security provision is of no use to them.

This will again be monopolized by politicians as vote banks during election. Of course, the plan that will be immediately and effectively implemented will be the hike in the perks being given to the lawmakers and the government employees!

There have been a series of reports in the media about how budget allocated to the local authority has been misused and misappropriated as there is no elected local governance in place.

There are reports showing that majority of the fund that has been going to the districts and villages for development work has been siphoned off in corruption. A negligible amount actually trickles into real development work.

There is no harm in bringing populist schemes, provided the schemes are actually implemented and reach the population who actually require it.

Yes Nepal needs its own ship, more infrastructure, a fast track train between both India and China, if possible, more hydropower schemes and tourism promotion. But the “million dollar question” as they say is how will all this be made possible?

Nepal does need social security for all particularly the elderly, women, children, people with disabilities, and our youth who spend their lives earning in foreign countries.

So while making budgets, there is a need to allocate enough resources to plan for their social security plus ways of engaging them in productive activities which will impact each Nepali household and ultimately the country.

But for this, proper research and homework is required, which, sadly, is not the work culture in Nepal.

Like always this fiscal year’s budget has also been laid out with more extravagance and ambitions than before. Will it be able to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities to even a fraction of the needy Nepalis?

Will the earthquake affected Nepalis get the infrastructure that they badly require immediately? Will this budget help the corrupt to be more corrupt?

The writer is chairperson of Center for Investigative Journalism Nepal.