Development planning : Past lessons and future prospects

The reinstated House of Representatives has unanimously adopted the resolution for the election to the Constituent Assembly, which was one of the main demands of the Jana Andolan. But the public has already expressed its disappointment over the seven-party alliance leaders’ bargaining for portfolios resulting in delay of the eagerly awaited set-up. It is now, however, expected that the cabinet will function as a unified team in the true spirit of cooperation and understanding, rising above petty party politics.

It is desirable that the leaders understand and appreciate the expectations of the people that national consolidation and establishment of peace and security at the earliest are top priorities and the government should not really falter on its responsibility of building a strong nation and quickly lay the groundwork for rapid economic prosperity. After giving some shape to the political process, the new government should get on to correct the various economic ills and mismanagement of the recent governments. Furthermore, activities are to be initiated for reconstruction of the destroyed socio-economic infrastructure and re-establishment of the displaced persons and their families as soon as possible. Formulation of policies for incorporation into the Eleventh Plan is also at hand, for which streamlining the economic policies, strengthening of public institutions and appropriate selection of experts to manage those institutions are of vital urgency.

The new government should keep in perspective that Nepal has remained one of the poorest countries not only in Asia but globally. Even after more than 50 years of planned development with large external assistance, the economy remains relatively backward and structurally traditional. The economy remains vulnerable without basic fundamentals in place for sustained growth and with inadequate incentives for encouraging higher investments both from domestic as well as foreign sources. After 1990, Nepal was on its way towards democratisation, liberalisation and the socio-economic reforms. Some notable initiations were made and in the early 90s the economy had recorded positive outcomes. However, during the last three years, the economy took a sharp downturn with all the major sectors witnessing dismal performances.

While the insurgency was pointed out as the underlying reason for the adverse situation of the economy, it was realised by experts that public policies and appropriate macro-economic management measures were not properly enacted and undertaken to gear up the economy in the right direction. For various reasons, the decision-makers and power-holders remained engulfed in self-justification.

At a time when successful lessons of development practices are fairly well known and the best practices in poverty reduction and inclusive development are well documented, it is rather disappointing to witness the deteriorating state of Nepali economic situation. Frustration deepens further when one ponders over the fact that a number of countries, which were not much better as compared to Nepal just a few years back, are now performing remarkably well while we languish in misery. There is thus a natural urge amidst the Nepalis to know why others have succeeded when we have failed miserably. This needs to be assessed and reviewed by the new government. We must learn from the experiences of others and implement policies with required modifications and refinements to suit our own national peculiarities and priorities.

It is essential to note that one of the reasons for our nation’s backwardness is ineffectiveness of the public sector agencies and poor service delivery. The Tenth Plan notes that weak governance is a key determinant, which cuts across and exacerbates the impact of other factors on poverty pattern, poor resource allocation, weak implementation and service delivery and corruption. Furthermore, a UNDP report on Public Administration Reform in Asia and the Pacific has also pointed out that slowness of service delivery in Nepal is in part a result of the hierarchical nature of public sector organisations and lack of people orientation among public servants.

Performance evaluation is a mere formality rather than a process which measures and rewards competence. Seniority and merit are overlooked. So accountability to the public is poorly developed and decision-making is done away from the public gaze, consultation and scrutiny. Thus the bureaucracy appears not to be the representative of the society and most of the previous reform efforts to improve the situation were half-hearted and resulted in minor adjustments of the whole bureaucracy strengthening process. One of the major priorities of the government should thus be to move effectively in improving the bureaucracy so that the overall governance of the nation would be efficient and the people would really benefit from the intended public services.

Dr Dhungana is a retired UN official