PMEP has failed to create jobs for the unemployed people at the grassroots level due to poor planning and lack of nationwide database of the target groups

A populist programme of the government is bound to fail if it lacks institutional capacity, technical inputs and reliable database of the target group, which it aims to support by creating job opportunities for a certain period of time in a given fiscal. The Prime Minister Employment Programme (PMEP) is one of those populist schemes introduced by the government for the current fiscal year, and it is to continue in the next fiscal as well. The government has allocated Rs 3.10 billion for the programme, which came into operation only in February, eight months after the current fiscal budget was endorsed by the Federal Parliament. This programme is implemented by the local levels, which provide work to the people at the grassroots level. Records show that the local levels have spent more than 36 per cent of the total budget earmarked for the PMEP within a period of one month. But most of the allocated budget has been found spent in areas not identified by the central government. The local level authorities have also changed the criteria for spending the budget within the fiscal. As per the Ministry of Finance, the local levels have already spent more than Rs 1.2 billion under the PMEP, mostly in unproductive areas.

While unveiling the PMEP, the government had identified agriculture, cooperatives, livestock, development, energy, irrigation and river barrage, drinking water and sanitation, forest, environment and tourism promotion, community infrastructure and reconstruction as areas where employment would be provided. These were the set areas where the local levels were to pour in the budget and employ only permanent residents of the locality. Rather than creating work in the select areas, the local levels have been found employing people from outside the area in works like cleaning ponds and roads, tasks that fall under the jurisdiction of the municipalities and Division Road Office. When enquiring about the misuse of the fund, concerned officials give a readymade answer that there is ‘some confusion” regarding the programme. There should be no confusion as the government has clearly set the criteria.

Another drawback of the scheme is that it was launched in haste without preparing any database of the unemployed people at the local levels. Under this programme, an unemployed person was supposed to get at least 100 days’ work in the constructive and productive sectors. Labour experts have termed the PMEP ‘a total mess’ as this has benefitted only the lower level cadres of the political parties. The working procedure of the PMEP has set a maximum ceiling of Rs 500,000 for a project, which, according to elected officials, cannot offer any work as per the set criteria. This is simply a lame duck excuse. ILO Country Director Richard S Howard has rightly pointed out that the government failed to introduce elements that would create sustainable jobs for the unemployed people through the PMEP. The government should have first addressed sector-wise employment issues before coming up with this scheme. Due to lack of nationwide database of unemployed people, the government will not be able to ascertain just how many people were employed in the different sectors.

Right to safe food

Nepal’s market does not guarantee safe food products to the consumers, largely because the Food Act drafted five decades ago in 1967 is not effective. As a result, one gets to hear of products that are unfit for consumption being sold openly in the shops, such as products whose date has expired or spurious liquor or sweets with banned dyes, to name a few. Food inspection by the authorities is rare, and even rarer is taking action for selling sub-standard foodstuffs. As a result, unscrupulous producers or sellers of substandard food don’t take complaints seriously.

If 136 complaints were registered at the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control last fiscal, it has already seen 135 complaints in the first 10 months this year. It is thus time to push for an effective food act that truly serves the interest of the consumers. However, the draft of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2018 seems to be stuck at the Ministry of Law for the last four months. By delaying its finalisation, the ministry is holding up its submission at the Parliament for the Act’s enactment. Strict compliance with the provisions of the Act and a strong consumer forum should pave the way for the people’s right to safe food.