EDITORIAL: In the doldrums

Khatiwada, who is well-versed on economy, finance and development issues, should have clearly outlined the way forward

Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada on Friday issued a white paper in which he presented a bleak picture of the country’s financial health. Laying stress on lack of “financial discipline”, Khatiwada blamed economic policies and programmes of the past governments – most of them under the left parties since the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008 – for the country’s dismal economy. Khatiwada said economic and development indicators at present were “negative and economic activities were shrinking” due to lack of business environment. He has raised the issue “fiscal indiscipline” quite strongly.

He has cited some examples such as welfare programmes and development projects, which he said, were designed and approved by the Council of Ministers in the middle of the fiscal year. Tax waiver to businesses against the existing norms, financial and resource assurances given to projects without project analysis, poor spending on development projects, under-invoicing of imported goods at customs points, low revenue collection in terms of excise duty and VAT, ballooning trade deficit, heavy spending on social security allowances outside the fiscal budget, the state’s increasing liability to pensioners, instability in the banking sector, slow post-reconstruction pace and decreasing production base are some of the points he has given for the country’s dismal economy.

The white paper by the finance minister was the first official document of the left government. It itself is interesting as to why the finance minister came up with the white paper at a time when the fiscal budget is being prepared. As per the constitutional provision, Khatiwada is set to present the federal budget in Parliament on May 28. Khatiwada, who was handpicked by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to lead the Finance Ministry, is well-versed on economy, finance and development issues. He earlier served as the governor of the Nepal Rastra Bank and vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission. So, no doubt he is well aware of the country’s economy and finance and the source of all the ills.

On top of that, Khatiwada seems to holding a lot of contempt for privatisation. Khatiwada is well-known for seeking the state’s active role in various sectors. His strong statement against privatisation could dent the confidence of investors. On the one hand Khatiwada cites lack of investment-friendly environment and on the other he has made statements that could discourage environments. He needs to make some moves, through the budget, to boost the private sector’s confidence. He, however, has rightly pointed out the difficulties the new government will face when it comes to managing finance. For example, the government will face a deficit of at least Rs 200 billion to fund the projects and plans proposed in the budget. More than that, after the three tiers of elections, the federal government will also face additional financial burden on its coffers as it will have to allocate more than Rs 10 billion to develop physical infrastructure in all provinces and local level units. Khatiwada has through the white paper spelled out the symptoms. He, however, has stopped short of prescribing the treatment plans. Hopefully, he will do that through the federal budget.

Soak up sun

The number of patients suffering from Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise. According to a report, some 20 per cent of the people visiting the hospital are found to be suffering from Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is necessary to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Vitamin D deficiency results in soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). We also need vitamin D for other important body functions.

Increasing urbanisation and changing food habits and lifestyles have mainly contributed to the rise in the cases of Vitamin D deficiency, especially among children. We get this essential nutrient in small amounts from foods such as fish, cheese and egg yolks. But the best way to get Vitamin D is just getting out in the sun. The interaction of Ultraviolet B rays from the sun with a steroid in our skin produces vitamin D. There is a rising tendency among today’s children to stay in-doors – glued to television or smart phones or any other electronic gadgets. Children should be encouraged to participate in physical activities and soak up the sun. Shunning the sun can result in deficiency of this essential nutrient.