EDITORIAL: Little progress

Instructions and orders alone will not resolve the problem of low spending; it is a matter of strong political will to sincerely remove all the impediments on the way

Very low spending, especially of capital budget, has been a perennial concern for the country, almost since development planning was started in the country. Before that the situation was different -- the size of the budget was low and the modern concept of budgeting had not developed in Nepal then. As foreign aid – grants and loans – started increasing and the size of the budget started swelling every year, a trend developed that development budget could not be spent fully by the end of the fiscal year despite the last-minute flurry to spend as much as possible though in a messy and wasteful ways. Even during the Panchayat days, this trend held strong, and critics would hold the government of the day to account for their low capacity to spend. About five decades on, the state of affairs has not changed for the better, to speak the least. The mid-term budget review had no soothing words for the people hungry for development – a merely 11.3 percent of the total capital outlay of Rs.311.95 billion has been used in the first half of the current fiscal year 2016-17.

The figures speak for themselves no matter how many excuses officials may have made during the half-yearly review, and such excuses are made every year because low spending recurs every year. Some of the excuses include lack of project readiness, delay in procurement process, many layers of sub-contractors and local hassles. The general public had not pressed the government not to mend matters on these fronts. On the contrary, the government had received feedback and suggestions for minimizing the causes of delays in the implementation of projects and programmes. The government, on its part, had pledged to substantially improve the records of capital spending this time as the budget had been presented one and a half months before the usual time – to allow the government ample time to do the groundwork for spending the budget.

Though, as in the past years, the government agencies will try to spend more, particularly towards the closing weeks, yet there is bound to be a huge surplus of the unspent capital outlay. The Vice Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Min Bahadur Shrestha, projects a budget surplus of Rs.300 billion by the end of the fiscal if the projects move at the same snail’s pace in the second half. An underdeveloped country like Nepal has too many competing development needs and too little money to meet all of them, but the fact that most of the capital outlay remains unspent is a serious cause for concern for the development of the country and a sad commentary on politicians and bureaucrats. The liquidity crunch that the commercial banks are facing at present is substantially due to the unspent money of the government’s coffers, leading to its several serious financial implications. Now the seriousness of the problem is also stressed by the concern expressed by some Kathmandu-based diplomats over the low pace of capital spending despite a projection of a high economic growth rate. Instructions and orders alone will not resolve the problem of low spending; it is a matter of strong political will to sincerely remove all the impediments on the way.

Bike thefts

On an average police in the Kathmandu valley receive at least three complaints about motorbikes being stolen in one day. They are stolen mostly from crowded areas like hospitals and restaurants. According to the police, 99 per cent of all bikes stolen are from the capital. These motorcycles are then sold particularly in rural areas for a price of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 60,000, according to the condition of the bikes. The news that the Metropolitan Police Range, Lalitpur has busted a motorcycle-theft racket is indeed welcome. Most of the motorcycle owners mistakenly believe that their bikes are insured for theft, and they can claim the insurance amount even if they are lost or stolen.

To prevent the theft of their bikes the owners should be careful when it comes to parking their vehicles which should preferably be done where they are safe in parking lots. Meanwhile, as reports of stolen bikes are common these days, the police need to carry out further intensive investigations to bust more racketeers involved in stealing bikes. It is obvious that there are many involved in the clandestine activity of stealing bikes.