EDITORIAL: Poor performances

The government usually announces a multi-billion rupee project without making any real assessment about the problem of land acquisition from individuals

Many national pride and priority one projects pushed by the government for the fiscal year 2016/17 and other ongoing ones for several years have made no substantive progress as they have failed to utilise the budget earmarked for them. As per the financial rules, the projects that fail to utilise the allocated budget for them within the fiscal will have to be returned to the Finance Ministry which would use it for other projects that have made satisfactory progress but still need more funds to complete the tasks. The Second International Airport, Nijgadh, Pokhara Regional International Airport, South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project, Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track, Bheri-Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project, Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project and Post-Earthquake Reconstruction Works are among the national pride or priority one projects whose progress is almost nil and some of them have not even kick-started. According to the Finance Ministry, the performance of 18 national pride projects have been miserable. The government has allocated Rs. 54.18 billion for these projects, but they have spent only 13 percent of the total budget during the first half of the fiscal. This shows the lackluster performance of the government leadership and bureaucracy.

Four of the above mentioned national pride and priority one projects have not spent even one percent of the budget allocated for them, while the Post-Earthquake Reconstruction Works for which Rs. 34 billion has been earmarked this fiscal has spent just a little more than one percent. The government has allocated Rs 10 billion for construction of the Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway. But the project has spent only 0.023 percent of it. If the current spending ratio is measured, it will take several decades to complete it and link the capital with the proposed second international airport, whose performance is also very dismal. Looking at the slow progress made on those projects, the Finance Ministry has asked the line agencies and ministries to surrender the remaining budget from mid-March if they fail to utilise the budget.

If this trend continues, the very objective of the priority projects will not be achieved due to the slow progress. The banks and financial institutions have also accused the government of not being able to spend the development budget it wants to spend, creating a liquidity crunch in the market and to provide loans to the borrowers. Why the national pride or priority one projects remains dormant most of the time despite the government’s pledge to take them forward is that most of them are poorly planned; some of them are announced at political level for public consumption, and the bureaucracy does not show its readiness to execute them as per the political commitment. The government usually announces a multi-billion rupee project without making any real assessment about the problem of land acquisition from individuals. Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway and Budhigandaki Hydel Project are just two examples that have made no headway due to fierce protests from locals over the price of land to be acquired which is far less than the market value.

Dismal showing

The US State Department has just released its annual Global Human Rights Report of the year 2016 taking note of the situation in Nepal also. Among its findings are: Nepali authorities did not always implement court orders, including those relating to conflict-era cases; the Nepali courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation. Indeed, there is much room for

improvement in these areas.

The report also alleges the use of excessive force by security personnel in controlling protests, especially in Tarai, and harassment of media and press self-censorship. Regarding the first, cases of police highhandedness cannot be ruled out, but it is a curiosity what the US and other countries would respond to any protests that easily resorted to violence and vandalism and that targeted those, including the media, if they expressed fact and opinion which the protesters did not like. Unlike in the US, the Nepali media are more threatened now by non-state actors than the state. Strangely, in Nepal, the media, acts which would land the offenders in serious trouble in the US and many other countries would go unpunished.