The govt must review the impact of the PMEP, and it should also stop borrowing loans from donor agencies for useless programmes

The Prime Minister Employment Programme (PMEP) was initiated with the good intention of providing 100 days of work at a minimum wage to the unemployed youths at the local levels. However, the programme has now become a liability for the government as it has miserably failed to identify the constructive and productive sectors where the unemployed youths could be employed. During the last fiscal, the government launched it with much fanfare, only to face criticism from all walks of life.

It did not have statistics about the exact number of unemployed youths or families who were unable to find any job throughout the year though the unemployment rate nationwide is said to be standing at around 11.4 per cent. The government has already borrowed US$ 120 million from the World Bank (WB) to implement the Youth Employment Transformation Initiative to provide Nepali youths access to employment opportunities. Using at least 15 per cent of the credit loan ($18 million) from the WB, the government aims to hire two employees (a sub-engineer and an assistant) in each of the 753 local levels to support the PMEP, which guarantees 100 days of work for those unemployed as per the Right to Employment Act-2075 B.S.

The Act states that the government needs to provide 100-day work at minimum wages to an unemployed who has registered his name with the Employment Bureau at the local level. Should the person registered thus fail to get a job for 100 days, the Act states that the person is entitled to receive 50 per cent of the minimum wage set by the government and if none of the family members are employed for a year. For this fiscal, apart from the WB loan, the government has also allocated Rs 2 billion to be distributed to the unemployed youths as wages. The local governments will have an additional 1,506 employees in their payroll that will further increase the financial burden on them each year, which will have to be borne by the taxpayers.

The government should not have decided to hire two staffers in each local level as it only adds a financial liability. Instead, the government should have launched pilot programmes in select local levels, where demand for and supply of labourers are very high. Based on the experiences of the pilot projects, the PMEP could have been launched in all local levels with some modification. Last year’s experience has shown that money was doled out to those who were close to the ruling party. They were hired in works such as chasing away stray cows and dogs and removing weed from the roadsides. The government should also not borrow loans from donor agencies for a programme never tested before at the grass-roots level. Even if the government needs to give continuity to it, as per the legal obligation, it should be carried out in a planned way. Rather than wasting resources in unproductive sectors, it would be better if the funds are utilised for imparting basic skills and training to the youths for select works that help them earn a decent living. The social security programme, which is a good concept in itself, does not mean money from the state coffers should be doled out to the people without requiring them to work at all. Learning lessons from the past fiscal, the government needs to review its impact in society.

Catch the sun

Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) must be commended for its plan to diversify into solar power. Until now, Nepal has relied heavily on its rich water resources to generate energy. However, if all goes according to plan, Nepal’s first largest solar power plant will start generating power by April this year. Accordingly, a 25-MW solar power plant is coming up in Nuwakot district to the north-west of Kathmandu, of which the first installment of 15 MW will come online by April and the remaining 10 MW by May. As of now, there are no batteries to store energy, so it will generate electricity only during the daytime. The installed solar energy should to some extent make up for the dip in hydropower generation during the dry season.

The solar power plant is a step towards having an energy mix ratio of 85:15, of which the bulk will constitute hydropower. But NEA has a long way to go in generating nearly 200 MW of solar power to meet the energy mix. Although licenses have been issued to different companies to generate more than 500 MW of solar power, finding sufficient land to install the solar panels is proving to be a big hurdle.