Many social programmes proposed by the government are likely to remain only on paper due to lack of funds and its capacity

Finance Minister Janardan Sharma on Friday presented a Replacement Bill on the Finance Ordinance presented by former finance minister Bishnu Poudel amidst an uproar in the federal parliament by the main opposition CPN-UML calling for the cancellation of the membership of those lawmakers who have formed the CPN-USP led by Madhav Kumar Nepal. FM Sharma has reduced the size of the budget by Rs 14.72 billion, keeping it at Rs 1,632.83 billion.

He has also reduced the regular expenditure symbolically and has slightly increased the capital expenditure.

Sharma has said that savings for Rs 5 billion from the reduction of the regular expenditure will be utilised to procure COVID-19 vaccines. He has also increased the budget for the provincial governments and local levels by Rs 59 crores. Sharma has also proposed cutting Rs 37 billion on foreign or public debt from the previous Rs 309.29 billion to Rs 283.9 billion.

He has also proposed reducing internal borrowing from Rs 250 billion to 239 billion. Although the government has proposed slashing the foreign or public debt, it has, however, decided to raise revenue collection by 21 per cent, or Rs 1,180 billion.

Finance Minister has claimed that the replacement bill mainly aims at maintaining fiscal discipline.

"We want to bring an end to the tendency of taking loans without plans and allocating budget for development projects without ensuring the resources for their execution,"

Sharma said, while tabling the replacement bill in the House. He also said he had scrapped many projects that did not have any resources to complete them. He has proposed scrapping 1,400 road projects, whose feasibility studies were not carried out and financial resources for them were not ensured. However, former finance minister Poudel has said they were cancelled to take "political revenge". While giving continuity to the previous government's decisions on social security, the government has added some programmes under which patients who have undergone kidney transplant as well as cancer patients and those suffering from spinal injury will receive Rs 5,000 per month.

Sharma has also proposed providing tax waiver and cash facility to the COVID-affected poor families.

Each of the around 5 lakh poor families, who had been working in the informal and unorganised sectors before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be provided Rs 10,000 for once. This amount will be channeled and distributed through the local levels within a month. But, it is said there are around 5 million people who have been affected by multidimensional poverty due to COVID-19. It is unclear how the local levels will determine which of the families will deserve such largesse. There is a high possibility of this fund being distributed to those people who are close to the elected officials and leaders of the ruling parties, depriving the remaining poor people of this facility. Implementation of this replacement bill is yet another challenge as it will take time to have it passed by the House. As in the past, many new social programmes proposed by the government are likely to remain only on paper due to lack of funds and the government's institutional capacity.

Female doctors

If the government is serious about providing health services to people in the rural areas, then it must understand that there is more to it than building a hospital or a health post. Experience has shown that women feel uncomfortable discussing their health problems, especially those related to reproductive health, with a male doctor. Women patients in remote Bajura are elated that the district hospital now has a female doctor, with whom they feel cosy discussing their health issues. The female doctor has been treating about 25 women patients daily, many of whom suffer from uterus and reproductive health.

In Nepal, about 10 per cent of the women population is said to suffer from uterine prolapse, and most of them tend to carry the health problem lifelong because they are ashamed to discuss the issue with the doctor. Thus, recruiting more female doctors and health personnel in the government health institutions would help treat many of women's problems.

It is equally important that the hospital or health post building in the rural areas reflect the local architecture and ethos as studies show that people feel intimidated by huge structures and the antiseptic cleanliness.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 13 2021, of The Himalayan Times.