KATHMANDU, APRIL 26
One of the greatest challenges faced by an emerging country like Nepal, a soon to be lower middle-income country, pandemic allowing, is the creation of employment opportunities, and the challenge for the policy makers is to find the right formula to make this happen.
Ideally the job of a government should be to facilitate, stimulate and incentivise job creation, creating the conducive conditions for private, social businesses and not for profit sectors to thrive and expand so that the demand for workers and employees will grow.
I am for an economic sector not just dominated by for profit entities but rather a social market economy with a mix of actors, in which commercially-oriented companies would work along and compete with other socio-economic actors that are "mission" driven, where genuine cooperatives, social businesses and social enterprises, together with the more traditional NGO sector, provide services and products as well.
While framing this scenario, I am not undervaluing the role the state should play in the daunting challenge of job creation, especially now when the pandemic has exposed the faulting lines of the socalled "trickle down" economy that misses those at the bottom.
Definitely if we remain bold enough to continue to believe that a "post-pandemic world" would ever come to existence in the coming months and years, together with a new economic agenda focussed on sustainability and green jobs, it is essential to rethink the role of the state in employment creation.
Should a strong, proactive and progressive governance continue to foresee the state not only as a facilitator and enabler but also as job creator or should we instead redefine what the state could best do to enable employment and reduce poverty and vulnerability among the population? The case of the Prime Minister Employment Programme (PMEP) is emblematic.
A recent report published by the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers clearly admits the problems of such initiatives, where the state directly tries to mobilise manpower in a bid to lessen the level of poverty in the country. They are all bound for failure or are set for huge disappointments.
As we know, the programme offers a minimum guaranteed 100 days of work to unemployed citizens that would be mobilised by locally elected bodies for a wide variety of jobs, mainly focused on roads and infrastructure maintenances. However, on average, the programme is only able to guarantee 16 days of work to those who have enrolled.
As many have already highlighted, among the factors hampering the outcomes is the politicisation and corruption at the local levels. But the real issue at play here is that the state is not the best suited actor to create jobs, and locally elected officials are not "welfare entrepreneurs", always able to create ad hoc employment opportunities just for the sake of guaranteeing 100 days of work to those who are entitled to. This does not mean neglecting or overlooking the duties of the state to help create jobs, reducing unemployment while also slashing the levels of poverty.
As I said earlier, now more than ever there is a daunting need of bold public policies that can uplift millions of citizens who have been left behind not only by the consequences of the pandemic but also by the failures of market capitalism to reach out to the most disadvantaged segments of the populations and as a consequence risk being perpetually excluded.
Think of persons living with disabilities or Dalits or members of indigenous communities who never enjoyed the upward social mobility that the lower middle class has enjoyed in the last decade.
It is not that the entire framework envisioned by the PMEP should be dismissed.
For example, the idea of creating local employment offices, the so-called Employment Service Centres (ESCs), in each elected municipality is a good one. It's promising, but such centres should be seen as an opportunity rather than a burden for locally elected officials. Also, could the associations representing the private sector have a voice in managing these centres? The amount of money being used to try to make the PMEP effective is huge if also we consider the loan assistance from the World Bank that amounts to US$ 120 million.
Would it be worthy to hit the pause bottom and re-consider the entire programme? Why not re-design it with a targeted basic income initiative that would distribute a monthly income to the most disadvantaged members of the society? The World Bank has a long history in conditional and unconditional cash transfer programmes. And data show that in most of the cases, families are not wasting the income received but are actually using it wisely, and this is something that really make a difference in their lives.
As a complementary pillar to this social security dimension, a national part time "service" mission could be added, asking for recipients' participation in campaigns of public interest.
The latter could be a way to maintain the "public work" dimension of the PMEP with the only difference being that the beneficiaries would be asked to "give back" a few hours a week to their communities while being able to carry on with their now independent lives, as they will be able to use the unconditional monthly grant for whatever purpose they like.
Many vulnerable people would be lifted up and many communities thriving as a consequence: some citizens would be able to buy medicines and much-needed clothes.
Other would finally be able to send their children to school while many could start a micro business. This is smart public policy and the need of the day.
Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities
The WB has a long history in conditional and unconditional cash transfer programmes. Data show that in most of the cases, families are not wasting the income received but are actually using it wisely, and this is something that really make a difference in their lives. As a complementary pillar to this social security dimension, a national part time "service" mission could be added in it.