Target practice

This is the budget season and the budget session; many of the debates in the capital are focusing on the various aspects of the upcoming national budget which Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat will present in the Legislature-Parliament towards the end of this month of Asar. Announcing the principles and priorities of the upcoming budget in Parliament recently, the finance minister said that the fiscal policy for the new fiscal year would focus on ‘achieving a high growth rate to make the country economically prosperous, completing tasks related to rehabilitation and reconstruction within a certain timeframe and tapping every opportunity to give a boost to socio-economic development’. As reports suggest, the new budget is likely to set a target of something like six percent economic growth rate, with priority given to capital formation, and to strengthen social security to boost the livelihood of about 60 percent of the population living on an income below US$2 a day, among other things. The budget size is expected to be increased by at least one-third, largely because of the post-earthquake rehabilitation and reconstruction needs.

Budgetary objectives and targets should be based on realistic assessment, not for the sake of populism

It is good to try for higher things. But any target of around six percent will be something that our present capacity is highly unlikely to reach. In our country, down the years, finance ministers have almost always set higher targets of economic growth rates that the country has been unable to meet at year-ends. It is true of so many other objectives and targets, including even the size of the budget which the government finds itself unable to spend fully. This sickness is not new; it has continued for decades. The only sad part is that with so much change going on around the world and in the country in so many areas, this low capacity has not improved at all even now, despite the fact that a number of democratic governments have come and gone since 1990. There are some people who support unrealistic targets on the ground that it will help spread enthusiasm and optimism among the general people.

But it has eroded credibility of the government. The government and politicians in Nepal know that they do not have to achieve what they promise; and they will rarely have to pay a heavy price for failing to keep their words. This situation has allowed our politicians to take liberties in such matters. Budgetary objectives and targets should be based on realistic assessment, not for the sake of populism. With our agriculture, the major contributor to GDP, still dependent on the monsoons; with our manufacturing sector in low key; with our exports declining vis-à-vis exports each year; and after the major earthquake of April 25, with the economy as a whole hit hard, with almost all major sectors of the economy, starting feeling the pinch, something like a six percent growth target will appear to be a tall order, even by calculating it on a narrower base of around three percent of predicted growth rate this year. It will be all very well to move towards achieving higher things, such as boosting the rate of capital formation in the country, which falls below the average for the least developed countries (LDCs). But that should not mean we should be unrealistic.

Medicine prices

Many private pharmacies are found to be charging more than they should. The price of the same medicine often differs from one pharmacy to another, thereby, confusing the customers. Thus, fixing of the retail prices of 96 medicines by the government should be taken positively. Among the medicines whose price has been fixed are 18 commonly used medicines and 78 other medicines used for the various different diseases, including cancer. Now that the retail price of these medicines have been fixed, it is the duty of the concerned to see that all abide by this provision.

Moreover, many pharmacies are seen flouting the law and selling medicines whose date has expired. It is also open knowledge that many of the pharmacies are operating without being registered. Preferably, the medicines should be sold as prescribed by the medical practitioners. Some pharmacies sell psychotropic drugs on the sly without the doctors’ prescriptions. This has led to widespread drug abuse.