Tuesday, 2 June, 2020

Health A Top Priority

The parliament is now in full gear. Lawmakers are offering their inputs and insight with regard to the upcoming fiscal year’s budget to be presented by the end of May. They are zeroing in on the ‘Appropriation Bill Theory and Priority’ which Minister for Finance Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada tabled in both chambers of federal parliament -- the House of Representatives and National Assembly -- the other day. The pre-budget discussions are taking place amidst the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic that has made life miserable. It is around six weeks now since Nepal went under lockdown to prevent the transmission of the deadly virus. The extended lockdown has taken its toll on the national economy that largely relies on remittances, import revenues and foreign aid. As the government has relaxed the lockdown by opening selective areas of economy and business, the country has seen a sudden spike in the cases of COVID-19 to the much chagrin of the people. This has posed tough challenges to the government for it has to revive the slackened economy on the one hand and protect the lives of citizens on the other.

While speaking in the National Assembly, Minister Dr. Khatiwada emphasised that saving the lives of people was in the top priority of the upcoming budget in addition to breathing life into the battered economy. He said that the government was trying to maintain a balance between the economic activities and health security, with focus on agriculture for enhanced productivity and employment. According to him, domestic agro production needs to be linked with consumption pattern and market mechanism. The government’s policy paper seeks to engage people in the rural agro production and businesses which also aims to absorb the returnee migrant workers left in the lurch in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The government’s budget principle sounds a shift from the economic policy based on free market and privatisation philosophy. The successive governments formed since 1991 had adopted neo-liberal economic policy that undermined the role of government as well as the state. This led to collapse of public enterprises and decline in agricultural output. The governments cut incentives and subsidy given to the farmers. In the lack of proper state support, agriculture failed to be a lucrative field. This forced the youth to search for their brighter future in foreign labour destinations. In the new budget, the government will create mechanisms to ensure the fair price of agro products, thereby enhancing farmers’ purchasing power.

The ongoing corona crisis has exposed the defective privatisation policy which put the health and education into the hands of profit-driven private sector. The greedy nature of the private hospitals and health centres came to the fore when they turned away the visiting patients during the pandemic. This particular scenario must drive home the message that the state must provide basic health and education to its citizens. This is also in consistent with the constitution that envisions building the socialism-oriented economy and welfare state. Therefore, the new budget should allocate enough budget for the health and agro sectors to protect lives as well as achieve economic self-reliance and independence. 

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