Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Reinforcing Pillars Of Development


Narayan Prasad Ghimire


With the promulgation of new constitution and subsequent three-tier elections, Nepal formally adopted the federal system. A two-thirds majority government is in place to deliver goods to people who have waited impatiently for development and prosperity. Although it is a daunting task to revamp system in administrative and economic fronts that ensures prompt service and paves the way for secure future in the changed context, it is the right time to reinforce pillars of development. This write-up dwells on the unfolding constraints to development efforts and recommends some measures for course correction.

Esurient bureaucracy
As I sat before my computer to write this piece, a news story popped up at the corner down the screen: ‘Case filed against a subba for embezzling Rs 150 million’. It is not good to make a hasty generalization that the entire bureaucracy is mired in corruption, but the story is a solid reminder of how undesirable things are done from within to make the bureaucracy, which is taken as the permanent government, dysfunctional. From this very story, we can raise various questions: Once a non-gazetted first level officer, nayab subba, involves in the embezzlement of such a huge amount, how long did he/she shirk the office duties to amass it? How many citizens were deprived of service delivery and state entitlements? Why and how was the supervisory body, the layer above him, ignoring it? The story evidently left a bleak impression. Despite this, nabbing such a corrupt employee, though late, must be acknowledged.
Indifference to agriculture
It is evident that the plight of sugarcane farmers - not paid by sugar mills for their produce - has made headlines for some months as in the past. Similarly, price of onion has soared - per kg onion equals to per kg chicken. The import of onion from India stopped for a while. It is not uncommon these days if you find ropanis and hectares of arable land left uncultivated in the hills and southern plains. Questioned why the land is left barren, often the answer is – most people are not interested in agriculture.
Leaving aside the bitter fact that Nepal's agriculture is yet to be mechanized and suffers from market access, gross disinterest and ignorance of youths in agriculture is shocking, for they are ready to work even menial jobs in the cities or in foreign lands. So, our attitudinal problem meddles here - agriculture/field work is inferior while desk/office work is superior. It is high time the government brought positive policies and laws that attract and retain youths in agriculture. Similarly, it has been too late to commercialise agriculture.
The guarantee of other infrastructures as reliable transportation for market access, availability of seeds, compost and fertilizers, irrigation, etc. is equally imperative. Now that an intellectual figure in the communist party, Ghanashyam Bhusal, has been named the Minister for Agriculture, we can expect him to seriously study the challenges in agriculture sector, internalise farmers'/entrepreneurs' problems and take initiatives for reform in policy and practice.

Political protectionism
It is worrying that news stories about petty political interests impeding development activities are making the rounds. Protectionist politics e.g. the protection of contractors is another serious impediment to infrastructure development in Nepal. With little or no punishment from the authorities after undue political/party influence, construction works are delayed/protracted, which ultimately puts people at the receiving end. Various mega projects, including Melamchi Water Supply Project, have suffered this fate.
It is natural that political parties have different ideologies and thoughts, but why can't they come together in matter of country's development? Non-cooperation from one party to another in development efforts is nothing but mere jealousy. As democracy is a shared system, development too is shared responsibility. Acceleration of infrastructure development with due respect to economic freedom is people’s anticipation for long. If all sides do not take initiatives, it will be difficult to free the country from the shackles of backwardness and least developed state and graduate to middle-income state.

Policy framing and investment
The policy level efforts made for improving investment and business climate are considered essential to boost the economic status of the country, endowed with plenty of natural resources but left unused for lack of adequate investment. It is appreciable that the current government has enforced the Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act (FITTA), Public Private Partnership and Investment Act, and Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in a bid to create investment friendly atmosphere. However, it will take some time to experience the effectiveness of these laws. If thorough discussions were held with the business community ensuring inclusive policy framing, it would obviously lead to achievements we have expected.
Also, in the changed context of federalism - new constitution, three levels of government with respective rights - old laws are no longer relevant. But the good features of the old laws should not be ditched while drafting the new ones. Multi-stakeholder participation in law and policy making process from the local to federal level not only empowers citizens but also ensures their ownership in governance, which is the true spirit of federalism.

Acute shortage of jobs
Around 1,500 Nepali youths leave the country for foreign employment every day. It indicates how appalling the situation is for the active human resource to maintain their livelihoods. Sheer lack of opportunities is forcing them out of the country to work in harsh conditions. Thanks to their backbreaking efforts, nearly 900 billion rupees comes as remittance to prop up the national economy. According to Nepal Rastra Bank, in the first three months of the current fiscal year 2019/20, Nepal received Rs. 230.24 billion in remittance, a 4.9 per cent decrease compared to the corresponding period last year. There is an urgent need to create jobs within the country with the establishment of new industries and promotion of self-employment.

Trust in public institutions
In the federal setup, the trust in public institutions and agencies must be enhanced. Effective and smooth public service delivery, transparency and accountability, citizen's participation in policy and decision making help make public institutions more credible. Along with devolution of power, huge chunk of budget has gone to the local and state levels. Proper utilization of budget for state entitlements to citizens and development activities will pave the way for meaningful change at the local levels. It is however a shared responsibility especially of bureaucracy and political leadership to boost trust in public institutions.
Moreover, the academia – universities and schools - must ensure quality education. It is quite upsetting to hear every year that the quality of education has eroded in the largest and oldest educational institution - Tribhuvan University. Recently, attending the senate meeting of TU, Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel strongly urged TU officials to focus on how quality education could be guaranteed and TU's image restored. Teaching and learning without adequate research is a pressing problem in our university education, which leaves graduates at a disadvantage in the job market. A university official complained that the quality of education eroded because of political interference. It is the right time to remember it because a new Vice Chancellor has been appointed at TU.

Industry and trade
The recent data shows that Nepal faced the trade deficit of Rs 414 billion in first four months of the current fiscal year. It is another disturbing indication that Nepal is in dire need of industrial development and export promotion to reduce widening trade deficit. The political leadership and government must be united to implement the agreements made with the neighboring countries in terms of attracting investment and promoting trade. Access to additional ports assured by India and China to facilitate Nepal's trade must be utilised.
While talking about industrial development, the reference of Bangladesh is quite relevant here. Bangladesh, the country that became Independent in 1971, is much richer than us. It is mostly because of its industrial progress over a short period of time.
Their per capita income is around 5,000 dollars while ours is only around 1,000. In a recent visit to Nepal, Bangladeshi President Abdul Hamid assured assistance from his country to Nepal's national campaign of 'Prosperous Nepal: Happy Nepali'. Isn't it time for Nepal to learn from Bangladesh how we can prosper quickly?

Some good news
Here is a bit of good news. In the global Prosperity Index 2019, Nepal has been ranked 115th out of 167 countries across the world. As per the report unveiled recently by the Legatum Institute of UK, since 2009, Nepal has moved up the ranking table by 13 places.
There are 12 parameters set for the Prosperity Index - safety and security, personal freedom, governance, social capital, investment environment, enterprise condition, market access and infrastructures, economic quality, living condition, health, education and natural environment. Among these, Nepal was found weakest in market access and infrastructure, while it did the best in terms of personal freedom. As the report suggests, creating more markets ensuring citizen's easy access to these, and acceleration of infrastructure development is a must for Nepal in addition to improvement in good governance.

Development a shared responsibility
Development is a complex process, warranting attention and engagements from diverse sectors. Owning up development entirely by government is not only illogical but also impractical and difficult, for it can't be realized without participation and responsibility of all sides/actors.
Although everyone does not agree on a single definition, need, model, and approach of development, there is no denying that Nepal is evidently in need of expediting infrastructure development with equal empowerment of other development pillars as mentioned above.
However, in Nepal, expediting development activities is not that easy as the constraints still persist. Nepal lost much time waging struggles for civil and political rights; despite getting liberation from autocratic Ranarchy 70 years back, citizens' rights were seized time and again by monarchy while political parties too engaged in revengeful politics which largely dampened development efforts in Nepal.
Now, time has come for all sides - ruling parties, opposition, bureaucracy, industrialists, investors and entrepreneurs - to come together to steer development work that ushers meaningful change and happiness to all. It is time to make development a shared responsibility.

Ghimire is a working journalist. Views are personal