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     INTERVIEW: We're near the goal of graduating to developing country by 2022: Finance Minister Khatiwada 



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Kathmandu, July 4 : Finance Minister Dr Yubaraj Khatiwada has claimed that the Nepali economy dented by COVID-19 pandemic was reviving gradually. Also the Minister for Communications and Information Technology Dr Khatiwada shared that with the economic and social activities getting restored, the income and expenditure gap is also being narrowed.    

He however said it is challenging to ensure dynamic economy in the face of adverse situation.    
The National News Agency (RSS) took his interview focusing the national economy in the context of post budget and pandemic situation.    

With the RSS team, the Minister reiterated that the budget for the coming fiscal year which has also been passed by the parliament clearly focused the strategy and health safety Nepal should adopt to control the COVID-19 in the country. "In addition to health safety of people,

protection of lives and revival of economic activities is equal priority. Even the experience of developed countries shows that economy must be made dynamic despite crisis. Our efforts are also for the same," he said, adding that economic burden on the entrepreneurs and common people in the wake of lockdown has led to depression. So, saving lives and continuing business with proper safety measure is imperative.    

In response to the query relating to the complaint that budget was a bit traditional and technical one, thereby failing to announce special relief package and avoiding political value, Minister Khatiwada admits that budget is not only a principle and speech but an economic and political document in real sense. Rather than individual interest, it presents government policy, programmes, priorities and principles addressing national need and problems.    
    
According to him, it was not good to forecast that the intraparty feud in the ruling NCP affects budget implementation. The government is mandated for five years so the budget is brought accordingly. The discussion and debate within the party gives impetus to budget implementation, he believed.    

Minister Khatiwada however said it would be too hasty to be elated over the report of the World Bank released recently showing Nepal's progress to middle income country. "Anyway, Nepal is nearing that the stage to be graduated to the developing country by 2022. We made progress in per capita income and human development index, but economy is still in risk," he said, reminding that Nepal was still listed in the category of the least developed country by the UN evaluation.    

He shared the gradual revival of economic activities despite idle tourism and no international flights. The international import of the country limited to one fourth in Baisakh has now increased to 80 percent. "If the stay-at-home order was not issued on time, it could create huge damage. Currently, the revenue collection is some Rs 700 to 800 million every day. Collection of internal revenue upped. There is normal

liquidity. Although the court order created confusion in the beginning, the industrialists and entrepreneurs began paying tax. Remittance also grew in Jesth. We have now the foreign currency reserve of $14 billion. It suffices for one year's import. Balance of payment is good. The inflation is below 6 percent."    

Moreover, the Minister said the donor country's assistance is encouraging. New contracts are being made. Present situation is not as nervous as that of 2015 Earthquake. There is not any damage in the infrastructures either.    

He observed that that there is lack of proper knowledge among critics on budget allocation on agriculture. He argued that he was the only Finance Minister allocating huge budget to agriculture. Agriculture can not be taken in a scattered way, but a complete package of agro products, its supply, storage, electricity, rural road, he reminded.    

''We have fixed support prices for agricultural produces so as to promote their markets, facilities for storage and milling have been managed and announced subsidy in seeds. Budget has been allocated for rural electrification . The Agriculture University has been provided budget to undertake research in agriculture. These all show that budget for agriculture is sufficient,'' the Minister said.    
 

According to him, the Nepal Rastra Banak had started investing in agricultural sector while he was its Governor and now the central bank's investment in agriculture stands at around 10 percent.    

The Finance Minister insisted on the need of increasing people's purchasing capacity to expand markets for agro-produces and not to limit agriculture just as just the subsistence occupation.    

The Finance Minister who recently informed the House that nation's expenditure was likely to be unaffordable due to COVID-19 crisis said that was the situation of that time. The estimate of income and expenditures of the moment had suggested the same as the revenue collection was

Rs 15 billion and the spending was around Rs 40 billion. I had informed that reality before the House. ''But now I am not telling that revenue collection was in full swing in this adverse atmosphere. We are still below the target. But lately, trade activities are gradually on a track.''    

The Finance Minister went on to say that ministry's responsibilities created during the current fiscal year would be fulfilled. It was doing its best to meet those responsibilities shifted from the previous fiscal year. We have now some other additional responsibilities in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic as well. But efforts would continue to address most of such responsibilities this year.    

Sharing the government's plans to pay foreign debt, he said the clearance of debt starts only after the end of this year. This is the agreement reached with donor agencies. The clearance deadline has been extended. But discussions about the issues are going on.    

The former Governor said the Rastra Bank is an independent body which formulates the monetary policy while the budget is formulated by the government. But still the monetary policy and the government policies, programmes and budget are related as the central bank takes the policies, programmes and budget into account while preparing the policy.    

Moreover, he said there is a fund of Rs 50 billion in current capital. The fund could be utilized if any entrepreneurs face shortage of money for salary and allowances to the employees.

The government and other stakeholders also deposit money in the fund. Similarly, there is Rs 17 billion

in interest and premium of insurances.    

In response to the question what happens on Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Minister Khatiwada said the MCC stated that it does not release the fund unless it is approved by the parliament and the parliament session ended recently due to COIVID-19. So, ratification of the

MCC remains undecided. Therefore, Ministry of Finance urged the MCC to extend its ratification term and has received positive response on.

MCC is therefore on hold now.    
Analyzing the dispute surfaced on MCC, he said, "I don’t have any personal thought on it but government's stand prevails which I adhere to. Such international agreements should not be terminated without any genuine cause. Therefore if there was any ambiguity on project it could be c

larified via letter of exchange."    
 On Ministry's preparation to increase electric power consummation and electric vehicles, he viewed the issue could be interpreted logically.The import of electric vehicles is clearly mentioned in guidelines. Government is positive to increase the use of electric vehicles in the country. The electric oven can replace cooking gas cylinders as we have lessened import tax on eclectic oven from 15 per cent to 5 per cent.    

"We are working to make the country self-reliant in medical equipments and medicines. Some decisions should be taken targeting the medicine production. The decision should facilitate to make the country self-reliant in medicines," the Minister said it, responding to the query that some were blaming government that it imposed tax on import of medical equipments.  

  
RSS reporters Prakash Silwal and Ramesh Lamsal spoke to the Finance Minister at his office.    
 

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