Tuesday, 7 April, 2020
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OPINION

Losing Focus On Basic Services



Mukti Rijal

 

The present government has completed two years in office following the democratic elections in which the unified Nepal Communist Party garnered absolute majority in the federal parliament. The government led by KP Sharma Oli has several strengths which no previous governments had at their disposal. First, it is the government formed under the new federal constitution which expressly defines the basis, structures and authority of the government. Secondly, its strength in federal parliament is so definite and rock solid that it cannot be fettered and assailed on any grounds from any quarters.
However, the context in which the present government took the reins of power needs to be carefully taken into account. The government has inherited several anomalies and malaises long embedded in the body politic of the country engendered due to transient politics and unstable government. The development was more or less stagnated, and corrupt practices had seeped into the bureaucracy and other organs of the state.
In order to produce the results the present government had to break this abusive nexus and cleanse the body politic off the malaises and corrupt practices. The prime minister spoke explicitly about this malevolent nexus the other day in his address to the nation emphasising that this impugned collusion has been responsible for the poor implementation of development projects in the country. The prime minister talked about the reason why the capital expenditure has been very poor in the country. He confessed to the fact that the construction contractors have been selected without evaluation of their capacity– technical manpower, equipments and managerial competence-- required for the implementation of the big or small physical infrastructure projects. This has resulted into poor outcome in utilisation of the capital expenditure. The poor implementation capacity has been outlined in the comments made by the representative of the development partner like Asian Development Bank that has invested resources in the capital intensive infrastructure projects in Nepal. This should be taken as the words of caution.
The project governance in Nepal is fraught with several problems, including lack of transparency and accountability. The contracts have been awarded to the few chosen contractors who build their nexus with politicians and bureaucrats jeopardising the interests of the capital projects. According to PM Oli, 18 contractors have managed to capture all the important projects under the Department of Roads for many years. Similarly, around 20 contractors have been awarded a big number of drinking water projects repeatedly for many years without assessing their capacity and performance. Almost similar number of the contractors has occupied projects under urban development.
The unholy nexus between few big contractors, bureaucrats and politicians has exacted a heavy toll on the poor utilisation of resources and diminished capital spending in the country. In fact, this is not the making of the present government alone and the past governments are equally responsible for the messy state of affairs. The present government rather seems prepared to correct and set the issues right but the way cronyism and nepotism is allowed to dictate the decisions it is difficult to say whether its commitment to weed out irregularities in development sector would bear any fruit. However, the government should not escape mentioning the fact that it should be credited for taking lead in conceptualising, accelerating and implementing the game changing projects in the field of multidimensional connectivity like railways, road, and electricity and aviation infrastructures. Emphasis laid on social security, farm productivity and employment generation can be cited as the positive aspects in the performance of the government though they are yet to bear fruit.
However, there are certain lacunas in the style and mode of the government functioning as several decisions have been taken without stakeholder consultation and participation. This should be the reason why many policies and legislative bills have meted out with severe criticism and resistances of the stakeholders. The Guthi bill, media council bill and many other legislative initiatives have come under harsher public scrutiny.
Despite several positive aspects, basic weaknesses of the government lie in the fact that it has not paid enough attention to improve basic services to the people. Education, health and transportation are some of the areas where government has not done much to improve their quality and mitigate the hassles faced by the people. Transport sector has not improved despite government claim to have dismantled the syndicates. Road safety has been neglected with impunity, and fatal road accidents do occur frequently killing dozens of people. Travelling in buses in the Kathmandu Valley itself is a nightmarish experience for ordinary commuters. The government has talked of instituting the Transport Management Authority to restructure, regulate and reform the transportation system but has not done anything in this respect. It is expected that the government will redouble its efforts to meet the commitments made to the people to improve their lot during the succeeding years.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at rijalmukti@gmail.com)

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