Last week, the President of Nepal presented the government’s Annual Policy and Program (APP) for the upcoming financial year 2018-2019 to a joint session of the federal parliament. The event marked the continuation of a ritual that dates back to the time of absolute monarchy in Nepal where the head-of-state would present a wish-list of activities for the government to execute in the following year. Nevertheless, this announcement provides a glimpse into the public policy priorities of the current Communist Party of Nepal led government.
In this APP, there is a clear emphasis on investing in major infrastructural projects as key driver of economic growth. The proposed mega infrastructure includes a new east-west highway, trans-border railways, transmission lines, and three international and regional airports. Similarly, the government vows to invite foreign direct investment into the hydro-electricity sector in the goal to add 5000 megawatt production capacity in the next five years. However, given the performance of previous governments, these targets present an imposing challenge.
Equally ambitious is the plan to double the per-capita income in the next five years and graduate to a middle-income country at the end of the decade. Achieving this goal would require an annual per-capita income growth rate unprecedented in Nepal’s history. Similarly, the targets to double of agricultural production over the next five years, open bank accounts for every citizen, and complete the post-earthquake reconstruction of private houses within a year is a daunting task for the government to accomplish.
Other highlights of the APP include investing in human capital development, establishing information highways, improving productivity in the agro-sector through the mechanization and revamping of farming practices, establishing hospitals in each of 753 municipalities and connecting their centres with black-topped roads. Nevertheless, the document lacks a specific plan of action of how to meet these targets.
Besides physical development, the APP also recognizes need to improve in areas of governance to achieve the promised prosperity. This includes strengthening public institutions, enhancing accountability, and reducing the social and political vulnerability of the Nepali people, among others.
For example, the government has identified the resettlement of people and communities in natural hazard risk zones as one of the key disaster management techniques. This idea marks a shift in thought of the role of government in disaster management; where instead of being the post-disaster ‘rescuer’, the government has a responsibility to reduce the vulnerability of its citizenry in pre-disaster contexts. The normative value proposition here is the realisation that vulnerability is not natural and that it is often shaped by the political-economic characteristic of the society.
Yet, the plan is not clear on how this practice of good governance will be achieved. On the issue of improving accountability, for instance, several question remain unanswered. What are the key accountability issues that Nepal faces? What are the biggest hurdles to improve accountability issues like corruption and impunity? Whose accountability is the plan referring to and to whom are they accountable? As a result, the Nepali government’s indication of commitment to improved governance lacks credibility.
Similarly, the 2018-2019 APP is the first since the formation of the sub-national governments at the provincial and local levels. However, the plan completely ignores the role of the federal government in managing the transition towards federalism. As the country is gearing towards one of the biggest governance transitions in its history, there is no specific program to manage such a transition.
In sum, we can be cautiously optimistic about the government’s 2018-2019 APP. The suggested development programs and policy reform goals, if achieved, could be a transformational achievement towards achieving increased prosperity and development in Nepal. However, we need to wait until the government’s budget speech, to see whether the government has the resources to transform the plan into action.