Nepal’s arguably most powerful government’s first budget has failed to rouse its own supporters.
In their joint election manifesto last year, NCP leaders made some exciting promises like increasing the annual per capita income of Nepalis to $5,000 and building 50-bed hospitals in all village councils.
But Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada toned down the budget, probably because he himself has been making a pretty dire prognosis of the state of the economy. It seems the country simply cannot afford to lavishly throw money around.
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Some have defended the budget by saying that Khatiwada is minister in a stable government which will govern Nepal for at least five years, and all electoral promises need not be fulfilled in the first year.
But some NCP supporters themselves wonder if Khatiwada is working at cross-purposes with his bosses since there was nothing in the budget speech on Tuesday about Prime Minister Oli’s pledges.
“Most people hoped for a big bang budget, preparing the country for a great leap forward,”says economist Keshav Acharya. “But it is rudderless, it does not reflect the party’s election manifesto, and nor is it in sync with the white paper.”
Surprisngly, critics like Swarnim Wagle and Bishwo Poudel have described the budget as “realistic”, probably knowing the Finance Minister had little room for manoeuvre.
However, Khatiwada has set a target of 8% economic growth this year, contradicting the adverse economic scenario he presented in his own white paper two months ago. Economists are skeptical about the projected growth rate when indicators are so dismal.
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Khatiwada mentioned big-ticket infrastructure projects like the Chure Highway, Nijgad Airport, the Tarai Fast-Track, East-West Electric Railway and Kathmandu to Kerung and Raxaul railways, earmarking Rs 109 billion for transport alone.
The Communist plan is to launch major infrastructure projects for massive job-creation, and unleash downstream benefits. However, such gigantic schemes have been ridiculed in social media: many say a government that cannot even upgrade roads like the Kalanki intersection (pictured, above) for four years has no right to spin dreams of intercity trains.
Infrastructure expert Surya Raj Acharya pushes for big infrastructure projects like Nijgad Airport, but worries that the government lacks capacity to implement them.