Sunday, 3 March, 2024

COVID-focused Budgets

Nepal’s seven provinces are pulling their weight to stand on the firm financial footing. In February 2018, all seven provinces had formed their governments following their elections in November and December of 2017. Considered as the pillar of federalism, these provinces are striving to achieve a balanced, equal and sustainable development. In their budgets for the fiscal year 2021/22 unveiled on Tuesday, they sought to attain this goal. They target to eradicate COVID-19 pandemic, build basic infrastructures, create jobs and enhance the social security of people. The priority has also been given to education, agriculture, tourism, energy and entrepreneurship programme. Some provincial governments have been accused of bringing the populist and distributive budgets but it should not be forgotten that they have obligation to address the public expectations and immediate concerns. In doing so, they come under pressure to explore reliable sources of income and distribute them in a more judicious manner.

The combined budgets of all provinces stand at Rs. 261.82 billion. According to the news report of this daily, this budget is smaller by Rs. 2.38 billion than that of the total budget of the current fiscal year. Bagmati Province, which enjoys the advantage of large resources and greater political attention, has announced the largest budget among the seven provinces. Its budget is Rs. 57.72 billion, with Gandaki Province having the smallest sized budget (Rs. 30.03 billion). Similarly, Province 2 has introduced the budget of Rs. 33.79 billion, Lumbini Rs. 40.95 billion, Karnali Rs. 36.54 billion, Province 1 Rs. 32.46 billion and Sudurpaschim Rs. 30.33 billion. One common feature of all budgets of the provinces is that they have attached high priority to saving the life of people from the deadly virus.

For instance, Province 1 has earmarked Rs. 3 billion which will go for upgrading hospitals, storing oxygen and vaccinating citizens. It is poised to boost the agriculture production through the programme ‘‘My Agriculture, My Pride’. Province 2 emphasised revamping the health sector in order to combat the pandemic. Bagmati Province has allocated Rs. 2 billion for the COVID-19 Province Chief Fund to implement vaccination programme for all the citizens. Its plan to operate electric buses with Rs. 500 million and provide subsidy (Rs. 160 million) to milk farmers in all 13 districts is expected to have positive impact on the local economy. Gandaki Province has accorded priority to rehabilitating business and ensuring jobs to those rendered unemployed owing to the pandemic. Lumbini Province has adopted ‘COVID first’ policy in which all the infected people will be treated free of cost.

Karnali’s budget has stressed road infrastructure, transport development, drinking water, sanitation, irrigation, energy and urban management as per its specific needs. The pandemic has badly affected the economy and social life in Sudurpaschim Province so it has set aside a large portion of budget to boost health infrastructure and generate employment. Provincial governments are set to push economic development on their own, but they face enormous challenges of managing funds. They largely rely on the federal government as they lack reliable source of income. The federal government has allocated Rs. 57.9 billion for all provinces for the next fiscal year. Now they need to work to attain self-reliance by promoting local industries and trade. Then only can they contribute to consolidating federalism and grassroots democracy.