Big Promises, Unachievable Targets
Political parties are competing when it comes to making lofty promises of job creation as in the past.
A cursory glance at the election manifestos unveiled by major political parties gives the impression that there will be plenty of job opportunities within the country in the next five years and Nepalis will not have to wander abroad in search of employment. At a time when the country’s economy is facing external and internal whirlwinds, political parties are competing when it comes to making lofty promises of job creation as in the past. The two parties of the ruling alliance – Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Centre) – have promised to generate 250,000 and 200,000 jobs annually while the main opposition CPN(UML) has gone further, pledging to create 500,000 jobs annually.
NC Bats for ‘Job Creation Through Collective Efforts’
In its election manifesto, Nepali Congress has said that it would create 250,000 new jobs annually in the sectors having the potential for larger employment opportunities such as information technology, industry, tourism, construction and transportation, financial sector, minerals, art, and entertainment.
“Under the collective effort of the industry, private sector organizations, three levels of government, and the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training, an apprenticeship program and youth skill enhancement program will be introduced for job creation,” reads the manifesto.
Maoist Center Proposes National Employment Authority
The Maoist Centre has pledged that one million youths will be employed in national pride projects, production-based agricultural projects, tourism, and industrial establishments through the National Employment Authority. “Young people who enter the labor market after obtaining various educational degrees will be engaged in productive and service work to enhance skills and experience in their subject area,” reads Maoist Center’s manifesto.
As the party has mentioned, the proposed National Employment Authority will provide orientation training, seed capital, concessional loans, and technical assistance to 500-1,000 youths at the local level in order to create short-term employment and self-employment opportunities for two million youths and that the authority ‘will address all the issues of the labor sector in a package’.
UML Proposes Expanding Coverage of Social Security
UML has pledged to create 500,000 jobs through employment and self-employment programs. The party has said all those engaged in wage employment and self-employment at home and abroad ‘will be covered by a contribution-based social security scheme’ and that ‘all types of allowances will be increased based on economic growth’. The minimum wage of workers will be increased to Rs 25,000 per month.
“Loan and concessional schemes will be introduced for Nepali youth who are involved in agri-based industries and those who have returned from foreign employment,” reads the party’s manifesto.
The party has said that agriculture and forestry, industry, tourism, energy, transportation, information technology, and physical infrastructure will be developed as major employment clusters.
Unrealistic and Empty Promises
Since the first general elections held after the restoration of the parliamentary democracy in 1990, political parties have kept on reiterating their commitments to higher economic growth and employment generation in the country. Nonetheless, given the results achieved over the years, those promises have turned out to be empty. While the parties’ tall promises may help them attract votes, but economists doubt the implementation of the commitments made in the manifestos. According to them, parties have failed to present the roadmap for creating employment.
“The manifestos of all the political parties are just like economics literature. They are not realistic at all. How can any political party, just after getting into power, create millions of jobs? In manifestos, no party has presented a base for achieving the targets,” said economist Chandramani Adhikari.
Every year, as many as 500,000 youths enter the job market every year. Of them, the majority of youths travel to foreign countries for employment after failing to land a job in Nepal. Government figures show at least 75 percent of youths go abroad for foreign employment. In the last fiscal year, the government issued 637,113 labor permits which clearly shows Nepal has been struggling to hold youths as there are limited opportunities.
According to Ram Prasad Gyawali, a former head of the Department of Economics at Tribhuvan University, no political parties in Nepal have ever unveiled a realistic manifesto. “Political parties know only a few percent of the population understand economics. So, they think they can add any economic agendas just to lure votes.”
Experts say political parties that are under electoral alliances should have formulated joint manifestos. “When the Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) are in the election field together, how can they have different agendas?,” asked Adhikari.
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The three major political parties have made lofty targets when it comes to the economic development of the country. The Nepali Congress has targeted annual economic growth of seven percent, which economists say is achievable. But its electoral partner the CPN (Maoist Center) has set a target to achieve double-digit economic growth which Nepal has never achieved till now.
The main opposition CPN(UML) has gone further ahead and promised to double the size of the economy in the next five years if the party comes into power. The party also pledged to increase per capita income to USD 2,400. But at current market prices, the economy, from the next fiscal year, has to expand by 13 percent every year to achieve UML’s target. “And such an ambitious target is impossible to achieve in an economy that has low production levels and is dependent on everything,” said Economist Chandramani Adhikari.
According to Ram Prasad Gyawali, a former head of the Department of Economics at Tribhuvan University in an economy that is just growing at 5-6 percent per annum, no political party can do magic to double it. “There should be a long-term plan and vision,” he said.
Economists say, at the time of the global recession, the agenda should have been controlling inflation and saving the economy from external and internal whirlwinds. “But political parties just want to lure votes with big unachievable economic agendas,” mentioned Adhikari.
The way parties have made targets for tourism clearly illustrates these facts. The Nepali Congress plans to attract two million tourists annually, while the CPN (UML) has promised to bring 2.5 million tourists. Congress even claims to increase tourist spending to USD 100 daily.
Achieving these higher targets looks like a tall order as the highest tourist arrival Nepal saw was in 2019 when the country attracted 1.2 million tourists. While tourism entrepreneurs say Nepal can attract two million tourists annually, strong branding in the international market is mandatory.
“The authorities concerned have failed to rebrand Nepal in the international market. When someone talks about Nepal, they only know about the mountains and culture. Only these activities won’t help increase tourism spending,” said Shishir Khanal, Vice President of the Nepal Association of Rafting Agencies.
“If we just want to increase the volume of tourists, then the number of backpackers will go up, but tourist spending will never increase. If we want to increase spending, there should be a rebranding of Nepal, and government should work on adding new activities for tourists.”
Presenting populists programs to attract their core constituencies is what the parties like the best. All three major parties have offered freebies that are surely hurting the state coffers. The CPN (UML) has announced providing free electricity of up to 50 units every month, and free drinking water of up to 10,000 liters every month.
Even though the state is already feeling the burden of social security allowance, the Nepali Congress has announced to lower the age for old age allowance from the existing 68 years to 65 years. Even in such conditions, introducing such populist agendas will further put the burden on state coffers. But even the political parties know these agendas are just put forward to lure votes, say economists.