Political parties are developing their election manifestos for the upcoming parliamentary elections, but do they even know what ordinary citizens expect from a new government, irrespective of their political inclinations? To understand the expectations, let us take a deep dive into the daily lives of citizens.
Hari/Rama, an ordinary citizen, wakes up in the morning and expects a free flow of water supply from the taps; a nice cup of tea and a good brunch before he/she starts his/her work (formal or non-formal), an affordable school and college for his/her children, a reliable transportation system to commute to work, uninterrupted electricity and fuel supply, clean and accessible markets where he/she can buy quality stuff, a regular flow of information, and nice restaurants at the end of the day. He/she needs an income to manage his/her family and an affordable living place to achieve the above expectations. In addition, he/she needs to have confidence in affordable and accessible healthcare, well-managed villages and cities, law and order in place, and a venue to raise concerns and enjoy life.
Nepal has the advantage of being in the middle of the world’s two most populated countries, which are economic giants too. A multi-pronged strategy and smart diplomacy with these neighbors to access their markets in few products is enough to uplift the country and the living standards of every citizen to achieve social welfare.
Though the above mentioned needs look simple, they are not, and many of us are suffering because the State does not have clear short, medium and long-term development and prosperity plans. The vision should be based on some of the fundamental principles of neo-socialist capitalism so that every citizen can access equitable, affordable, quality essential services irrespective of their income, either from public or private sectors. Primarily, the State’s development depends on five areas, namely, governance, economy, education, health, and services. The order is not based on priority as they are interdependent.
Governance: The expectations of every citizen from the government include equity, law and order, a corruption-free society and trust in their representatives and the government. Citizens expect hassle-free equitable services, respect, and efficient mechanisms to manage their needs. They do not expect to pay bribes, additional paperwork and the arrogance of the civil servants. Government employees are civil servants, and they should realize their duties and responsibilities, respect every citizen, ensure their rights, and understand that their income comes from taxpayers’ money. Peace of mind is a strength of every citizen. Therefore, law and order should be ensured and enforced in the principle of equity, justice and rights. It should not be based on nepotism, favoritism, income status and ethnicity. When the government ensures equitable services, respects every citizen and addresses their needs and concerns, overall trust in the government increases.
Economy: Any development requires a robust economic system to invest and operationalize sectors, be it agriculture, industry, education, health and services. A long-term development strategy should focus on investments with high impact and returns. The State should prioritize two types of investment, profitable and social welfare. Profitable investments generate products of high return and impact like agriculture, tourism, industries, energy sectors, natural resources etc. Social welfare investments ensure basic essential public services like electricity, water and sanitation, transportation, and health and education. In addition, these investments create a lot of employment opportunities for citizens. Once a rice exporting country, Nepal is at present importing rice. Revitalizing the agriculture sector should therefore be a priority to reduce the trade deficit and dependency on imports, for greater economic prosperity. The State can plan organized farming based on the soil characteristics of farms, weather, and farmers’ interest. Districts or villages can be dedicated to farm fruits, vegetables, rice, corn, mustards, herbs, animals, milk products, etc. The State has to warrant the enabling environment for farming by ensuring the provision of high-quality seeds, fertilizers, and stores to preserve and market their products. Research is essential to experiment and implement the high return farmings. Tourism is another revenue-generating industry, and the State should invest in infrastructures like roads, cable cars, ferries, trains, parks, museums, and supporting initiatives. It is time to promote luxury tourism so that the tourism industry does not need to depend on two-dollar tourists.The private sector should manage the tourism sector based on the norms and standards set by the State.
Nepal is rich in resources like water, minerals, stones, forest products etc. Environmental friendly management of those resources and exporting them can generate a lot of revenues that can contribute to sustainable developments. For example, hydro-energy can create a lot of returns by exporting and over time, it can be made freely available to underprivileged communities. By its location, Nepal has the advantage of being in the middle of the world’s two most populated countries, which are economic giants too.
Political parties are developing their election manifestos for the upcoming parliamentary elections, but do they even know what ordinary citizens expect from a new government?
A multi-pronged strategy and smart diplomacy with these neighbors to access their markets in few products is enough to uplift the country and the living standards of every citizen to achieve social welfare. The private sector should be regulated, but it does not mean that the State should restrict it. Instead, the State should create a business-friendly environment for luxury services and products that are non-essential. The private sector can contribute to essential products and services if they follow the regulated price, norms, and standards. For instance, the private sector should not manage electricity, fuel supplies, pharmaceutical and agriculture products, education institutes, health services, and public transportation. However, the private sector can manage tourism, luxury services and products like five-star hospital services, elite private schools, luxury travel, branded franchises, etc. Still, the government should tax them heavily and regulate them to meet the norms and standards set by the government.
Education: Education is the backbone of any development, and it is the State’s responsibility to ensure universal education access to its citizens. Education should be free or heavily subsidized for all citizens. To achieve that goal, the State needs to invest more in schools, colleges, universities and vocational institutes and their required resources like teachers, laboratories, research and innovation. Education norms and standards should be in place, implemented and monitored in all types of private and public institutes. Ensuring the set norms and standards in public institutes attract more students than in private. The syndicate of private institutions is a significant hurdle to improving education standards in public institutes. These private institutes should either be nationalized or well-regulated. The education system should be based on approaches that create high-quality professionals, experts and service providers, and it should not be a system that prints certificates. Quality education, based on reinforcing moral and social norms and standards, that which match the needs of a changing world are critical for rapid economic and social development.
Services: The State is responsible for delivering high-quality essential services to the public. These include regular high-quality potable water supply, a clean environment with an adequate garbage management system, uninterrupted supply of electricity and fuel, good public transportation systems across the country and many more. The cost of these services should be affordable to the public. They do not need to be free, but they should be affordable. The private sector can contribute to these services within the norms and standards of the government. For instance, the private sector can provide luxury transportation services with buses, cars, and airline services. However, the government should manage public transport services like buses, trains, and trams while maintaining its quality as per the norms and standards.
Health: It is the State’s responsibility to ensure good health of all its citizens. Health services should be free to all citizens using either social insurance, public funds or mixed methods. To achieve that goal, the State needs to invest more in health, especially in health workers and healthcare facilities, and not only in numbers but also in quality. The norms and standards of health services should be in place, implemented and monitored in all types of private and public institutes. Ensuring the same standards in public facilities attract more people than in private. Health services should be free for all in the long term, but in the beginning, there can be priorities for the economically weak. Presently, syndicates of private institutions are the most challenging hurdle in improving the standard of government health institutes. The private sector medical facilities which do not follow the set norms and standards should be nationalized and penalized. In addition, the government should run the pharmaceutical industries to manufacture all essential medicines. Private companies can produce essential medicine only if they follow the government’s norms and standards.
A brief article cannot cover the details of strategies to implement and operationalize these development goals. However, it is hoped that this article will contribute to think tanks in the country to strategize to develop short, medium and long-term development plans, with Hari and Rama’s overall simple needs in mind.
Dr Nirmal Kandel is an anthropologist based in Geneva, Switzerland. The views expressed here are strictly personal views of the author. The author acknowledges Mr Niraj Dwadi for his editorial support. Dr Kandel tweets @kandelnirmal and can be reached at [email protected]