Kathmandu: Like in all past elections, political parties have unveiled election manifestos, most of them with promises impossible to keep, targets impossible to meet and the goals impossible to achieve.
With the parliamentary elections just a little more than a week away, political parties have started presenting big agendas for the next five years.
The major political parties, who are expected to lead the government following the elections, have made hefty promises–from doubling the economy to creating millions of jobs in the next five years.
Political parties seem to be in the race to outdo each other in terms of making promises and setting outlandish targets.
For example, the ruling Nepali Congress has promised to create 250,000 jobs every year in its manifesto. The CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) have gone the extra mile–promising to create 500,000 and 400,000 jobs, respectively–in their manifestos.
Economists argue that Nepal has no infrastructure and policies to increase job opportunities and say that these job creation promises are too unrealistic.
“The manifestos of political parties are like economics literature. They are not realistic at all,” said economist Chandramani Adhikari. “How can any political party, just after getting in power, create millions of jobs? No party has presented a base for this in their manifestos.”
Every year, as many as 500,000 youths enter the job market. Of them, the majority of youths travel to foreign countries for employment after failing to land a job in Nepal. The 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. Even the data shows Nepal has been struggling to hold youths as there are limited opportunities.
Experts say political parties should have formed a ‘joint manifesto’ as they have formed an alliance for the upcoming elections. “When the Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) are in the election field together, how can they have different agendas?,” said Adhikari.
On the part of economic development, the Nepali Congress has targeted annual economic growth of seven percent, which, economists say, is quite achievable.
The CPN (Maoist Center) has set a target to achieve economic growth of double digit, which Nepal has never achieved.
The growth target set by the CPN (UML) is also too ambitious and unachievable. It has promised to double the size of the economy in the next five years. Likewise, it has also promised to increase per capita income to USD 2,400.
According to economists, it is not impossible to double the size of the economy, given the inflation. “With 7-8 percent inflation, nominal GDP growth of 12-13 percent is not much. It can make the size of the economy double,” said Adhikari, “However, the challenge is to control inflation, and achieve sustainable economic growth.”
But at current market prices, the economy, from the next fiscal year, has to expand by 13 percent every year to achieve the UML’s target. “And such an ambitious target is impossible to achieve in an economy which has ‘no’ production and is dependent on imports for everything,” said Adhikari.
“At a time of global recession, the agenda should have been controlling inflation. But that does not seem to be their concern. They just want to influence voters by selling big unachievable economic agendas,” he said.
On the tourism front, all major parties have set the targets to attract tourists in millions but none of them have presented a clear roadmap to achieve it. The Nepali Congress claims to attract two million tourists annually, and the CPN (UML) has promised to bring 2.5 million tourists. However, neither party has a clear roadmap to show how it can be achieved.
The Nepali Congress even claims to increase tourist spending to USD 100 daily.
The highest tourist arrival was in 2019 as Nepal attracted 1.2 million tourists. The target, according to tourism entrepreneurs, is not impossible to achieve, but Nepal has not done much for branding tourism in the international market. There are no activities for tourists even in Nepal, they say.
“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. This won’t be enough to increase tourism spending,” said Shishir Khanal, vice president of Nepal Association of Rafting Agencies.
“If we just want to increase the volume of tourists, only the number of backpackers will go up, and spendings will never increase,” he said. “If we want to increase spending, there should be a rebranding of Nepal, and the government should work on adding new activities for tourists.”
In their manifestos, the political parties have also offered freebies which the state coffers cannot afford. The CPN (UML) has announced providing free electricity of up to 50 units every month, and free drinking water up to 10,000 liters every month.
If this is to be realized, the state has to bear additional billions of rupees every year.
Even though Nepal is under a huge 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.
The government is already relying on borrowing, failing to manage its expenditure plans. For the current fiscal year, the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government unveiled an annual budget of Rs 1.79 trillion, heavily dependent upon loans and grants to finance the deficit budget.
The source of financing, according to the government, would be Rs 1.24 trillion from revenues, and Rs 55.46 billion from foreign grants. The deficit of Rs 498.26 billion will be raised through domestic and foreign loans.
It is obvious that implementing such populist agendas will further put a burden on state coffers.