Monday, June 1, 2009

Ram Saran Mahat talks sense!

Former finance minster of Nepal Ram Saran Mahat zeros down on growth and Maoist led government’s progress (I largely agree with his assessment):

Their focus was on distribution, not on production. We believe in production. Without creating production and employment opportunities you cannot raise the economic status of the people. They believed that distributing government resources would take care of everything. […] They believe in government intervention even in production and trading. They believe in re-nationalisation.

[…] distribution of wealth takes time, it cannot happen overnight. We could have done better, but even with the type of development we saw in the private sector, the living conditions at the bottom have improved a lot. Look at the real wages in the rural areas. Now it is difficult to get labour for agriculture, the wage rate is very high. Real wages have gone up. If you look at the National Living Standard Survey (NLSS), it shows that the consumption level of people across regions, across ecological bases, of all income groups have increased significantly. Employment opportunities have increased, there is demand for more labour, more employment. So while it is true that market forces increase disparity, it increases the income level of the poor also. To raise the economic status of lower income groups, of course, you need a separate package of economic reforms. More consideration needs to be given to the social sector -- health, education, rural development, agriculture.

Even in the early days our development programme, our budget distribution and expenditure pattern, the focus was on creating infrastructure in rural areas. We strongly believed that without basic infrastructure in place -- like access roads, electricity, education, basic health services -- no matter how much you spend for the downtrodden, it will have no meaning. And infrastructure is not created overnight, it takes time. Now you have started seeing results. Karnali is accessible, you have road links to Kalikot, Jumla. Districts that were not touched by road networks 10-15 years ago now have road access not just in their headquarters but practically in all VDCs. Electricity has reached to far corners of the country. That has helped a lot in improving the status of the common man. Because of improved infrastructure in rural areas, people are now producing for the market. Even from the far corners of Nepal, you see agricultural production coming into the market. So our emphasis was different.

The Maoist-led government failed because they allocated budgeted programmes, ill-conceived, half-baked programmes, without much study. They didn't allocate funds in well-studied, well-prepared programmes. They allocated huge sums of money without any preparation. But how can you spend money? Of course, there are financial rules and regulations that need to be followed. This is why they couldn't deliver.

The Maoists also failed miserably on the price front. The irony is that at the international level prices have been declining. Prices decline during a recession. Indian inflation is almost at 0 now. Fuel prices have gone down. But Nepal's inflation rate is going up. This is because of government mismanagement. There is more purchasing power in the hands of the people without production. Production should go side by side with income. The emphasis on distributive policies leads to easy money in the hands of the people, which leads to inflation. Bandas, hartals, disruptions in the supply chain are also responsible for this.