After nearly 20 months in office, the two-third KP Oli government is widely seen as having failed to deliver on its electoral promise of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis’. People think the country has become less safe and more corrupt in this time. Top government officials have given a dismal account of themselves, both personally and in their roles as civil servants. Restrictions on free speech have increased too. On the other hand, the government is acknowledged as doing relatively better in foreign relations. But should we also start crediting it for its handling of the economy?
There have been some positive signs. Nepal this year leapfrogged 16 places, to 94th from last year’s 110th (among 194 countries), in the World Bank’s latest (ease of ) Doing Business Index. Last year, it had slipped five places. Potential investors around the world will hopefully take note. A week earlier, the same bank had forecast Nepal’s economy to grow by an average of 6.5 percent this year, behind only Bangladesh (7.2 percent) and India (6.9 percent) in South Asia. A growing service sector, reliable electricity, easier construction permits—all contribute to this better-than average growth.
But if things are fairly rosy, why is foreign investment at a historical low? Why are the country’s vital infrastructures still woeful? And what is contributing to the continued public gloom? One reason could be the high expectation with this government. The Oli government, perhaps unintentionally, gives off the vibe that its policies enrich only vested interests close to ruling parties. Moreover, the economic progress on paper, as reflected in the latest Doing Business Index, has yet to be realized. Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada recently pointed out how even noted businessmen were unaware of recent helpful regulatory reforms. This lays bare the lack of communication between the government and other private and foreign stakeholders.
The government may contend that its investments in vulnerable sections of the society like the poor and the elderly have gone largely unnoticed in the Kathmandu-centric media obsessed with hard numbers. Nor, as PM Oli repeatedly points out, is its laying of the ‘groundwork’ for an expected ‘economic take-off ’ readily apparent. Just wait a few more years, he reassures us. We wait with bated breath, comrade!