Chandan Kumar Mandal
More than 700,000 have applied for employment opportunities under the Prime Minister Employment Programme, which provides a minimum 100 days of wage-employment for jobless citizens. This reflects the unemployment scenario in the country in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A whopping 743,160 unemployed citizens registered under the programme for accessing wage-employment in the current fiscal year.
The number is double the number of candidates who applied for similar opportunities in the fiscal year 2019-20. Last fiscal year, a total of 370,734 were registered for temporary jobs in their respective local units.
According to experts, such a high number of job-seekers shows the shortage of jobs in the country. The situation was further exacerbated by the pandemic.
“The Covid-19 pandemic shook the foundation of employment in the country the way the earthquakes had rattled the ground,” Ganesh Gurung, a labour and foreign employment expert, told the Post.
“While the rich could stay home for several months with all their luxuries, the pandemic affected those at the lower strata of the society. Daily wage workers and those without savings were affected the most.”
According to Gurung, although Nepali workers, who had returned from India and other labour destinations in the Persian Gulf and Malaysia, have started migrating again, such a large number of people still applying for temporary opportunities shows that people desperately need work within the country.
“We have seen workers returning to India and Gulf countries. Those who had jobs before the pandemic might have re-joined them,” said Gurung. “But those who had no jobs or nowhere to go, either at home or abroad, must have applied for the prime minister employment programme looking for opportunities at the local level.”
Unable to find jobs at home, Nepalis have already started returning to India and other countries in search of opportunities. The exodus of Nepali workers could be seen at the India-Nepal border even amidst the risk of the coronavirus disease.
Nepali migrant workers have also started going to the Persian Gulf countries, even though the government had said that it would provide them with opportunities within the country.
The number of people seeking to be enrolled in the Prime Minister Employment Programme looks daunting as it is equal to the total number of jobs the government aimed to generate this fiscal year. In the federal budget, the government has set an ambitious target of creating more than 700,000 jobs this fiscal year.
“The number of people applying for temporary jobs under the programme is certainly huge,” said Gurung. “This is the reported number of those who managed to register. The number of unemployed could be higher, as many people might not even have heard about the programme.”
The number of candidates looking for jobs under the scheme is nearly four times the target set by the government for this year.
The government has planned to provide 100 days of work to 200,000 unemployed citizens this fiscal year. However, there are doubts that the programme will be able to create enough jobs at the local level.
“The number of people applying for the opportunities shows their interest in the programme,” said Suman Ghimire, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. “Local units have already started implementing the programme and generating employment in their areas.”
According to Ghimire, with the budget allocated to local units implementing the scheme, 100-days of employment can be created for 200,000 candidates.
What will happen to the rest of the people remains uncertain.
While the employment programme aims to create 200,000 jobs this year and nearly four times more candidates have applied for the available jobs, the progress, however, remains sluggish. Only 16,790 have received the opportunities in the eight months of the current fiscal year.
According to Jeevan Baniya, another expert on employment and labour migration, there could be factors behind the high turnout this year.
“First, a large number of people are unemployed so they have approached the PMEP. Then it could also be the proactiveness of the local level, encouraging the general public to apply for jobs,” said Baniya, also the assistant director of the Centre for Study of Labour and Mobility at Social Science Baha. “With the current political turmoil, elected representatives must have encouraged local residents to register for the jobs so as to take credit for providing them employment.”
Although Baniya says providing opportunities for those who have registered is possible, there is no clarity on how employment generation can happen on such a scale.
“Whether the state will provide these jobs or does that with the private sector is not clear. Without working with the private sector, the goal looks highly unlikely, as local units do not have such capacity,” said Baniya.
“As per the goal of creating opportunities for marginalised communities, jobs can be provided to them. But the nature of jobs and how sustainable they will be remain unanswered.”
The past record of implementing the programme has shown it to be a let-down. In its first year of implementation, the programme could only generate 13 days of work on average for a total of 175,909 applicants.
Last year, 105,634 candidates got employment with 15 days of work on a national average. Although the programme claimed to have met its target of providing temporary jobs for 60,000 citizens, not a single local level could generate 100 days of work.
Ghimire, who is also the national director for the programme, said the targeted citizens would get the opportunities even though its implementation was delayed due to the pandemic.
“The remaining people will be employed in other governmental and non-governmental projects. Employment Service Centres have been set up in all local federal units to facilitate the applicants in finding opportunities elsewhere too,” said Ghimire.
“The Employment Service Centre is there to provide training and increase their access to available opportunities which could be in various sectors. Such centres will link registered unemployed citizens to available jobs at the local level.”
However, experts fear that the ongoing political chaos, which has already trickled down to grassroots politics, will also affect the programme, as it is being implemented by local units.
“The high number of applicants could come down during the screening process as there will be some criteria for prioritising jobs,” said Baniya. “What is more important is its governance and maintaining transparency as there is no mechanism to check how the programme is implemented.”
Political dynamics could result in misappropriation of funds or diversion of the funds to other sectors or even handpicking of candidates by local level representatives, according to Baniya.
Gurung also concurs that the country’s political situation will likely affect the programme’s implementation.
“The national political scenario has percolated down to the local level and no one can deny that its impacts won’t be reflected in local units,” said Gurung. “The government will send a budget. But the jobs generated on paper and on the ground will be different.”
Published on: 15 February 2021 | The Kathmandu Post