Chandan Kumar Mandal
The Prime Minister Employment Programme launched on Wednesday has met with mixed reactions, with experts stressing that the outcome will largely depend on how the people receive it and how the government will implement it.
The ambitious employment scheme aims to ensure a minimum 100 days of wage-employment opportunities—and alleviate poverty in the long run—in the country.
Under the programme, registered beneficiaries will be entitled to sustenance allowance if the government cannot guarantee the minimum promised days of work. The government has also enlisted a total of 13 probable job areas where these populations would be employed.
Experts said though the programme has been rolled out with good intentions it can also create chances of massive corruption at the local level.
Arjun Kharel, labour and migration researcher with the Centre for Study of Labour and Mobility, said success of the programme depends on people’s interest, which is likely to be low as most of the areas only involve construction works.
“We have to see whether those unemployed groups really join the scheme. As most of the sectors are related to construction works, those having higher educational degrees are most likely to be left out,” said Kharel.
The scheme will ensure that those registered at the Employment Service Centre (ESC), to be set up in the 753 local units, will get a minimum 100 days of working opportunities. The service centre will have records on jobs available at government projects in the local federal units and mobilise the unemployed population in the projects.
The country’s 21.6 percent population is still below the poverty line and the youth unemployment rate stands at 35.8 percent. The country has sent abroad nearly 4.3 million citizens to work as migrants.
Inaugurating the programme in the Capital on Wednesday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli hailed the initiative as a new beginning for the country towards eradicating poverty by providing income generation opportunities for the jobless people.
“Among many problems the country is facing, unemployment is the biggest, which further leads to poverty. If only we can provide everyone with work, there will be no poverty,” Oli said while launching the scheme. “We all need to come together for its effective implementation for no poverty and no unemployment in Nepal.”
Chandan Sapkota, an economist, called the programme a good initiative at addressing unemployment in the country, but the key lies in its implementation, especially targeting the ones who deserve it.
“It must not turn into a distributive scheme to woo party cadres. It is challenging to administer such programmes owing to the lack of capacity to identify and implement the scheme,” said Sapkota. “If it is not implemented well and steps are not taken to plug the leakage, this can become a liability and budget buster for the country. Administrative cost is something we need to be careful about.”
The employment programme also reminds one of the Indian experience of implementing a similar scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
“India also aimed to guarantee 100 days of employment annually. But it was initially fraught with malpractices like fudging of muster rolls, siphoning off money by local representatives and high administrative cost among others,” said Sapkota. “Without proper planning, monitoring and implementing agencies at the grassroots level, there is also a danger that the scheme could be a huge fiscal burden and a major instrument for elite capture, i.e. wealthy and those in power capture funds and works meant for the needy and poor.”
In the budget for the fiscal year 2018-19, the government allocated Rs3.1 billion for the employment drive.
The programme will be connected to commercial agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, river control, forest, tourism, transport infrastructure and other public construction sectors that are executed by the three levels of government, the budget states.
Speaking at the launch, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada said the programme would contribute to boosting production and productivity of the working age population, leading to a dignified life for everyone.
Minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security Gokarna Bista said the programme would be instrumental in bringing down the massive outflow of the country’s youth to foreign nations. Kharel, the researcher, said while the government has introduced measures to minimise outbound labour migration, the trend of labour migration would not go down significantly anytime soon.
“First, there will not be enough jobs to employ all of them inside the country. Second, no labour migration means no remittance, which has been a major source of income for the country,” Kharel told the Post. “For limiting labour migration, the country needs to come up with another effective policy, which would bring us foreign currency—so far only done through foreign employment—and improve trade deficit to better the economy first.”