Chandan Kumar Mandal
Pushpa Kumari Karki is a stay-at-home mother of three. While her husband works as a general labourer in the highway town of Bardibas in Mahottari district, Pushpa Kumari spends her day doing house chores and looking after the children.
She would love to work and support her hardworking husband, but job opportunities are rare in her town. So when the local government opened job listings as part of the Prime Minister Employment Programme in March, the 31-year-old housewife jumped at the opportunity. It would provide so much relief to her family, she thought.
Launched in February 2019, the PMEP was touted as a scheme that would provide a minimum 100 days of wage employment for the unemployed citizens.
Pushpa Kumari was enlisted in the job of digging an irrigation canal in her area along with other local men and women. However, her work lasted only around 20 days for which she earned nearly Rs 11,000.
“I had no work besides daily house chores. So I thought of working. The amount I earned barely supported my family for a couple of days,” she told the Post.
Pushpa Kumari is once again jobless. She and her husband are once again scrambling to feed their children.
The employment programme was a let-down for her and many others who were part of it.
The PMEP has failed to achieve its target since its launch. In Mahottari, Pushpa Kumari’s district, the implementation of the programme has been poor.
Some local governments in the district could not even begin their planned projects while others failed to complete the projects, which led to unspent funds.
In places like Manarasiswa Municipality and Samsi Rural Municipality, the projects envisioned by their local governments never took off. The local units including Jaleshwor, Bardibas, Matihani and Pipara, meanwhile, could not complete the projects and failed to generate enough days of work for locals.
And it does not end there. Some local units—Balwa Municipality, Ramgopalpur Municipality and Ekdara Rural Municipality—did not even have employment coordinators, the main official responsible for executing the job scheme in their respective areas.
Labh Kumar Yadav, employment coordinator for Bardibas Municipality, said the local government could only spend Rs 3 million out of the Rs 7.5million allocated for ten projects related to irrigation, agriculture road, dam construction and plantation.
Samsi Rural Municipality failed to create even one day of work for its unemployed people.
“The budget did not come in time and when it did, Covid-19 struck, upending all our plans,” Shambhu Kushwaha, employment coordinator for the municipality, told the Post.
The implementation troubles of the employment programme is not limited to the Tarai districts alone. It is nationwide.
Last fiscal year, all eight local units in Jumla district launched the job scheme and not a single one of them could meet the target of 100 days of work.
On an average, the local units provided only 15 days of employment. Some local units could barely implement the scheme and provided jobs no longer than two days.
The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security has claimed that the PMEP generated employment opportunities for 60,060 across the country as per the data available up to July.
“We are still collecting the details from the local units that implemented projects under the PMEP,” Suman Ghimire, spokesperson for the ministry, told the Post. “The ministry has only received details from around 450 local units. A total of 701 local units had received budgets to implement the programme.”
For two consecutive years since its launch, the much-talked-about programme of the Oli-administration has recorded dismal progress. Although the national average of wage-employment days for the last fiscal year is not available so far, the programme has not met its target of a minimum 100 days of work.
In its first year of the programme’s implementation, the government had aimed to provide temporary jobs to more than 100,000 registered jobless citizens for 30-days. But at the end of the fiscal year, the programme could only provide 13 days of work on average to a total of 175,909 applicants in 2018-19. The programme could not do any better in the last fiscal year as well.
Ghimire, who is also the national director of the PMEP, admits that the progress has not been satisfactory despite the programme achieving the target of providing employment opportunities to 60,000 people in the last fiscal year 2019-2020.
“The progress cannot be termed satisfactory as it has not generated a minimum 100 days of wage employment anywhere in the country,” Ghimire said. “The programme went into the implementation late and the budget was also dispatched late.”
Jeevan Baniya, assistant director at the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility at Social Science Baha, says the programme essentially failed to attract the public for its lower incentives and complicated process for registration and receiving employment.
“When the programme was rolled out, it targeted financially vulnerable and poor groups, which was in principle appreciable. But it has not achieved the expected results in the last two fiscal years,” he said.
Baniya also believes the programme was “hijacked by political leaders to support their own cadres and interest groups”.
The PMEP has also been criticised for taking loans for its implementation and for squandering funds by mobilising unemployed populations in trivial works.
However, despite failures and criticisms, the budget for the programme has gone up. This year, the government has not only doubled its budget to Rs 11.6 billion but it has also relied heavily on the PMEP for creating job opportunities in the country as the labour sector is reeling under the impact of Covid-19 pandemic.
It has set a mammoth target of providing jobs to 200,000 population of the working-age group.
Last month, the Labour Ministry also received a soft loan of approximately Rs14 billion from the World Bank to implement the Youth Employment Transformation Initiative Project, a five-year project, under the PMEP. This year the project has aimed to create 75,000 jobs for unemployed youths, primarily women.
Baniya suggests that for the programme to succeed, it must instil a sense of ownership among the implementing agencies at the local level.
“As the projects implemented under the programme are not set locally, the local governments think that they must spend the money sent by the federal government anyhow,” Baniya told the Post. “The local governments have not taken ownership of the programme, nor have they felt that their participation in the programme and its implementation as per local needs.”
The government had made some operational changes that sought detailed project plans in advance from the interested local levels for effective implementation of the PMEP. Only after their projects were approved, the ministry had sent the budget.
“Although the programme has failed to achieve the target of 100 days of employment, it has succeeded in institutionalising the required mechanisms required for its implementation at the local level,” said Ghimire, the national director of the PMEP. “Employment coordinators have been appointed and the system for registering unemployed citizens has been in place.”
Labour expert Baniya also agrees that the last two years have created a foundation required for implementing the employment programme.
“If the PMEP related projects can be linked with infrastructure development and implemented in collaboration with local community leaders, user groups and if local governments got to prioritise their projects, then it has the potential of becoming effective,” said Baniya. “But the major issue is its governance. The central level government can not do everything as well. Local units should maintain transparency.”
For now, Baniya says the programme still lacks a long-term vision for its sustainability.
“If the government were to only go on implementing the programme and pour in huge budgets, it could have huge financial implications,” he said.
Meanwhile, people like Pushpa Kumari, who could not fully see the benefits promised by the PMEP, want the programme to continue.
“I was happy to work at my own locality. I wish the government provides such opportunities again so that I can also share the family burden along with my husband,” she said.
For Arjun Syangtan, another local of Bardibas, he would rather see the government focus on a long-term job creation programme than the temporary jobs offered by the PMEP.
“The government has not done any favour for us by providing nearly a month of work,” said Syangtan. “We need jobs around the year. One month of work will not feed poor families all year round.”
(Sunita Baral from Mahottari and LP Devkota from Jumla contributed reporting.)
Published on: 9 August 2020 | The Kathmandu Post