On April 3, 2021 Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli unveiled a new plan to construct 165 strategic roads ( a road in each electoral constituency) within three years, each with a budget ceiling of Rs. 600 million. This means the total cost of the plan amounts to Rs. 57.1 billion for 2,210 kilometers of new blacktopped roads. This initiative was envisioned to achieve the government’s much touted rhetoric of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. Despite the good intentions, this project is surrounded by questions about its effective implementation while looking at specific details. This is because the project has been initiated without essential financial or legal preparatory works. At the end of the day it’s the outcome that matters rather than intentions.
It is not uncommon for the Nepal government to promise more than it can deliver. The government had aimed to build a total of 613 km roads within the second quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2077/28 out of which only 306 km of road have been constructed as of April 22, 2021. Similarly, only 14 bridges have been constructed out of 140 bridges targeted. The government also held a ceremony to lay the foundation for another project to build 403 hospitals all over Nepal – 396 hospitals in each municipality and seven infectious disease hospitals in each province within two years. Six months after the announcement of the projects insufficient updates have been given to the public concerning its status.
While analyzing projects in Nepal one might wonder why projects are not efficient and almost always delayed. One reason is inadequate preparation due to hasty implementation. The government entities have the tendency to call for bids for projects before completing preliminary requisites. There are certain due-diligence activities that have to be performed by government entities before the bidding process starts. In case of road construction, such pre-bidding works include pre-assessment survey, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)/Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE) , design and drawing, and site clearance. All of these activities should be finished by the government within the allocated time frame to ensure that the project is not delayed. Only after these activities are completed the government can start the bidding process. This process takes some time of its own. The failure of the government to complete prerequisite works makes it difficult for the contractor to meet the due deadline. Due to the same reason, we can see that development projects take forever to be ready. Although the Public Procurement Act 2063, a key legislation to ensure economic and efficient use of state resources, states that in case of carelessness in pre-evaluation, legal actions will be taken against the responsible officer. However, this clause has not been implemented effectively.
Projects that have the potential of creating significant impact on the lives of Nepalis have become a populist agenda for political leaders to gain favour. Project delays put pressure on the pockets of taxpayers as budgets for projects are allocated through their tax money. Effective application of projects means good use of public money, this also serves their interest. The government of Nepal has introduced several projects like Prime Minister Employment Programme, Prime Minister Agricultural Modernisation Project, and President Education Reform. However these projects have not yielded expected results. The Prime Minister Employment Program that was supposed to employ applicants for a minimum of 30 days, revised from the initial target of 100 days, employed applicants for 13 days of employment on average in the first year. The Prime Minister Agricultural Modernisation Project despite receiving less than promised budget, was only able to spend 48 percent of the allocated budget and established less agricultural zones, blocks and pockets than their initial target of 300 zones and 21 super zones.
The government of Nepal has allocated a total budget of NRs 57.1 billion to build 165 strategic roads – a road in each electoral constituency. If the government is to complete this project on time, it has to allocate NRs 27 billion in upcoming two fiscal years, based on the budget ceiling allocated by the government in the upcoming fiscal year it is questionable if the government will be able to set aside the designated amount. The government plans to complete this initiative in three years which is a limited time considering the fact that initial environmental examination has not been conducted for the majority of the roads. Almost six months to one year time is required to complete the environmental assessment of a road. This assessment is done before the commencement of the project. But in case of this project the assessment is going to be held after the initiation which constricts the time of implementation greatly. Looking at these facts it is expected that this project will not be completed on time like many others.
The PM is also well aware about the fact that projects in Nepal are not implemented and completed on time as he mentioned during the announcement ceremony of 165 strategic roads. If Nepal is to move forward in terms of development then investigating the issues related to project delays should become a priority for our government and our leaders. In the meantime, the government should not rush to inaugurate projects before planning and preparations are finalized.