Nepalese Maoists set ambitious targets in budget

September 26, 2008

On September 19, Nepal's finance minister and member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Dr Baburam Bhattarai announced the first budget of the Republic of Nepal.

The monster 236 billion rupee (AU$3.9 billion) budget is 39.7% larger than the total allocation for the previous fiscal year. The Maoist-led government hopes to raise the extra funds by reducing corruption, as well as increasing revenue from tourism and foreign aid.

Bhattarai announced a series of programs aimed at increasing education and health care and increasing employment opportunities.

Central to these programs are the "Be Literate: Build New Nepal" and the "New Nepal: Healthy Nepal" programs. The literacy program aims to eradicate illiteracy in Nepal within two years. According to the UN figures, Nepal's adult literacy rate is below 50%; the level of illiteracy is worse among women.

New schools and university campuses are planned, particularly in remote and rural areas where the bulk of Nepalese live. Education will be free up to secondary level with free daily meals up to Grade 5, free education for all up to Grade 10 and free for poor and oppressed peoples up to Grade 12.

The "New Nepal: Healthy Nepal" program aims to provide free health care to all Nepalese. Investment will be made to repair damage done to the health-care system during the 10 year war that ended in 2006, and health-care facilities will be increased with the eventual goal of extending health-care facilities into the villages.

A free maternity services program will also be set up, which is significant given Nepal's horrendously high infant mortality rate of 62 deaths per thousand (Australia's is 4.82 deaths per thousand).

An ambitious road building program is planned, with the intention of up all districts of Nepal within two years. (At present large portions of Nepal are inaccessible except by foot.) As well there are plans for another international and more regional airports to help increase tourism.

Nepal's water resources will be better utilised, with plans to provide widespread and quality irrigation to increase agricultural output, and an ambitious target has been set by the government to generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity from hydroelectric plants by 2020.

The new government also plans to encourage communities to set up cooperative shops and cooperative agricultural projects to spur local development and local, community-owned economies.

A new parliament building will also be built in Kathmandu and monuments will be built to commemorate the Jana Andolan or People's Movement that brought about the fall of the Hindu monarchy and the creation of the secular Republic of Nepal.

The opponents of the Maoist-led government have criticised the budget as too ambitious and too reliant on foreign capital. The Nepali Congress has led attacks on the budget in the constituent assembly and the media. However, Bhattarai argued during his budget speech: "We are now in the process of making a great leap forward from one era to another ... there is always a risk involved in such a move ... We can never reach the destination unless we aim high."

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