19-25 July 2013 #665

Politics of poverty

Bibek Poudel, Setopati, 15 July

When Finance Minister Shankar Koirala declared a hike in salary of government employees during the budget announcement on Sunday evening, people immediately quipped, “Why has the state increased the salary of its staff and neglected ordinary citizens?” While the question is valid, it is a difficult one to answer given the realities of Nepal’s economy.

Everyone in this country has demands. Students want free, quality education, farmers want subsidies, the unemployed want an allowance, and the poor want government assistance. But how can all these demands be accommodated by an economy that is moving at a snail’s pace?

Countries that provide citizens with free education, affordable health services, and subsidies are often bought up during such discussions. But what we must not forget is that these are mostly advanced nations where the number of earners is significantly higher than the number of unemployed and the student population. Nepal, on the other hand, has to pay for these subsidies from the pockets of a small, relatively poor taxpaying population. What is worse is that the blood and sweat of ordinary Nepalis which make these subsidies possible are being misused by those in power. For example: chartering helicopter for Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Kathmandu’s road expansion drive, fuel for fancy cars, and importing gold ornaments.

The more well-off citizens there are in a country, the easier it is to support the less fortunate ones. For example when there are more employed people, setting aside allowance for the unemployed becomes an actual option. So are we always going to beg for subsidies for the poor or are we going to open up opportunities for employment and revenue? There are seven million students in Nepal, are we going to ask for free education to feed student leaders and pay for tuition classes or are we going to work to improve the quality of education so that there are more qualified Nepalis? The decision is ours.

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