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Nepal unveils US$6.4 billion budget

Nepal's new government on Sunday unveiled the country's first full budget in three years, aimed at revitalising an economy hit by long-standing political turmoil.

KATHMANDU: Nepal's new government on Sunday unveiled the country's first full budget in three years, aimed at revitalising an economy hit by long-standing political turmoil.

Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat outlined the $6.4 billion budget with spending on policies to improve power supplies and infrastructure and increase agriculture.

"The objective of this budget is to take the country towards high economic growth, free it from poverty, and build social and infrastructural foundations for long-term development," Mahat said as he addressed parliament.

Nepal suffers from chronic electricity shortages, with power cuts of up to 18 hours a day.

Mahat vowed to end load shedding in three years, allocating 12.62 billion rupees ($131 million) for new hydropower plants to increase electricity production and another 13.55 billion rupees for construction of transmission lines.

He also outlined plans to begin construction of a major road from Kathmandu to the plains, which border India.

In a bid to stem the tens of thousands of young people leaving the country for work, the minister announced low-interest loans to encourage them to set up their own farms.

The budget is the first in three years containing new policies and programmes after the government led by the Nepali Congress party came to power last year.

Previous governments were only able to outline income and expenses due to the years of political infighting.

The Nepali Congress, the country's oldest party, won national elections last November, only the second held since the end of a civil war in 2006, charged with completing the long-delayed new constitution for the Himalayan nation.

Since Nepal's first post-war elections in 2008, five prime ministers have served brief terms, the country has had no leader for long periods, and the constituent assembly or parliament has been perpetually deadlocked.

Nepal, which borders China and India, is considered one of the poorest countries in Asia. However, the finance ministry estimated a growth rate of 5.2 per cent in 2012-2013, which would be the highest in six years.

The country's political woes have hampered efforts to fire up the economy which mainly relies on tourism and remittances for revenue.

The budget's introduction was delayed for weeks after 240 constituent assembly members demanded that each constituency be given a development budget of 50 million rupees (about $518,000), up from the current one-million rupee allocation.

The government has agreed to an initial grant of 10 million rupees with a promise of a review.

"The budget is positive and will help improve the country's investment environment and growth," Pradeep Jung Pandey, president of the umbrella organisation of Nepal's private sector.

"However, the challenge will be implementing the programmes as planned."

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