In a concerning report on the fiscal climate, the Ministry of Finance has shed light on the intricate challenges besetting the country’s financial planning and budgetary process. The report pinpoints two specific areas of immediate concern: mismanaged development projects and ballooning subsidies on fuel and electricity.

According to the ministry’s “Statement of Fiscal Constraints” for 2024-2026, there has been a substantial impact on the state budget due to the absence of a long-term national development plan. 

Such a void has led to a situation where MVR 73 million had to be spent on projects not originally included in this year’s budget. Termed as ‘ghost projects,’ these initiatives were budgeted with less or a nominal amount than actually required, thereby constraining the financial leeway for other developmental works.

This lack of planning and last-minute changes in scope also pose significant economic risks. With no overarching 10-year capital plan within the national development framework, projects are essentially aimless, making it difficult to assess their feasibility and overall impact on the economy.

In response, the Ministry of Finance is collaborating with the Ministry of Planning to address these challenges. Remedial steps include amending the Fiscal Responsibility Act and introducing a fiscal charter every five years. Furthermore, projects above a certain monetary threshold will now require a feasibility study along with economic and social analyses.

Another critical issue highlighted is the substantial increase in subsidies, specifically for fuel and electricity. While the budget initially allocated MVR 594 million for energy subsidies, the year-end expenditure is estimated to be a staggering MVR 1.5 billion. This follows last year’s pattern, where a budget of MVR 530 million escalated to an actual expenditure of MVR 3 billion.

The lack of pre-planned measures has led to a triple-fold increase in the subsidy cost for the current fiscal year. Although policy shifts towards targeted subsidies have been discussed for the past five years, implementation has been consistently postponed due to concerns over increasing electricity prices and the resultant financial burden on households and businesses.

To mitigate these issues, relevant government agencies are collaboratively developing a standard costing mechanism for projects. On the subsidy front, studies are underway to transition the entire system to a direct subsidy model, aiming to better allocate resources towards the most needy.

The overarching concern here is budget credibility. Oversights in planning, delays from contractors, and overestimations have all contributed to the current fiscal crisis. If left unaddressed, these can have long-term consequences, including adverse impacts on the country’s sovereign rating.

For a nation navigating its path through various economic challenges, precision in financial planning and budgetary allocation is not just a need—it is an imperative. With a forecast of MVR 2.1 billion to be spent on five major projects from 2023 to 2025 and an already-overstretched subsidy budget, the incoming government needs to act swiftly and decisively to steer the fiscal ship in the right direction.