The new budgetBacked by a massive mandate to redefine the course of Nepal, Oli government should make the most of it
In a long-standing tradition, elected lawmakers have been granted funds for their constituencies, which can be spent at their discretion. During the tenure of the last parliament, there were two such programmes: The Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme (CISP) and the Constituency Development Programme (CDP). Lawmakers in the current House of Representatives (HoR) have begun campaigning for a continuation of these programmes and to allocate funds for them in the upcoming budget. They have been seeking Rs100 million each for directly elected lawmakers and Rs5 million each for proportionally elected lawmakers and members of the National Assembly. This, unsurprisingly, is one rare area where there is cross-party consensus. The proposal has been backed by the CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist Centre and the Nepali Congress. The government appears to be well disposed to this suggestion.
Nonetheless, it should be clearly said that the continuation of these programmes without substantial review would be detrimental to the country. First, it is well known that large sums granted to individual lawmakers have been misused over the years. There is a tendency for such funds to be spent with a view towards garnering supporters rather than focusing on the real needs of the constituency. Large amounts of these funds have been spent on party loyalists in the past. Channelled through the patronage mechanisms of political parties, these funds have been spent in a haphazard and chaotic manner. Continuing to disburse such large quantities of money through lawmakers would be contrary to the government’s stated policy of encouraging systematic and broad-based development.
Furthermore, the country has now been transformed from a unitary to a federal system. It was perhaps natural that constituents would look towards HoR members to develop their areas. But this task has now been handed over to the provincial governments and legislatures. This is a time when state governments need to be strengthened. A lot remains to be done on this front. Chief Ministers from various provinces have been complaining that they lack resources and infrastructure. If the government instead focuses on disbursing resources to members of the federal parliament at the current time, it will be giving a message that the central government has more responsibility and authority over development issues than the provincial governments. Over time, such mechanisms could also undermine the provincial and local governments.
The government needs to take these issues into consideration as it formulates its new budget. The government has a massive mandate and a great opportunity to truly redefine the future course of Nepal. It should not squander the opportunities it has been given by simply repeating old mistakes. Its major task is the implementation of the constitution. Rather than channelling funds to HoR and National Assembly members, it should instead use available funds to strengthen provincial and local governments.