Government bars lawmakers from funding infrastructure projects linked to political partiesCabinet has endorsed a new working procedure for using funds under Local Infrastructure Development Programme
Prithvi Man Shrestha
The government has barred lawmakers from funding infrastructure projects linked to political parties under the Local Infrastructure Development Programme.
The federal Cabinet last week had endorsed the new working procedure guidelines for using funds under the Local Infrastructure Development Programme following complaints that funds allocated to lawmakers under the programme were being utilised to build projects linked with political parties and their sister organisations.
“The government’s policy for long has been to discourage such tendency. This time, we have given more emphasis to the issue,” Dilaram Panthi, an undersecretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, told the Post. He added that a provision to bar lawmakers from using such funds for political party-linked projects is explicitly mentioned in the budget, too.
The government has allocated Rs60 million for each constituency under the Local Infrastructure Development Programme which can be used in projects chosen by the lawmakers.
But the fund goes directly to the local governments as a conditional grant. A total of Rs9.9 billion has been allocated under the programme for this fiscal year.
A special audit conducted by the Office of the Auditor-General in the fiscal year 2016/17 found that the projects related to political parties and their sister organisations as well as non-government organisations related to political parties were selected, violating the working procedure that existed at the time.
As many as 126 such projects worth Rs53.51 million were selected in 11 districts, according to the auditor general’s report.
Previously run under two separate schemes— Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme and the Constituency Development Programme, this programme has remained controversial since its inception in the early 1990s because of reports alleging massive misuse of funds.
Bowing to pressure from lawmakers, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada, who in the past had been critical of such funds, had increased the fund to Rs60 million by bundling the two separate schemes as one and it was named as the Infrastructure Development Programme.
Lawmakers argue that the fund to be mobilised through them must get continuation so that they can deliver on the promises they make in their respective constituencies during elections.
Critics of such funds, however, say lawmakers’ primary job is to draft legislation and that they should not get directly involved in development projects. They also say that channelising funds through lawmakers for the projects also creates space for embezzlement.
“Their job is basically to make laws. Channelising the budget through the lawmakers means to give them an unfair advantage against the competitors in the next elections,” said Bhanu Acharya, former auditor general. “Parliament is responsible for endorsing the budgetary allocation. Allocating the budget after considering their own personal benefit goes against morality and ethics.”
According to Acharya, the lawmakers should be in a position to supervise and monitor the performance of the government and make the government accountable.
“When the lawmakers themselves play the role of the executive organ, the question arises how they would perform the duty of making the government accountable?”
According to Nepal government officials, the new working procedure guidelines also bar lawmakers from using the fund to buy land for the project and provide compensation for the acquired land.
The government will create a separate fund for administrative costs, as per the new working procedure.
The new rule aims to discourage fragmentation of resources as it says half of the budget allocated for each constituency should be used in projects whose cost is more than Rs5 million each.
Last year, two projects worth over Rs5 million out of the total 20 projects could be selected. In the past, very small projects were also selected in large numbers, according to the auditor general’s report.
Until a decade ago, a project worth Rs50,000 could be chosen as per rules prevailing at the time.
The new rule also seeks to discourage the use of consumer committees to implement projects chosen by lawmakers.
According to the working procedure, projects worth over Rs5 million should be implemented through contractors which will be selected through tenders. The remaining half of the budget can be used in projects whose cost stands between Rs1 million and Rs5 million. Consumer committees can be assigned to implement such projects. But a consumer committee cannot employ a contractor to implement the project.
“If the consumer committee is found using the contractor, a directive committee headed by a directly elected lawmaker in the House of Representatives can cancel the funding for the projects and use the funds in another project,” stated one of the new working procedure guidelines.
It says that projects chosen by lawmakers can be implemented even after their tenure ends midway as long as the projects have already been chosen. In 2017, projects under this programme could not be implemented after the tenure of the previous parliament expired midway.
In order to implement the projects, a directive committee headed by a directly elected lawmaker should choose the projects to be implemented under the programme by mid-November.
Such projects should reach the concerned local governments by the end of November.
“The budget will not be available to the projects which are not chosen within the set deadline,” the guidelines under the new working procedure highlighted.