Lawmakers agree to use parliamentary funds to combat coronavirusMeeting of the Business Advisory Committee agrees that the government failed to take effective measures on time to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Lawmakers have agreed to contribute the billions of rupees under the Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme, to be spent on the recommendation of directly elected parliamentarians, to combat Covid-19.
A meeting of the Business Advisory Committee represented by the chief whips and whips of different parties agreed to transfer the budget to the government’s Coronavirus Management and Control Fund.
The budget, under a partnership programme, is spent in local federal units on the recommendation of the respective lawmaker elected under the first-past-the-post category. Starting this fiscal year, the government has increased the budget to Rs 60 million, which each directly elected lawmaker can suggest how to spend in their constituencies. A total of Rs 9.9 billion has been allocated to the 165 electoral constituencies.
“All the representatives in the meeting unanimously agreed for the transfer of the budget,” Shanta Chaudhary, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) whip, told the Post. “The Speaker will inform the government about the decision.”
Budget under the partnership programme is released to the respective local governments at the recommendation of a lawmaker. In less than three months before the end of the current fiscal year, it will not be possible to carry out development activities under the partnership programme, lawmakers at the meeting said.
The meeting also decided to make parliamentary committees effective to pressurise and support the government in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota had called the meeting following pressure from cross-party lawmakers to make the House panel functional.
Parliament and parliamentary committees that have the authority to hold the government to account are sitting idle while decisions taken by the KP Sharma Oli government have courted controversy one after another.
The government is facing criticism for failing to start testing on time and there was alleged irregularity in allowing the Omni Business Corporate International to import medical kits and protective gears from China.
Members of the Finance Committee, Public Accounts Committee and Health and Education Committee of Parliament have been demanding virtual meetings to evaluate the government’s steps. The idea, however, has been rejected as the parliament secretariat claimed such interactions would be against the law.
It said there is no provision regarding virtual meetings in the existing regulations of Parliament, the federal parliament is not equipped with the technology for such meetings and there is a concern regarding security and privacy. The meeting of the Finance Committee scheduled for Wednesday was called off after Sapkota said it was not possible to hold it virtually.
The Public Accounts Committee has already received a number of complaints about possible irregularities in the procurement of medical equipment, and the government’s intention to award the new procurement deal to the Nepal Army. However, it is yet to hold discussions in the absence of a meeting.
According to Roj Nath Pandey, spokesperson for the parliament secretariat, the advisory committee has suggested the secretariat make necessary arrangements in conducting virtual meetings of the House committees.
The winter session of parliament was ended on April 6. However, the House committees are free to discuss the government’s moves and issue necessary directives for a check and balance. The House of Representatives and the National Assembly have 14 committees combined and lawmakers from the ruling party lead 11 of them.
The last time the House of Representatives met was on March 12. Since then the Parliamentary Hearing Committee was the only panel to meet on March 22 to endorse the nomination of Mahendra Pandey as the ambassador to China.
Nepali Congress chief whip Bal Krishna Khand said the meeting also assessed that the incumbent government wasted weeks doing nothing as Covid-19 entered Nepal long after it had hit China and Europe.
“There are still opportunities for the government to work effectively and cross-party lawmakers are ready for any kind of support,” he told the Post.