Government likely to continue local infrastructure development programme fund despite criticismThe way the money is spent, however, will be changed in the new fiscal year, says National Planning Commission
Despite criticism from different quarters, the government is preparing to continue the controversial Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme in the upcoming fiscal year as well, allowing directly elected lawmakers to mobilise millions of rupees in their constituencies.
The finance ministry is currently busy consulting ministries and political parties as it prepares to present its annual budget for the new fiscal year, which starts in July. According to the constitution, the government must present it before the federal parliament on May 28.
“I don’t see that the programme will be scrapped. But its modality, however, could be changed,” said Min Bahadur Shahi, a member and spokesperson at the National Planning Commission, which plays an advisory role in the budget preparation, says.
He said officials are discussing ways to make sure that the budget for the programme is spent on large projects instead of small scale schemes. Currently the programme’s budget has been scattered in dozens of projects with low economic yield.
“It is necessary to prioritise sectors to invest money under the programme,” he told the Post. For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic has taught a lesson to invest in health care. Therefore, the money could be used in setting up hospitals and equipping them, he said. “However, this is a political issue which will be finalised after consultations with political parties,” he said.
Minister for Finance Yubraj Khatiwada was against releasing funds that can be mobilised by lawmakers on their own discretion ever since he took charge of the ministry two years ago. However, he couldn’t resist pressure from lawmakers of his own party and opposition and continued the programme under a new name.
The Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme and the Constituency Development Programme were merged and renamed Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme. Unlike in the past when directly elected lawmakers had the final say how the money was to be used, lawmakers now had to consult local governments to select projects for the programme.
During the last fiscal year, each lawmaker from the 165 electoral constituencies elected under the first-past-the-post received Rs 60 million, up from Rs 40 million in the previous fiscal.
The decision to allow lawmakers to mobilise millions of rupees has received criticism for years because of weak monitoring of the programme. However, successive governments have buckled under pressure from lawmakers and continued it with significant increments in the budget allocated every year.
The central committee meeting of the Nepali Congress on Wednesday suggested the government scrap the programme in the new fiscal year. Similarly, Shashi Shrestha, chairperson of Parliament’s State Affairs Committee, on April 19 had suggested the government scrap the programme and use its budget to fight against Covid-19 instead.
Lawmakers, mainly from the ruling party, however, have a different say. They say as they have promised voters that certain development work will take place in the constituency, the programme must continue. “This is the only programme under which all lawmakers, irrespective of their party and position, get an equal budget to carry out development work in their constituencies,” Jhapat Rawal, a Nepal Communist Party lawmaker, told the Post. “We want its continuation at any cost.”