Prime minister’s advisor reveals expenditure report but no one knows where it came fromGovernment officials have professed ignorance about a report published on social media breaking down the amount the government has spent so far in fighting Covid-19.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
Amid widespread calls for financial transparency regarding the government’s spending on the fight against Covid-19, Surya Thapa, the prime minister’s press advisor, released an expenditure report on Saturday via social media.
The report was released as per the decision of the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre (CCMC) Directorate Committee, according to Thapa.
The report, however, lacks any official letterhead, date, stamp or signature. There is no indication of the ministry or agency that drafted the report with officials at the CCMC, the High-Level Coordination Committee on Prevention and Control of Coronavirus, and the Finance Ministry all professing ignorance about who had drafted the report, raising questions about its authenticity.
As per the report, all three tiers of government have so far spent Rs8.39 billion in combating the pandemic. The federal government has spent Rs4.10 billion, the provincial governments Rs1.3 billion, and local governments Rs2.98 billion.
Federal ministries, including health, defence, home, foreign affairs, urban development and education, together spent Rs4.10 billion, with the defence ministry spending Rs2.4 billion, the highest amount.
Among the provinces, Sudurpashchim has spent the highest amount, at Rs364.87 million, followed by Karnali which spent Rs239.28 million. These two provinces have spent the most despite having a relatively smaller number of infections. Sudurpaschim has reported 192 cases of Covid-19 while Karnali has reported 912. Province 2 has reported the highest number of infections, at 1,987 cases, and has spent Rs133.94 million on the pandemic so far.
There is no indication on the report as to how these figures were calculated or by whom. The report is so far only available on Thapa’s Facebook page, and not on any of the websites of the relevant ministries or government agencies.
“We did not issue the expenditure list,” Narayan Bidari, member-secretary of the High-Level Covid-19 Coordination Committee, told the Post.
Officials at the CCMC too expressed ignorance about the report.
“The CCMC did not make public the expenditure report,” Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, Nepal Army spokesperson, told the Post.
The Nepal Army is also a part of the CCMC, where it coordinates the security portion of the Covid-19 response and hosts the CCMC Secretariat.
Officials at the Finance Ministry, another government institution that could likely have drafted the report, also did not take ownership of the expenditure report.
“The Finance Ministry has released Rs6.56 billion to various ministries, part of which has gone to the provincial and local governments,” said Uttar Kumar Khatri, spokesperson at the ministry. “But we have not formally released any data about expenditure in combating Covid-19 by incorporating data from provincial and local governments.”
Repeated attempts by the Post to reach Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada and Health Minister Bhanubhkata Dhakal for comment were unsuccessful.
But the Health Ministry on Saturday corroborated the expenditure figures.
Jageshwor Gautam, Health Ministry spokesperson, said at a regular press briefing that the ministry had spent Rs1.58 billion, out of a total budget of Rs2.71 billion that it had received to fight the pandemic. The expenditure figure matches the amount on the report released by Thapa.
In early June, Bidari had revealed that the government had so far spent Rs9.87 billion in setting up quarantine centres and procuring medical goods and equipment, prompting widespread calls for financial transparency.
On June 8, Health Minister Dhakal told the Parliament that the government has so far spent Rs9.87 billion in response to Covid-19.
Lawmakers, opposition politicians had called for an accounting while young people took to the streets in protest.
Early last week, the Nepali Congress, the primary opposition, demanded an answer to how the funds were spent with Members of Parliament too asking for details.
The calls for transparency come as the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is being widely criticised. Poor quarantine facilities have emerged as hotspots for Covid-19 and the government is being taken to task for relying largely on rapid diagnostic tests, which are unreliable, over polymerase chain reaction tests.
The KP Sharma Oli government has already landed in one corruption scandal during this pandemic. Two Cabinet ministers have been implicated in irregularities over the procurement of medical goods from China via the Omni Business Group.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that it was not time to seek the government’s expenditure yet. Due to the alleged irregularities while procuring the medicals goods through Omni Business Group has also raised questions about the government’s expenditure.
Government officials themselves say the government’s expenditure could be higher than presented in the report, particularly at the provincial and local levels.
“Provincial and local governments have been spending huge amounts to fight the pandemic from their own resources too. So, the amount spent by them could be higher,” said Khatri, the Finance Ministry spokesperson.
Provincial government officials too said that they have spent more than what has been enumerated.
Jhapat Bohara, economic affairs and planning minister for Sudurpashchim Province, said they’ve spent over Rs600 million, as opposed to Rs364.87 million as detailed in the expenditure report.
The funds had been spent in managing the movement of people across the border and in building quarantine facilities, he said.