After outcry, parties decide lawmakers will not get Dashain allowanceWhile ruling party lawmakers will deposit it in Covid-19 fund, opposition ones will return the allowance to the government.
The criticism had been harsh and widespread.
“Should not people’s representatives feel some sense of shame, sensitivity and responsibility when people are not getting ventilators and medicine, health workers have no time to breath and the country's economy is falling,” wrote central committee member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party Bishnu Rijal on his Facebook.
“On one hand people are suffering from sickness and hunger, on the other hand people’s representatives are enjoying Dashain allowance. What type of journey towards socialism we are heading to? Could not understand,” writes Rashmi Acharya, a youth leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
The government, despite its emptying coffers, had deposited Dashain allowance for lawmakers in their bank accounts, an amount equivalent to their monthly salary of Rs 64,070.
The criticisms made political parties act.
Following a directive of Nepali Congress party president and parliamentary party leader Sher Bahadur Deuba on Tuesday all 69 members of parliament—63 in the House of Representatives and six in the National Assembly—have decided to return the allowances.
A lawmaker of the main opposition Min Biswokarma said it was inappropriate both in terms of morality and politics to accept the allowance when the people are dying in want of proper treatment.
“After lawmakers started to announce that they would return the allowance individually we urged the party leadership to make an institutional decision,” said Biswokarma. “This is the time when we should collect money from various sources to save the lives of the people and share some hope to those in need.”
Not to be outdone, the parliamentary party of Nepal Communist Party has decided to send allowances to its 227 members of Federal Parliament — 174 in the House of Representatives and 53 in the National Assembly — to the Covid-19 Response Fund.
“Our parliamentary party has decided to send the Dashain allowance of all the lawmakers to the Covid-19 fund,” said Khimlal Bhattarai, chief whip of the party in the National Assembly.
The decision of the parliamentary party comes at a time when the general public has been facing economic hardships due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers of different parties, however, have accused the government of having disbursed the allowance to defame them without considering the sensitivity of the public sufferings due to the pandemic and financial crisis.
“NC should and will stand against the plan of the government to disgrace lawmakers among the people during the pandemic,” states Prakash Man Singh issuing a statement.
“We had not demanded for the allowance and we came to know only after receiving the amount at our accounts,” said Ram Kumari Jhakri, a ruling party lawmaker and central member. “But it is not an appropriate time to receive allowance.”
The provision for members of parliament to get Dashain allowance like civil servants do was introduced only last year following a decision of the Cabinet.
Authorities at the federal parliament say the decision to provide Dashain allowance was of the Cabinet and the parliament can do nothing about it.
“Dashain allowance for lawmakers was started only from last year after a Cabinet took a decision to that effect,” said Gopal Nath Yogi, secretary at the House of Representatives. “It has nothing to do with the Federal Parliament.”
Yogi, however, said that the decision seemed inappropriate at a time when the people are not in a situation to celebrate the festivals.
Meanwhile, no lawmaker has spoken anything about the Rs40 million that each of them get annually for the parliament development fund.
They can spend the fund for infrastructure development within their constituencies but due to its misuse there has been widespread criticism of the fund, with local governments having the primary responsibility of development in a federal set up and there had been calls from different sections of the society to scrap the fund.
Following criticism the government is preparing a change in the provisions of the use of the fund by amending the existing work procedure.
“Once the Cabinet amends the work procedure we can use the fund even for the Covid-19 as well,” said Kamala Roka, a ruling party lawmaker.
The country is already in economic difficulties with recurrent expenditure, which does not include capital expenditure, exceeding revenue collection in the first three months of the current fiscal year, according to the Financial Comptroller General’s Office.
Following the example of the federal parliament most of the provincial assemblies have also distributed Dashain allowances.
After some lawmakers of the federal parliament announced to return their allowance members of the provincial assemblies have also started to announce not to accept it citing the grave situation of the country due to pandemic.
A member of Bagmati Province representing Sajha Party Shobha Shakya has announced to provide her allowance to the Covid-19 Fund.
“It is not appropriate in any perspective to accept Dashain allowance while people are struggling for food due to the financial crisis following the pandemic,” Shakya said issuing a statement. “I would like to request the authorities to forward my allowance to the Covid-19 Health Fund.”