New provisions on parliamentarians' fund will encourage irregularities, experts sayWith a new working procedure coming into effect, there is high risk of lawmakers choosing their own people as consumer committee members to spend the funds, critics say.
The government has made the lawmakers-led Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme more distributive, opening the door for implementation of the programme only through consumer committees.
The programme has long been facing criticism of being distributive and for misuse of the funds while implementing the projects through consumer committee usually led by the cadres of political parties.
By amending the working procedure on implementation of the Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme, the government has reversed the past efforts to make it more result oriented by removing the provision from the working procedure that states that half of the budget under the programme should be spent for the projects whose estimated cost is more than Rs5 million.
The newly amended working procedure approved early this month by the Cabinet states that maximum 30 projects, each having an estimated cost over Rs1 million, can be implemented in each constituency. When it comes to districts with a single electoral constituency, a project with estimated cost of as low as Rs500,000 and as many as 40 projects can be implemented from the total budget available for the constituency.
Minimum Rs500,000 can be distributed for the completion of a project which was implemented under this programme in the past and has remained incomplete.
As per the amended working procedure, construction works of the projects to be selected under the programme can be carried out either by calling tener or through a consumer committee.
But the new working procedure has removed the past provision that required the project having cost of over Rs5 million to be implemented through the contractor selected through tender process, paving the way for implementation of the project only through consumer committees.
Critics said that the new provision regarding the implementation of the Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme is regressive and would promote irregularities for paving the way for consumer committees to implement all the projects.
The budget for current fiscal year 2020-21 has reduced the resources allocated under this programme to Rs40 million per constituency from Rs60 million per constituency in the last fiscal year amid resource crunch faced by the government due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said the new provision would lead to scattering of resources. “There is a trend of implementing the projects through consumer committees led by lawmakers’ own people including party cadres,” said Mahat, who is also a senior leader of the main opposition, Nepali Congress. “Opening the door for allowing only consumer committees to implement the projects is even more problematic as it will lead to more irregularities.”
Mahat said that there is a culture of lawmakers deciding who should be in consumer committees and they are usually political cadres.
A special audit conducted by the Office of Auditor General in fiscal year 2016-17 had found that the projects related to political parties and their sister organisations as well as non-governmental organisations related to political parties were selected against the norms.
This local partnership programme is a modified version of the controversial Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme and the Constituency Development Programme implemented through lawmakers.
Kalyani Kumari Khadka, chairperson at the Development and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives, told the Post that the development committee in the past had told the government not to make provision that leads to scattering of the resources.
“Even though a lawmaker might have made many promises, a big project can be implemented by covering the entire constituency. Such a project can be implemented through partnership with provincial and local governments,” she said.
When the Post sought response from Minister for Federal Affairs and General Administration Hridayas Tripathi, he defended the new working procedure, saying the threshold of estimated cost per project was reduced only for incomplete projects.
But an official of the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration said that the minimum threshold was reduced as per the wish of the lawmakers.
“During discussions, lawmakers had argued that they need to distribute resources for many incomplete projects in their constituencies. As per the wish of the lawmakers, the provision stating that half of the budget for a constituency should be spent for projects with estimated cost over Rs5 million was removed. The threshold of amount that can be provided to each incomplete project has been reduced to Rs500,000,” said Dilliram Panthi, under secretary at the ministry.
Even when the budget for the fiscal year 2018-19 provisioned that maximum five projects related to road, drinking water, irrigation and river control could be carried out in one constituency, the working procedure amended two years ago had allowed lawmakers to choose 20 projects following pressure from lawmakers.
After the local governments got elected officials in 2017, questions are being asked whether the country needs programmes like Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme.
In the past when there were not elected representatives at the local level, lawmakers had argued that this programme was essential to connect people with their elected representatives.
Critics of the programme say lawmakers can no longer use that argument as the country has already adopted a federal governing system.
“As the constitution itself has made the provision of spending the government’s resources through three layers of government, this programme goes against the provision,” said Hom Naraya Shrestha, president of National Association of Rural Municipalities in Nepal.
Despite the criticism, the federal government has continued the programme to placate the lawmakers.
In fact, the provincial governments have also implemented similar programmes in most of the provinces.
“The overall outcome of this programme nationwide has remained mixed,” said Shrestha, who is also chairperson of Jugal Rural Municipality in Sindhupalchok district. “The discretionary power enjoyed by the directly elected lawmakers in selecting the projects has influenced the selection of the projects in many places.”
Meanwhile, the amended working procedure has added new projects related to fighting Covid-19 that can be implemented under the controversial programme.