Many road projects announced by Oli likely to lose fundingWhether the 165 road projects will get the state funds will depend on the new budget replacement bill, road officials say.
On April 3, the then prime minister KP Sharma Oli laid the foundations for 165 road projects—one each in all electoral constituencies. The act was dubbed by many as hasty, done without enough preparations.
The Oli government also allocated Rs12 million each for these projects in this year’s budget, which was brought through an ordinance on May 29.
But on July 12, Oli was ousted from power by the Supreme Court, which also restored the House he had dissolved. The next day, Nepali Congress’ Sher Bahadur Deuba was appointed prime minister.
On July 18, the Deuba government presented the budget ordinance at the first meeting of the restored House, which was prorogued a month later, without passing the ordinance.
Now, as the House session begins, the Deuba government is planning to bring a bill to replace the budget ordinance, and there is uncertainty if the road projects launched by Oli will be continued.
According to the Department of Roads, it has been instructed by the Finance Ministry not to create new liabilities in the projects whose preparatory works have not been completed and outcomes not evaluated.
“We have identified around 450 new road projects, under five different programmes, whose preparatory works have not been completed and the contracts have not been awarded,” said Shiva Prasad Nepal, spokesperson for the department.
“Based on the instructions of the Finance Ministry, none of the 165 road projects under the Electoral Constituency Strategic Roads Programme is eligible for funding.”
“But, whether these road projects will receive funds depends on the budget replacement bill,” said Nepal.
According to Nepal, bids have been invited only for a handful of roads under the Electoral Constituency Strategic Roads Programme as preparatory works such as environmental impact assessment (EIA) and detailed project report (DPR) of almost all the roads have not been completed.
Tender bids for around 300 other road projects under Kathmandu Valley Road Expansion Project, Tarai-Madhes Road Infrastructure Special Programme, and the Alternative Auxiliary Highway Development Programme, which are in various stages of assessment, remain stalled, according to Nepal.
Even after the country implemented the federal system, the central government agencies are implementing smaller road projects under the influence of political leaders.
According to the Annual Programme 2021-22 unveiled by the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, a total of 1,410 local road projects will be implemented by the department in the current fiscal year that started in mid-July. In the last fiscal year, there were 950 such projects implemented by the department. This means 460 new road projects were added for the current fiscal year.
“There is a tendency of announcing new road projects to serve vested political interests without doing the groundwork,” said former finance secretary Suman Sharma. “This has led to fragmentation of resources and haphazard road construction inducing natural disasters.”
Sharma welcomed the ministry’s decision to stop funding the road projects whose preparatory works have not been completed. But the current government should not allocate funds for projects picked to serve the electoral interests of the ruling coalition partners, according to Sharma.
When Oli laid the foundations for the 165 road projects in early April, it was part of a foundation-laying spree that he had started ahead of the planned elections for April 30 and May 10 which could not take place after the Supreme Court restored the House he had dissolved on December 20 last year.
Critics called the foundation-laying campaign a tactic to influence the snap elections.
Oli aimed elections again for November after dissolving the House a second time in May. But it was restored again, and he lost his job.
The current coalition government led by Deuba is set to oversee local elections in about seven months and general elections next year.
Officials and experts say this government too could come up with some plans so as to influence voters, even though it has asked the roads department not to create new liabilities.
“If the incumbent government is serious about not fragmenting the budget in smaller projects and projects announced without enough groundwork, it should be reflected in the replacement bill,” said Sharma.