Corruption cureNepal’s state of affairs is bleak, and unless we hold local level elections, what is in store for us could be worse
How shameful is it that people in our country die from fever without getting a paracetamol tablet? Hunger and starvation are taking a toll on many Nepalis and the problem is further compounded by the sheer lack of access to nutrition-rich food. Investment for building infrastructures and for generating employment opportunities is dreadfully lacking. Development projects hardly get completed on time. Paradoxically, the state treasury holds a huge sum of money, waiting to be used for the purpose it is actually meant for. These are some of the few examples of how bleak our situation is, and it reflects what is in store for us if this state of affairs continues.
Budget execution issues
The under-spending of the development budget has become a chronic problem, eating away at the vitals of the country and bringing economic activities to a standstill. It is said that this could be attributed to political instability, incompetence of the bureaucracy, failure of contractors to execute works, difficulty in acquisition of land for various projects, delay in approval of programmes, and so on. To some extent, all these reasons have been responsible for the under-spending of the capital budget. The facts, however, speak otherwise. What could be the real reasons behind such a dismal situation?
It goes without saying that the frequent changes of government have stood in the way of budget execution, and this gives rise to a host of other problems. Everyone notices that with almost every change in government begins the transfer of senior officials. Former finance minister Barshaman Pun has admitted in a recent article in a vernacular daily that “there has been a setting’’, and that the setting spans the top of the ministry to the bottom.
The setting operates like this: the minister brings in the secretary of his choice when he joins office. The secretary, in turn, starts changing directors and section heads depending on their loyalty or allegiance. The directors bring in their aides as office chiefs who will almost invariably tend to emulate what their bosses have done, and bring in likeminded assistants as project coordinators.
This is how our development machinery typically functions. It is also said that until and unless commission is settled, the authorisation letter to local units for spending the allocated budget would not be released. And, it would be too late to spend the money by the time the setting takes place. Recently, there was a news story published in another vernacular daily about how entrenched the roots of corruption in Nepal are. It pointed fingers at the secretary who allegedly demanded a share of the funds from the department heads and the project managers. Of course, we should not interpret from this that all ministers and civil servants are corrupt. There are good people, too.
From bad to worse
In the absence of locally elected representatives for nearly two decades, development works have not gained momentum. Government officials have been asked to double as people’s representatives. Though the officials may have rendered services to the best of their ability, there is no way that they could take the place of chosen representatives. If there had been an elected local body, the people’s representatives would have played a positive role in public spending, with the opposition acting as a watchdog. It is no secret that the absence of elected representatives has led to rampant corruption. It has also been reported time and again that with the provision of an all-party mechanism to function as the local body, things went from bad to worse. The all-party mechanism comprised party members who worked hand in gloves with each other in misusing the project funds. Sadly, the projects got completed only on paper.
Earlier, the delay in getting approval from Parliament was blamed for the funds being unspent. But the budget for this fiscal year was presented in Parliament on Jeth 15 (end of May) as per the constitutional provision, and it was also approved immediately. Still things have not changed much. The indefinite strikes, the shut-downs and the conflict are said to be among the other factors that have disrupted development works. However, in the last six months, barring minimal exceptions, no such activities have taken place in the country and things are not getting any better.
The amount of budget increases every year, particularly the current expenditure. The capital expenditure hardly increases. The quality of the infrastructure built by the government is low, as the major chunk of the development budget is spent within a very short period of time towards the end of the fiscal year. Besides, there are some procedural delays. The authorisation for the projects should be given at the same time when the budget is passed, and the project offices should be entitled to go for bidding. When Parliament approves a programme, it is not necessary for the same programme to get approved by the National Planning Commission. The bureaucracy should be stabilised, meaning with every change in government, the bureaucrats should not be transferred. The ultimate way for all this to happen is to have an elected local body in place to expedite public spending. Therefore, holding local body elections is absolutely necessary.
Dangal is executive vice-chairperson of Youth and Small Entrepreneur Self-employment Fund