Lawmakers or project managers?MPs must stick to their job of monitoring government activities, not managing them
The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal releases two types of funds directly to its Members of Parliament (MPs): Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and Constituency Infrastructure Development Programme (CIDP). These funds are distributed for developmental projects targeting the neediest beneficiaries. The MPs have total control over how this money is spent and distributed, taking them away from their core role of lawmaking and forming, controlling and directing the government. The result then poses negative impacts on accountability and service delivery which corrodes public respect for the MPs and ultimately the government, which Nepal cannot afford at this point of time.
Separation of powers
Despite the evident research briefs supporting the flaws of this funding mechanism, there are about 23 countries that have adopted or considered adopting this structure. Among South Asian countries, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Nepal follow this policy. The constitution of Nepal has given independent authority to the provincial and local governments to mobilise the local executive and legislature. Currently, the CDF and the CIDP are the deficiencies in the government structure breaching the separation of powers of the executive and the legislature at the provincial and local levels.
The vertical separation of power in a federal government is constructed to make the overall structure less prone to poor governance. The allotting of CDF and CIDP in Nepal will make its MPs more vulnerable to inefficiency in their actual role of enacting and evaluating the budget. These funding mechanisms violate the separation of powers of the three governmental bodies. However, a tussle between the powers has sprung. The local government believes that it is insignificant for MPs to overshadow the ward presidents and act like one.
The CDF and CIDP plans constitute a risk of narrowing government capacity to reach diverse people. The targeted beneficiaries are chosen in accordance with nepotism, hence restraining equality and fairness in development. In some ways, these funds also minimise local government spending on local development. Mobilisation of the CDF and the CIDP through MPs adds further expenses and time in monitoring project implementation, resulting in disorganisation among the local, provincial and central governments. In a developing country like Nepal, the CDF and the CIDP are not productively employed. Instead of using these funds for state development, it is used elsewhere.
During my tenure as an MP, I was also given the opportunity to mobilise the CDF and the CIDP. Despite my best selfless efforts, the length to which these funds could have contributed to local development wasn’t met. There were gaps and leakages in allocation and distribution. The number of final beneficiaries did not reach my expectations, and I realised that this funding mechanism had lots of defaults, and that MPs shouldn’t be the mediator to connect the CDF and the CIDP with locals. When I realised the faults and leakages, and tried to discuss them with other leaders, I was completely ignored. On the contrary, I was asked to blend with this practice and told that nothing could be done.
The then finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat too showed disagreement with the funds and their increment. As a result, he had to face criticism and threats for not approving the budget. The way these funds are spent has aroused conflict between MPs and cadres. As far as I know, MP Radhe Shyam Adhikari was among those who made the best use of these funds, but he became unpopular among the cadres. The funds went in bulk for the development of a particular sector to minimise leakages, and this is what bothered most who expected a lot in person to overall development.
The MPs have their own manifesto which they had promised to the citizens, but the CDP and the CDIF are not the appropriate ways to accomplish them. There can be other avenues to reach out to the people. Currently, the government of Nepal is facing issues regarding increasing the CDF and the CIDP. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli was under pressure from MPs until the unification of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre into the Nepal Communist Party recently.
With a near two-thirds majority in Parliament, PM Oli has absolute control. With less opposition and minimal obstacles, Oli has every opportunity to create a prosperous Nepal. Scholars, policymakers, media persons and government officials are saying that the local and provincial governments should be allowed to mobilise resources themselves instead of channelling funds through the MPs.
PM Oli, to a degree, must have realised that the CDF and the CIDP mechanisms undermine good governance. The prime minister, therefore, should be determined to take decisions that may be unpopular in Parliament but have scope in developing the country. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. This is the time for PM Oli to fulfil his promises of prosperity, political stability and good governance, and carve his name in the history of Nepali politics.
Rai is a former Member of Parliament from the Nepali Congress