Can RSP walk the talk on scrapping pork barrel fund?It has brought a motion against the fund, but has yet to decide whether it will accept the fund if efforts fail.
After the annual budget included the controversial Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme, popularly known as the Constituency Development Fund, the Rastriya Swatantra Party has vocally opposed the government’s move.
Last Thursday, the party registered a resolution motion at the Parliament Secretariat demanding that the disputed fund be scrapped.
Since the economy is in a poor shape, the state coffers will suffer further from such a disputed programme, which cannot utilise resources effectively, the party said. The motion states that “bringing such a programme focused on local development from the federal level appears to create distrust in the performance of local governments”.
The party has demanded that the budget allocated for the Constituency Infrastructure Development Programme be immediately halted and used in other essential development works.
The government revived the controversial programme which had been shelved for two years. Rs50 million has been allocated for each constituency under the programme to ‘address the local needs of development works through their representatives.’ A total of Rs8.25 billion has been allocated to be spent on roads, irrigation, water supply, education, and sports.
The programme is a government initiative to provide members of the federal parliament and the provincial assemblies with funds from the budget to be spent at their discretion on small- and medium-scale projects in their constituencies.
The programme has been mired in controversy as some lawmakers have reportedly been misusing the funds. Many accuse the program of promoting the misuse of taxpayer money because it is operated mainly by local consumer committees usually at the behest of party cadres. Even the annual reports of the auditor general mention that the funds have not been used properly.
Although the Rastriya Swatantra Party has registered a resolution motion, the party has not made any decision on whether its lawmakers will not accept money from the fund.
The party’s joint general secretary, Kabindra Burlakoti, said the party has not made any decision on whether its lawmakers will take the money under the programme. “Because, our first priority is to stop the programme completely so that none of the lawmakers takes such money. We are seeking a bigger change with a bigger vision,” he said.
“We will make our strategy by analyzing the outcome of our ongoing efforts. Let’s see.”
Rastriya Swatantra Party vice-chair and lawmaker DP Aryal said he is confident that the Constituency Development Fund will be scrapped. “Our resolution motion will be tabled and endorsed. So, we have not thought about what we will do if we cannot stop it,” he said.
The federal government had halted resources for projects under the programme in July 2020, deciding to use the remaining funds for Covid response. But the KP Sharma Oli-led government in 2021 released funds for the programme. After widespread criticism, the then finance minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada in the budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 reduced resources for the programme to Rs40 million from the earlier Rs60 million per constituency. The federal government had allocated Rs6.6 billion for the programme in the fiscal year 2020-21, down from Rs9.90 billion in 2019-20. The programme was discontinued in the fiscal year 2021-22, but provinces continue to make such allocations.
According to party's whip and lawmaker Santosh Pariyar, the party has been trying to table the resolution motion and hold discussions, but the government must be positive for that to happen.
“There is no possibility of scrapping the fund by our efforts alone. If we fail to stop it, we will again discuss the issue and the way forward,” said Santosh Pariyar. “We have been seriously considering not accepting the fund.”
After the Constitution Development Fund was brought to discourse ahead of budget, observers have been saying the fund goes against the role of lawmakers, who are supposed to hold the executive that spends the budget to account. They also say allocating such funds to federal lawmakers will weaken local institutions.
The party’s central committee member Ganesh Karki said: “Even if others don’t support us, in order to create pressure, we should first declare that our lawmakers will not accept the fund. We have so vocally stood against the programme and even filed a resolution motion. Morally, our lawmakers should not accept money from the fund.”
The headline of the story was changed for clarity.