MPs call for renewing constituency budgetAs the Ministry of Finance starts preparations for formulating budget for the new fiscal year, lawmakers from across the party line have started lobbying for continuation of the Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme (CISP) and Constituency Development Programme (CDP) that give them access to millions of rupees to fund projects of their choice.
As the Ministry of Finance starts preparations for formulating budget for the new fiscal year, lawmakers from across the party line have started lobbying for continuation of the Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme (CISP) and Constituency Development Programme (CDP) that give them access to millions of rupees to fund projects of their choice.
The two programmes have been controversial after huge sums of money from the state coffers were found to have been spent on non-productive sectors. Members of federal parliament have already met Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada and CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal for increasing the size of the budget to be spent through these programmes.
This lobbying initiated by lawmakers from the ruling UML and Maoist Centre has the backing of the opposition Nepali Congress. They have sought Rs100 million for lawmakers elected directly and Rs5 million for those elected under the proportional representation category and to the National Assembly.
Currently, a parliamentarian can spend Rs5 million under the CDP while Rs30 million is allocated under the CISP, which is also spent as directed by the MPs. A total of Rs10 billion was allocated under the two programmes in the current fiscal year although most of it remains unspent due to intervention from the Election Commission first and then the Supreme Court citing the elections.
The EC on October 29 last year asked the government to stop the projects arguing that retired lawmakers cannot carry on with the programme meant for incoming MPs. The erstwhile Sher Bahadur Deuba government decided a month later to continue the programme for selected projects. The move was challenged by UML MP Jhapat Rawal in the apex court, which ordered discontinuation of both the schemes.
Rawal argued that continuing the programme meant for 240 electoral constituencies was unjustifiable as they had been reduced to 165 for the new House of Representatives. The Finance Ministry has already started informal consultations with lawmakers on the issue. Khaga Raj Adhikari, chief whip of the UML, said that a majority of lawmakers are for continuing with the programme.
“The budget has been rightly used in most places. But I agree that it has also been misused somewhere, which needs to be corrected,” he told the Post, hinting that his party wants continuation of the programmes. Asked about the relevance of the programme at a time when provincial and local governments have been elected to look after development activities at the local level, Adhikari said the funds could be used in close coordination with provincial and local governments. He said pre-budget discussion in Parliament would decide on the matter.
Taking cues from members of the federal parliament, provincial parliamentarians have also started demanding similar programmes.
However, there are a few lawmakers at the centre who stand against these schemes. Ram Narayan Bidari, a Maoist National Assembly member, said the programmes will be redundant as provincial and local governments have come into existence. “Is it the job of lawmakers to build bridges and roads?” asked Bidari, pointing to the history of misuse of funds arranged for such projects.
Hinting at the pressure from MPs, Finance Minister Khatiwada said at a public programme on Thursday that it was beyond his ambit to stop the programmes meant for parliamentarians.
The budget will be tabled in the House of Representatives on May 29 after two weeks of pre-budget discussion.
Lawmakers lobbying for funds have sought Rs100 million for each constituency under the CISP. “Our party has promised in the election manifesto Rs50 million for each constituency but we
are seeking Rs100 million as it is essential for lawmakers to work as the bridge between different layers of government,” said Rambir Manandhar, a UML lawmaker.
He, however, said they have not asked for an increment in the amount under the CDP. If approved, the government will have to allocate Rs16.5 billion under CISP for 165 constituencies and Rs1.67billion under the CDP. Those lobbying for additional funds under the CISP said they need resources to fulfil their electoral promises. “There is the history of lawmakers making lofty promises related to development. We need resources to deliver on them,” said Manandhar.
The programmes have not been implemented so far this fiscal year.
At fiscal end, govt bids for pet projects
Two-and-a-half months before the end of fiscal year, the government is preparing to implement the controversial Constituency Infrastruc-ture Special Programme and the Constituency Development Programme.
On January 14, the Supreme Court had stopped implementation of these programmes overseen by the erstwhile lawmakers as new ones had already been elected under the new constitution. The SC decided to lift the stay about a month ago. “We are preparing to revise the regulation on implementation of these programmes. We plan to issue a notice inviting the lawmakers to propose projects,” said Dinesh Thapaliya, secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Adminis-tration. The ministry plans to complete project selection by mid-May for implementing them immediately.
The ministry is implementing the schemes under pressure from lawmakers despite concern over possible misuse of funds and quality of works while rushing works.
A senior official at the ministry said they plan to implement projects selected under these programmes on multi-year contract so that resources would not be spent in haste fearing their freezing at the fiscal end. “The resources will directly reach the accounts of local units from the District Treasury Office in the form of grants,” said the official.
However, experts say bringing the “pet projects” of lawmakers under multi-year contract and committing them long-term resource could deprive nationally important projects of resources. “Haphazard selection of projects for multi-year contract without detailed project reports has contributed to parking of resources for non-starter projects,” said former finance secretary Shanta Raj Subedi. (PR)