The expansion of the Narayanghat-Mugling road, a vital artery in and out of Kathmandu, should have been completed back in April. But 27 months since the start of the road-widening campaign, only 52 percent work has been done. Now, the deadline has been extended to next April. If it continues at its current glacial pace, it is sure to miss that deadline as well. But doesn’t the government monitor these vital projects and when their progress is unsatisfactory, punish them in some way? Yes, it does monitor them; but no, it does not punish wrongdoing. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had himself inspected the aforementioned road project. As had a team of the parliament’s Development Committee led by its chairman Rabindra Adhikari. They had then categorically instructed project managers to honor the deadline, but to no avail. The story of the much-touted Melamchi Drinking Water Project is pretty much the same. Every year its progress is monitored, directives are issued and project handlers then vow to complete it in no time. But nothing happens. In fact, most infrastructure projects in Nepal are either delayed or over-budget, or both.
According to the Ministry of Finance, a total of Rs 7.11 billion has been spent on such monitoring and inspections over the past five years, and Rs 3.15 billion allocated for this fiscal year alone. But, then, why is there so little to show for it? One reason is that these inspections tend to be ritualistic, and conducted purely for public consumption: the government wants to show it is not sitting idle. If it was serious, it would make such inspection visits more rigorous and the recommendations issued thereafter mandatory. Yet, currently, even when a project is over-budget and badly delayed, those responsible are seldom punished. In fact, since most of them enjoy some form of political protection, no action is taken against them, and they sometimes even get rewarded. Since those going on such inspections get fat allowances, government employees are rather keen on these inspection visits, but only to enrich themselves. Things will change only when these inspectors are rewarded based on project output and not for completing a formality.
Government agencies like the National Vigilance Center and the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, the two bodies which can really hold these errant contractors and builders to account, also seem reluctant to punish them. This happens because the whole government apparatus, from the executive to the judiciary to vital constitutional bodies, have been politicized. It would not be wrong to say that two or three political parties are running the country, with each party in this case looking to protect the contractors and builders close to it. Accountability has to start at the top. If the prime minister only started to take an active interest in compliance of his directives, those under him would also be forced to take their responsibilities seriously. But for this the prime minister first has to have the strength of character to rise above petty personal interest.