KATHMANDU, April 29: Despite several cases of irregularities reported while utilizing the Constituency Development Fund in the past, newly-elected lawmakers have begun piling pressure on the government to give continuity to the controversial fund with significant increment.
Lawmakers of the federal parliament want the government to release at least Rs 100 million a fiscal year to each lawmaker elected under first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, raising serious concerns on the proper utilization of the fund, transparency and potential negative implications in the competitive democratic polity in the long run.
Each lawmaker in the erstwhile parliament received Rs 30 million, which remained largely unaccounted for. Additionally, lawmakers of the erstwhile parliament received Rs 5 million each year in the name of Parliamentarian Development Fund (PDF). Lawmakers of the federal parliament are also lobbying to give continuity to the fund with 100 percent increase, informed sources said.
Speaking at a function held recently in the capital, Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada said that he alone cannot decide to terminate it, indicating that the new government is very much likely to give continuity to the fund with significant increase in its purse.
In the likely scenario of government bowing down to the pressure of lawmakers, the Ministry of Finance will have to allocate at least Rs 1.65 billion each fiscal year to 165 of the total 275 members elected under the FPTP to the House of Representatives (HoR) alone. Additionally, it costs state coffers Rs 1.37 billion to finance the contentious Parliamentarian Development Fund (PDF) of the HoR lawmakers.
There are currently three tiers of government - federal, provincial and local - in the federal governance system embraced by the country. While the National Assembly of the federal parliament consists of 59 lawmakers, 330 of the total 550 members of the seven provincial assemblies are elected under the FPTP system. Taking precedents from the erstwhile parliament, lawmakers of the provincial governments have also been lobbying for similar fund.
Sources said concerns have already grown in the finance ministry as the lawmakers of some of the provinces have started allocating budget for the Constituency Infrastructure Development Fund in the current budget itself. Officials said the budget allocated this way mostly goes for the pet projects of the lawmakers and often lack transparency in their spending.
A series of research works carried out earlier by various organizations including Transparency International had shown gross misuse of the fund. There were many cases in which lawmakers did not even spend a small portion of the budget purportedly spent for their pet projects, making this an earning vessel for most lawmakers.
President of Nepal Chapter of Transparency International, Shree Hari Aryal, said it is against the spirit of separation of power as stipulated in the constitution to provide money directly to lawmakers with the liberty to spend it at their discretion.
“What is the rationale behind giving lawmakers such a huge fund? Why cannot they work together with various implementing agencies of the government to ensure implementation of infrastructures that matter to the people they represent?” he asked, while giving instances of gross misuse and corruption of such budgets in the past.
Economist Dr Posh Raj Pandey said such demand of lawmakers, who are supposed to formulate laws and provide oversight to the works of implementing agencies of the government, does not fit in the existing infrastructure development mechanism envisioned by the constitution.
“They are lawmakers, but not the development agents. The demand they have been making is not just inappropriate but also illogical,” said Pandey, who also served as a member of the National Planning Commission (NPC), an apex policy-making body of the government.
Economists maintain that such a scattered way of budget spending will seriously undermine the agenda of the new government to bring about economic prosperity as the limited revenue of the government is spent in the 'pet projects' of politicians concerned.
Experts warn that such a budget also has serious implication on the healthy democratic practice as this privilege allows elected lawmakers to mobilize several millions of budget for various pet projects during their five years in office.
“As there are no strong oversight mechanisms in place, a huge chunk of the budget goes to the purse of concerned lawmakers. Since our elections largely involve money and muscle, this makes it almost impossible for their rivals to win the election,” said a senior Nepali Congress (NC) leader defeated in the recent parliamentary elections, seeking anonymity.