Users’ groups have remained integral to Nepal’s local development initiatives. They exercise powers in selection and execution of projects, budgeting and payment to the contractors against the works done. In that sense, users’ groups decide how particular projects should be planned and run. Our local governance system has allowed such authorities to the local users’ groups with the belief that users themselves know their development priorities better, they should be the part of development process and in their absence development efforts might not benefit the targeted communities on the ground. Users’ groups are usually formed through inclusive process by bringing in members from various ethnic communities. The main function of such groups is to check irregularities in the development process and intervene when such irregularities are committed. These trusted groups, however, have become the subject of scrutiny of anti-graft agencies due to their wrongdoings or involvement in wrongdoings. This is a matter of grave concern and they must be held to account for misusing the budget allocated for the development of local communities.
Over 100000 users’ groups, out of total 350,000, have been found misusing government budget amounting to over billions of rupees every year. The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) have raised concerns following the gross misuse of billions of rupees allocated to users’ groups to carry out various community projects and other development activities. According to OAG and CIAA, over Rs 100 billion is grossly misused and pocketed by local and district level political party leaders and village elites each year. CIAA has received a large number of complaints over misuse of fund. According to CIAA officials around 20 to 30 percent of complaints relating to the users’ groups are related to corruption and irregularities. Procedures on the User’s Group Formation, Mobilization and Management (2018), which has a provision to carry out development projects worth up to Rs 10 million with the participation of the locals, have been grossly violated. Since works carried out by users’ groups are rarely monitored or regulated by government mechanism, huge amount of budget is being misused. This has resulted in sub-standard works. Many such groups formed at the local level look bent on misusing the government budget.
Dereliction of duty by users’ groups has resulted in local representatives misusing budget to purchase dozers in the name of development. Local representatives infiltrate these groups with their supporters so that they can collude with members of users’ groups to manipulate rules, appropriate and misappropriate reports, budget estimation and even development works. Users’ groups seem to have replaced all-party mechanism that used to function in the absence of elected local representatives in the past. We fear that state’s inability to check rampant misuse of budget by the users’ groups might render the very objective of local governance system irrelevant. We urge the CIAA to intensify the investigation and recommend action against those found guilty. Users’ groups must work for ensuring fairness and transparency in local development works. They have no right to misuse the taxpayer’s money to enrich themselves and those close to them. Activities of users’ groups formed to work on issues related to irrigation, drinking water, infrastructures and forest conservation should be scrutinized. Federal, provincial and local governments must monitor whether they are working for the wellbeing of their community or simply misusing the budget.