May 19, 2019 02:25 AM NPT
One most important issue which must be discussed in the parliament—to assess its effectiveness and need—is constituency infrastructure development program, under which certain amount of money is allocated for each electoral constituency and this money is spent for development of projects under the supervision of the lawmaker of the respective electoral constituency. In the past few years, we have been demanding greater transparency of this program and even questioning its relevance for various reports have already proved that constituency infrastructure development program has helped more to enrich concerned lawmakers and their cadres and supporters and little has been spent for real development. There are precedents of lawmakers spending the money for helping local clubs or making local taps, temples etc or the programs directly related with political party of respective lawmakers. As such massive corruption has been reported.
Yet, lawmakers are lobbying to increase this budget to Rs 100 million from current Rs 40 million for each constituency. As the finance minister and concerned authorities are working on the budget for this fiscal year, we ask the government to cancel this program altogether. Lawmakers have long argued that since they are the ones who are directly connected with their constituencies they are the ones who know and understand the development priorities of their constituencies. Agreed. Their other argument has been that they do not get the money in hands directly and they only work as facilitators in selection of projects. The truth of the matter is though the lawmaker does not get to spend the money directly, he has a considerable stake in influencing how it is spent and where including whom the projects are to be contracted. This is the main reason why corruption cases have increased in constituency development program. And the intention here does not seem to be real infrastructure development but to please the electorate so that a lawmaker can secure his/her victory for the next election as well.
There are compelling reasons to cancel this program rather than giving it continuity. We have exercised a new political set up under which elected local governments have been given mandates and authorities to carry out development works. They are the ones to plan and implement development projects. The constituency development program may have been relevant during the time when country’s local government units had become defunct (for nearly two decades, our local governments were virtually run by the bureaucrats) and lawmakers needed to do something for their constituency. Besides, giving Rs 100 million to each constituency will open the can of worms. Around 550 provincial lawmakers, like they did last year, will also demand similar budget. Lawmakers elected through proportional representation system and even those at National Assembly are likely to follow suit. 753 local units that are termed local governments are functioning for the last two years and elected representatives at local units are the ones to carry out development activities in their villages and towns. Lawmakers are reportedly pressuring the finance minister not to do away with this irrelevant program but instead increase the amount to Rs 100 million per lawmaker. Parliament’s Finance Committee has also stood for raising the money. It is unfortunate that entire parliament lobby should stand for the program that could potentially encourage financial indiscipline (only exception being few lawmakers such as Ram Narayan Bidari). The system of allowing lawmaker to spend budget as they like has only served to entrench corruption and drain the national coffers. Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada should be bold enough to abrogate this program. If he can do this, he will surely be acknowledged as the man of financial discipline.