KATHMANDU, May 30: Despite criticism from various quarters, the government has decided to provide Rs 60 million to each lawmaker in the House of Representatives elected under the First Past the Post (FPTP) system, for the development of their respective constituencies.
Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada announced an increase in the amount by 50 percent from the existing Rs 40 million for each of the 165 lawmakers. Although the finance minister was personally against budget allocation under this head amidst concerns that it was grossly misused by lawmakers as a pork barrel fund, sources said he was under pressure from both the ruling and opposition parties. Khatiwada said he has allocated Rs 9.9 billion for the purpose.
He also announced that the directives for the fund are to be revised in order to ensure a role for lawmakers from the National Assembly and also for those elected to the lower house under proportional representation.
Lawmakers from the ruling NCP had earlier lobbied hard to increase the Rs 40 million allocated to each of the 165 directly elected lawmakers of the lower house by at least 50 percent. Sources said the prime minister and other influential members of the ruling NCP had pressured the finance minister to allocate the budget accordingly.
While criticizing the government for increasing the fund for constituency development, the main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) has said that the government had missed an opportunity to scrap a pork barrel arrangement that has courted controversy over its rampant misuse.
“I do not see any justification for increasing the fund. Federalism has already come into implementation. There are local governments in place down to the ward level. This program was introduced by our government at a time when there was no elected body in the country except the Constituent Assembly,” said NC lawmaker Minendra Rijal. “The finance minister had an opportunity to scrap it. I wonder why he couldn't take the decision.”
Ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader and former finance minister Surendra Pandey, however, defended the increment in the fund. “Of course, the budget is found to have been distributed for petty programs in some districts. But this can be corrected and the fund can be channeled into big projects by amending the directives,” he said.
The government initially allocated amounts of the budget for the Constituency Infrastructure Special Program and the Constituency Development Program. Finance Minister Khatiwada decided to merge the two programs into a Partnership Program in the current budget that he presented in parliament last year. Although the fund was started with an allocation of Rs 5 million for each lawmaker, this amount has now reached Rs 60 million .
However, this decision to budget the fund only for directly elected lawmakers has created serious dissatisfaction among the remaining 110 lawmakers in the lower house elected under the proportional electoral system and all 59 lawmakers of the National Assembly.Finance Minister Khatiwada has tried to woo them by announcing revisions in the directives to ensure a role for those elected under proportional representation also.