March 23, 2017 12:45 AM NPT
The Home Ministry is looking to buy around 1,000 new vehicles for the upcoming local election slated for May 14, at an estimated cost of Rs 4 billion. This is in addition to the Rs 31 billion the ministry seeks for security arrangements and logistics for the same election. Interestingly, when the ministry officials were asked about the whereabouts of the vehicles that were purchased on the eve of the second CA elections in 2013, they said they were unaware of the details but that both Nepal Police and Armed Police Force were still using vehicles bought back then. The common practice is for government agencies to make public the status of the previously procured goods before they initiate a new procurement process. For only then can the need (or lack thereof) for such goods be properly evaluated. But government agencies still prefer to make such purchases ahead of
elections as procurements for election purposes don’t have to go through the usual (and rather lengthy) public procurement process. This allows those involved in such deals to cut corners and
misuse state resources—and hence the added rush.
Even the Election Commission is asking for new vehicles ahead of the local election. But the
commission has also not been able to justify the need for new vehicles. We have in the past written about how various ministers of the Dahal government have recently been busy allocating more and more public funds for their home districts, in a clear attempt to influence the electorate. So no one should be surprised if this government sanctions funds for the new vehicles that the ministry and the commission both seek, with next to no assessment of the need for such vehicles. It’s a sort of crime by consensus. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is the right body to look into the fast-track procurement process for the new vehicles. But the country’s chief anti-corruption body has been rendered toothless since the dismissal of its chief commissioner Lokman Singh Karki for misconduct late last year. In case of the pre-election spending spree of ruling parties, the responsibility to investigate falls on the Election Commission. But the commission also
appears compromised. Its commissioners, instead of working independently to ensure free and fair
election, seem to be happy to take orders from above.
If there is complete absence of transparency during poll preparations, how can people believe that the May 14 election will be transparent? Thus, for the greater legitimacy of the local election, it is vital that responsible government agencies constantly inform the public about their pre-election expenditures. Even if some transactions have to happen through a fast-track process, the
paper trail can still be scrutinized if placed in public domain. Elections cannot be made an excuse to wantonly spend public money. There should at all times be a system of accountability, check and balance. Henceforth, in public interest, the paper trail on every important election-related expense should be made public. Even this one simple step will do a lot to restore public faith.