KATHMANDU, April 13: After India suspended the budget allocated to be spent under members of parliament for two years, Nepal has also started deliberations on diverting the budget allocated for the local infrastructure development partnership program to Covid-19 response activities.
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe held a meeting with House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota and Chairperson of the National Assembly (NA), Ganesh Prasad Timilsina, on Sunday. The meeting reportedly focused on diverting the budget under the program, also known as MPs development fund.
"Since the budget under the MPs development fund, too, is meant to be spent on physical infrastructure-related programs, we discussed whether such budget can be used for establishing permanent hospitals in all seven provinces to respond to health emergencies," Tumbahangphe told Republica after the meeting.
The meeting among Sapkota, Timilsina and Tumbahangphe was focused on seeking the role of parliament to respond to the effects caused by the novel coronavirus and the measures taken by the government to fight Covid-19, according to Shreedhar Neupane, press advisor to the Speaker.
The government has entrusted Minister Tumbahangphe with the responsibility of holding consultation with political parties in parliament and using their feedback to the government's response to the pandemic.
"The government itself has started mulling over diverting the unspent budget under the local infrastructure development program to the much-needed area. A recent meeting of the cabinet has decided not to allocate budgets for small projects. The decision is also aimed at diverting budget from such programs," said Tumbahangphe.
Meanwhile, leaders from both ruling and opposition political parties have demanded the the government divert the unspent budget allocated under the MPs development fund to the activities aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.
A dozen leaders of the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) have demanded that the government divert the budget under the MPs development fund to the Covid-19 response fund, keeping in view the monetary need to fight the virus.
"In a bid to cut the expenses during the time of crisis, the budget under the MPs development fund should be deposited to the Covid-19 response fund," reads a joint statement issued by 12 leaders of the NC.
Similarly, leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Narayan Kaji Shrestha, too, has demanded that the government divert the budget allocated for the lawmakers to Covid-19 response programs.
"I have been retreating since long that the MPs' development fund is not necessary and is improper. Lets not allocate budget under this topic and divert the rest unspent budget to the Covid-19 response fund," Shrestha tweeted last week.
The government has allocated Rs 9.9 billion with Rs 60 million budget for each constituency to be spent for the projects chosen by the members of parliament representing the constituency concerned. According to the Ministry of General Administration and Federal Affairs, which is responsible for coordinating these programs, a huge amount of budget under the heading is still unspent even as the next fiscal year's budget announcement is just a month away.
Taking their cue from the federal parliament, various provincial governments have allocated Rs 20 million to Rs 50 million under similar projects to be chosen by the provincial assembly members.