KATHMANDU, May 27: More lawmakers from both the ruling and the opposition parties have stood against allocating funds to lawmakers under the Partnership Program amid concerns that such funds are being grossly misused.
While lawmaker Gagan Thapa of the main opposition party Nepali Congress has been strongly lobbying against allocating the fund known previously as Constituency Development Fund to be spent at the discretion of lawmaker without proper oversight mechanism in place, ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Secretariat member and lawmaker Madhav Kumar Nepal has joined the group of lawmakers opposing the fund.
NCP lawmaker from the upper house Ram Narayan Bidari has also been advocating against allocating such fund.
Speaking to journalists in Nepalgunj on Saturday, NCP leader Nepal said Local Infrastructure Partnership Program and Constituency Development Fund should be stopped as they have given rise to the misuse of state funds in the name of lawmakers.
The remarks by Nepal, who is also a former prime minister, comes at a time when lawmakers from the ruling NCP are lobbying hard to increase the Rs 40 million fund allocated to each of the total 165 directly-elected lawmakers of the House of Representatives (HoR) at least by 50 percent. “They are now lobbying for more funds so that they can form as many consumer groups as possible and pocket certain portion of the fund as commission. Let us together stop this misuse,” leader Nepal said.
A few years ago, the government had started allocating certain amount of budget in the name of Constituency Infrastructure Special Program and the Constituency Development Program. Although Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada last year attempted to scrap both the programs in the current year’s fiscal budget citing funds misuse, his attempt failed due to immense pressure from the lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties.
Finance Minister Khatiwada in last year’s budget had decided to merge both the programs into Partnership Program and allocate Rs 40 million to each lawmaker elected under First Past the Post electoral system. But lawmakers are now demanding that they be provided at least Rs 100 million to be spent at their discretion so that they can fulfill their election promises.
Lawmakers lobbying for the fund say they cannot go back on their promises made to voters. However, those arguing against the fund say that the task of lawmakers is to formulate necessary laws, and not directly involve themselves in the mobilization of development funds.
However, NCP leader Nepal suggested involving lawmakers from the electoral constituency concerned in the selection of local projects and allocation of funds.
Currently, the fund under Partnership Program is being allocated only to the 165 directly elected lawmakers of the lower house. The remaining 110 lawmakers elected under the proportional representation electoral system have complained of discrimination and want similar funds.
As the finance minister prepares to unveil the budget for the fiscal year 2019/20 with significant increase in the Partnership Fund, this has courted criticisms and concerns from various quarters. “Pork barrel through constituency development fund for MPs is not just against public opinion, but also contrary to the constitutional jurisdiction of local governments. Coming budget should stop this,” wrote senior NC leader and former Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat.
If the fund is increased as demanded by the directly-elected lawmakers and also provided to those elected under the PR system, the state will have to allocate over Rs 21 billion. “Let’s exert pressure against the Constituency Development Fund and scrap the fund altogether from this fiscal year’s budget. Let’s help protect the integrity of lawmakers from the citizen’s level,” wrote Satis Devkota, an economist, on Twitter.