KATHMANDU, March 22: While the whereabouts of vehicles purchased during previous elections remain largely unknown, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) and the Election Commission (EC) are lobbying to purchase hundreds of four wheelers for the upcoming local elections.
MoHA officials said the ministry is trying to seek approval to buy around 1,000 vehicles for poll purposes. The vehicles would be distributed among the various divisions of the ministry, the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force.
“We will need around 1,000 vehicles for the elections. We are working out the costs. It will be forwarded to the other authorities concerned,” MoHA spokesperson Bal Krishna Panthi told Republica.
MoHA officials working on the logistics estimate that the vehicle procurement cost is likely to exceed Rs 4 billion. The ministry has also sought a total of Rs 31 billion for security arrangements and other logistical preparations. These include the cost of hiring 75,000 temporary police personnel for the elections, and their salaries, perks and the like.
Government agencies prefer to purchase vehicles during elections as they will thus be able to avoid the usual public procurement process. Procurement experts said this fast-track procurement allows officials to resort to murky deals.
They see the allocation of huge amounts prior to elections as misuse of resources. "Frankly speaking, this is misuse of resources," said former CIAA chief commissioner Suryanath Upadhyay.
Upadhya stressed the need for letting the public know about the status of previously procured logistics before initiating any new procurements. "The public should be informed whether the need for such logistics is genuine. And the procurement process should be credible and transparent," he said.
Finance Ministry officials claim that the vehicle procurement is an unnecessary move, but Panthi at MoFA defended his ministry's proposal, saying it was necessary due to the incresed number of electoral constituencies. 'There were only 240 constituencies during the 2013 CA elections but now the number of local units stands at 744. We have made a realistic demand after a proper needs assessment,” said Panthi.
Asked about the vehicles procured for the previous elections, Panthi said he was unaware of the details. “As far as I know many vehicles are being used by Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force,” he said.
Like MoHA, the EC is also lobbying to procure new vehicles, citing the elections. The election body has requested the government to bring 36 four-wheelers and some motorcycles from India. The government has already released over Rs 10 billion for the local elections on the basis of the EC's demands.
"We have requested the Finance Ministry to approve our plan to purchase vehicles," said EC Spokesperson Surya Prasad Sharma.
The EC had purchased 48 four-wheelers for the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections. Of these, five Scorpio jeeps were allotted to its five regional offices and 43 pickup vans went to the district election offices.
Asked about these vehicles, EC officials said they are being used in the district offices. "We have maintained records on them," said EC Spokesperson Sharma.
Election officials say all 73 district offices connected by motorable road have pickup vans. "I think the 73 district election offices are already equipped with pickups and all the regional offices have Scorpios also," said former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety, adding, "I don't know why they are seeking more vehicles.