Why did provincial govts continue CIDP, despite criticism?

Published On: July 1, 2021 06:59 PM NPT By: Rajaram Bartaula

All provincial governments in Nepal, including the three provinces - Province 1, Province 2 and Bagmati Province - while presenting their annual programs along with the fiscal budget for the year 2078/79 (2021/22) have given continuity to the Constituency Infrastructure Development Program (CIDP) despite the widespread criticism against the controversial program. The funding for this program is regarded by many as a waste of precious national resources. It is only the federal government that scrapped the program for the upcoming fiscal year.

The CIDP is an idea propagated and introduced in developing countries. The introduction of a constituency infrastructure development fund is an attempt to give a lawmaker a leverage and freedom to choose projects at the community level of their preferences. For such projects, the authorities concerned arrange funds at the federal and provincial levels. It is thus a funding arrangement to channel money from the central or provincial government directly to the electoral constituencies for local infrastructure projects.

It was introduced by late Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari in 1994 and since then all the successive governments have given it continuity with substantial increase in the budget. After the change in the political system and the country starting following the federal system of governance, the provincial governments, too, adopted it and continued it with the mobilization of funds under local infrastructure development partnership program.

Because of its distributive character, it is also called pork barrel. The CIDP practice was first initiated in the Philippines, India and Pakistan and imitated by as many as 23 countries by 2009. Another country in South Asia to follow suit is Bhutan. Similarly Ghana, Honduras, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mongolia, Namibia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Southern Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe[i] also have adopted the CIDP practice, according to a research jointly conducted by Bart Robertson, Cindy Jeelene and Lauren Dunn in 2015.

Having a distributive characteristic, the program has come under criticism since Members of Parliament are inclined to have always channelled down resources to party workers, voters and other supporters in their constituencies. Critics of this practice insist that MPs instead need to concentrate on national legislation in parliament and leave local issues to the local governments. But most MPs continue the old practice and in fact continue to receive a government grant which is to be used precisely for purposes in their own constituencies (Stuck in the past: the MP’s constituency, by Hans Andersen, 2019).

Because of its rampant misuse, as indicated in the report of the auditor general, it has come into controversy over and over again. The members of parliament may give several arguments to justify its usefulness, but the truth is that after the formation of local governments all such justifications have lost eminence and validity limiting the lawmakers to concentrate on the legislative functions only. However, the budget under the program can be used only in development activities and not in social activities - a mechanism formed to oversee the program led by directly elected lawmakers which includes those elected under the proportional representation system to select development projects involving federal lawmaker into community level development may invite friction and controversy between the local government and central government.

The CIDP is devised to address the requirements at the community level for smaller projects, which could not be included in the national level program (budget). So, it contradicts not only the principle of decentralization but also the democratic ideals because of its distributive character.  It also invites a conflict of interest in mobilizing resources for miniscule work that will not be able to create any significant impact on the national economy.

Also, because of weak monitoring mechanisms, there are chances of misuse of funds. Most of the projects under this program have drawn controversy for their weak monitoring and implementation. The report published by the auditor general has also raised questions of the utility, usefulness and rationality of CIDP.  

It also diverts the attention of lawmakers from their core responsibilities to petty interests of the local necessities. According to Albert van Zyl, there are four fundamental reasons to prove the constituency development funds wrong- it breaches the principle of separation of power, reduces the government capacity, and weakens the oversight capacity of the legislature.

The Constituency Development Programme is less aligned with local development priorities than other local infrastructure projects. Project selection is used to influence the result of the elections. In the run-up to the elections, the ruling party may misuse the resources to ensure victory. The competing other candidates will find themselves in a disadvantaged position to seek favors of the voters, while the incumbent MPs enjoy the fund through commitment to local projects, investment to local youth clubs and cultural trusts. It was evident during the elections that MPs were selective on funds expenditure while approaching the elections.

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