Lawmakers lobby for hiking constituency development fund

  • If allotted as per the demand, budget for them will reach a whopping Rs 21 billion
- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

May 14, 2019-

As the government expedites the process to finalise the annual budget, members of the federal parliament have intensified their lobbying to double the budget for the Local Infrastructure Partnership Programme and revive the controversial Constituency Development Programme.

Initially, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada was against the Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme and the Constituency Development Programme, as millions of rupees under the two programmes were found to have not been utilised properly.

While finalising the budget for the current fiscal year, Khatiwada was firm on not giving continuity to the two programmes last year. However, after failing to resist the pressure from within the party and the opposition, the two programmes were merged as the partnership programme.

The partnership programme worth Rs40 million was announced through the budget to pacify lawmakers.

Now, they are demanding more than double the budget, saying that it was a meagre and insufficient amount to carry out expected development works in their constituencies. They are building pressure on the government to increase the budget to Rs100 million and revive the constituency development programme.

Under the partnership programme, a panel led by a directly elected lawmaker, which includes those elected under the proportional representation system, is formed to select development projects.

The panel also consults with the chiefs of local governments and provincial assembly members from the respective electoral constituencies. The budget under the programme can be used only in development activities—and not in social activities.

Members of Parliament, therefore, are demanding that the constituency development programme, allocating Rs10 million, be revived.

A first-past-the-post lawmaker can use the budget in any of the project s/he wishes, which ranges from supporting local clubs, construction of temples or monasteries.

“We have assured our people of development,” said Met Mani Chaudhary, a Nepal Communist Party (NCP) member in the House of Representatives. “People didn’t choose us just to make laws; they chose us also in the hope that we would support development works.”

He said that a team of lawmakers from the Finance Committee of parliament has raised concerns with Khatiwada on the issue and that he was positive about increasing the budget.

Chaudhary believes there would be a significant increment even if it doesn’t touch the figure of Rs100 million.

The lawmakers under the proportional representation quota are also demanding at least Rs40 million for the programme, which can be spent on the projects they have selected. They claim that all lawmakers have the same status, hence discrimination must not prevail.

“The programme has made them [directly elected lawmakers] powerful and weakened us. We are against such discrimination,” said Pramila Rai, a Nepali Congress lawmaker from the proportional category.

The lawmakers and local leaders are also building pressure via the top party leadership on Khatiwada for the increment.

NCP General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, in a meeting with party leaders from Dang last month, had assured that the budget for the programme would increase, even though not as high as they demanded.

“It could be around Rs70 million,” a leader, who was present in the meeting, quoted Poudel as saying.

The leader, who sought anonymity saying it was a “secret” meeting, said Poudel had claimed that cross-party top leadership has a unanimous voice for the increment. He also had informed local leaders that the old-age allowance was going to increase in the budget.

The national budget for the next fiscal year will be presented in the federal Parliament on May 29.

Though lawmakers from the House of Representatives are happy to learn about the increment, those from the National Assembly say the programme needs to be scrapped. “Legislation—not development projects--is our prime duty,” Ram Narayan Bidari, a member of the Upper House, told Parliament on Monday, stressing there are three tiers of government to do the executive works. “Therefore, lawmakers must stay away from it.”

Rather than scattering the budget for different projects under the partnership programme, Bidari said, it should be used in mega projects.

If the government allocates the budget to lawmakers as per their demand, it will amount to Rs16.5 billion for the 165 electoral constituencies.

If the 110 proportional representation lawmakers are also to get the budget of Rs40 million each as they have demanded, this will cost the state Rs4.4 billion.

The total budget for all the lawmakers will amount to Rs21 billion, which is almost equal to the money with which the Pokhara International Airport is being constructed.

Published: 14-05-2019 09:24

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