Constituency Development Funds
Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada is scheduled to present the first annual budget at the federal parliament during the following weeks which will set fiscal tone for the implementation of federal governance in the country during the following year .The financial minister has hinted at that the budget will be austere to slash unproductive and populist schemes. However, the intent of the finance minister is sure to be faced with serious challenge due to the demand of the lawmakers to give continuity to the constituency area development fund.
At the forefront to raise and pitch for this demand have been the UML lawmakers, and they have been fully and vociferously supported by the Maoist legislators. NC lawmakers will also lend their support once the voicing for the demand goes gathering some steam. The ruling lawmakers will prevail definitely upon the finance minister to concede to it through the budget allocations. The lawmakers may even go into threatening to resist the passage of the budget should the finance minister fail to address their demand. The finance minister should face the challenge of tackling the challenges lest lawmakers scuttle his efforts for wise allocations of the resources.
It is to be noted that firebrand popular NC lawmaker Gagan Thapa had strongly pleaded for the constituency development allocations during the preceding years before he was appointed minister in the last Prachanda led coalition cabinet supported by NC contending that this was justified as this would enable the lawmakers to address some of the burgeoning needs and demands of the their respective constituencies. He was reported to have argued that the powerful ministers do tend to nurse their constituencies siphoning off resources from the national treasury.
However, today the context is totally different and fully transformed. The country has been restructured into a federation comprised of provincial and local governments. The sub-national governments have been constituted through elections and these have been endowed with inviolable constitutional mandates and competencies. The demand raised by the lawmakers has sent ripples across the intellectual walks of national life. It has started to provoke strong comments and reactions from different political, social and economic quarters.
Though it may be very difficult for the finance minister to resist the pressures, he should, therefore, be backed by the prime minister and other senior leaders to spurn and turn down the demand raised by the parliamentarians .Moreover, Dr. Khatiwada as a political economist knows well that the allocation to the lawmakers goes against all norms of democratic polity and federal governance and there was no way that the resources would be fully utilised. He should take issue with lawmakers not to press for the constituency development fund to finance the project chosen by them.as this goes contrary to the principles of federalism No matter the size of the amount to be allocated to the lawmakers, the basic question is whether this was justified from political , economic and value perspectives. At least, at this important juncture that the national polity has arrived at the decision to allocate resources to the lawmakers would be fraught with misplaced priority. The lawmakers have been, in deed, the members of the federal parliament and they are basically mandated by the people to deliberate effectively and enact appropriate legislations for the development of the country They are duty bound politically, legally and ethically to focus on making appropriate policies and legislate people friendly laws with a view to redeem the pledge made to the people during the last elections.
From separation of the power point of view too, lawmakers should not own and take over the responsibility and function of executing the budget. They should carry out the oversight functions and point out the lapses and shortcomings of the budget implementation. When lawmakers desist from this role, usurp the function of project selection and execution this will undermine the fundamentals of the democratic polity. Normally, three organs of the government - executive, legislature and judiciary- have their differentiated and distinct roles and structures. These roles should not be duplicated and fused as this will lead into monopolisation of authority. The experiences have indicated that the resources allocated for the lawmakers in the past do offer very dismal picture of utilisation as larger fraction of the resources has been misspent without following the provisions of the guideline prescribed by the government.
The former District Development Committees had acted as the pipe line without overseeing and checking effectively as to how the budgetary allocations had been expended. According to the assessment made by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) there was no transparency in the formation of the users groups as well as in selection of the projects as a result of which the expenditures could not meet the actual needs of the people. A sizeable amount has remained arrears raising serious fiduciary risk questions and issues. Moreover, according to the MoFALD assessment there have the cases of duplication of resources as the planning process defined in the rules and regulations was not followed in letter and spirit.
Though the constituency development fund allocations may be defended maintaining that the resource misutilisation and misappropriation would be monitored and checked by the newly elected local government, civil society organisations and media as well, this is illogical and irrelevant in the new context of the country. In fact, the question at present is not utilisation or misutilisation but of the national priority and the values of the polity we have embraced.
Instead of institutionalising and enhancing local governments as per the letter and intent of the federal constitution, the demand for constituency fund development allocations of resources to be spent through the MP’s discretion is sure to jeopardise the prospects of local democracy and democratic local governance.