MPs Or Development Executives?
The amendment effected to the Guideline promulgated by the Ministry for Federal Affairs and General Administration (MOFAGA) recently laying down provisions to allocate, administer and manage fund for electoral constituency area development has been highlighted in the media. The modification to relax the provision allowing federal parliamentarians to use their discretion to allocate fund for development projects in their respective constituencies has been noted with concern because of the fact that this may ultimately go to repeat the past cases of improper use of resources which otherwise could contribute effectively to local development in meeting local needs .
The guideline issued this time following the formation of the new governments at three levels through democratic elections made a provision to make decision for fund use and utilisation through a collective deliberation and decision of MP, local government chiefs that could potentially include chief of the district coordination committee and so on.
However, amendment effected to the Guideline recently as reported in the media finally empowers MP to prevail on the decision leaving a leeway for an ill-considered and unwise allocation of the fund. In fact, the fund allocation of such a nature goes against the principle of democratic checks and balances and militates against the spirit of local democracy and decentralised development. This point was also raised by the elected executives of the local level governments – Gaupalika and Nagarpalika - asserting their categorical objection to the huge sum of the constituency area development fund allocated in the budget to be spent under the discretion or direction of the members of the federal parliament .
In fact, it was at the time of the coalition government formed following the election of the Constituent Assembly (CA) in 2013 AD that the constituency development allocation was raised lavishly when the then finance minister appropriated the increased budgetary resources in favour of it. The CA members had even threatened to resist the passage of the budget should the government fail to address their demand through the Fund allocation. At that time, the demand raised by the lawmakers had sent ripples across all walks of life and provoked sharp comments and reactions from different political, social and economic quarters since the erstwhile constituent assembly members had been elected by the people to write constitution , not to put hands on minor local projects .
In fact, the present government commanding almost two third majority in the federal parliament , holding overwhelming control in the provincial and local government should have justifiably discontinued the allocation which was not in consonance with the evolving federal context of Nepal where the constitutionally mandated local governments have been elected and they are well placed to take over the functions and responsibilities for local governance and development. It could be argued that the constituency area development fund allocations go against the letter and spirit of the constitutional provision that elevates the local government institutions to stand and exercise state authority at par with the provincial and federal government.
No matter the size of the amount allocated, basic question is whether this was justified from political, economic and development perspectives. In fact , the decision to allocate resources under the discretion of lawmakers has been fraught with flawed interest and misplaced priority as they are mandated by the people through democratic elections to serve as members of the federal parliament, enhance and articulate the needs and aspirations of the people. They are duty bound politically, legally and ethically to focus on legislative functions that basically include making the laws and redeem the pledge made to the people during the last polls.
From separation of the power point of view too, lawmakers should not own and take over the responsibility and function of executing budget. They should carry out the oversight functions and point out the lapses and shortcomings of the government policies and programs in which local level governments have got a lion’s share through the budgetary allocation . When federal lawmakers themselves desist from this role, usurp the function of project selection and execution, this will undermine fundamentals of the democratic polity and governance.
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 dismal picture of use and utilisation. Larger fraction of the resources has been misspent without following the provisions of the guideline prescribed by the government. The local bodies in the past headed by the government functionaries had acted as the pipe line without overseeing and checking as to how the budgetary provision has been expended.
According to the assessment made by the government itself, 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 had remained as unsettled raising serious issues on fiduciary risk. Moreover, there had been the cases of duplication of resources as the planning process defined in the rules and regulations was not followed in letter and spirit.
The resource allocation to lawmakers has been defended maintaining that the spending would be carried out only to those projects which are in accord with the local level government priority, monitored and checked by local communities. However, the question at present is not utilisation or misutilisation but it is the matter of the constitutional principles and priorities.
Instead of institutionalising and enhancing local governance institutions according to the provision of the constitution under federal system, allocations of resources to be spent through the federal lawmakers’ discretion would lead on to jeopardising the prospects of local democracy, decentralised development and service delivery at the local level .