Fund For The Lawmakers
The constitutional bench of the Supreme Court of Nepal has issued show cause notice to the Parliament Secretariat to explain the legality and substantiality of the constituency development fund allocated to the lawmakers in the annual budget for 2019/2020 AD presented in the Parliament. Needless to say, development fund to the tune of sixty million rupees has been allocated for each constituency for the upcoming financial year to be spent under the discretion of the parliamentarian which accounts for five per cent of the total development budget appropriated for this year’s development.
In the writ petition filed at the Supreme Court it has been contended that the constituency development fund allocation both at the federal and State level contradicts to the system of federal governance and infringes upon the Articles 1, 4, 56 and 57 of the constitution. Article 57 of the constitution stipulates for the distribution of the state power to be exercised by federal, State and local level. Each level of the government –federation, State and local- has been allocated exclusive and concurrent mandates and competencies in the separate schedules of the constitution which they cannot override and transgress. In fact, the legality of the constituency development fund allocation has been challenged on the basis of the article 57 of the constitution that prescribes the competencies of the three levels of the government which cannot be prejudiced or jeopardised.
Almost twenty five years ago when the erstwhile UML party was elected to run the government and Bharat Mohan Adhikari was the finance minister, the allocation for constituency development fund was initiated. At that time, two thousand five hundred rupees per parliamentarian for each constituency was allocated. Now the communist government headed by the erstwhile same UML party leader KP Sharma Oli has increased the amount to sixty million rupees per constituency despite the fact that the proper utilisation of the fund has been doubted and challenged.
The mass media and civil society have opposed the constituency development fund allocations. But the political parties- the ruling and the opposition- did not articulate any voice to question the allocation as it infringes upon the sanctity of federal governance where each tier of the government has exclusive competence over the subjects of policy making and development. This indicates that attempt to decentralise state power has been always undermined, no matter the parties or ideologies by centralist mind-set aimed at entrenching the arms of influence and control vertically down to sub-national levels.
The decisions taken by the government to give continuity to the constituency development fund testify to the fact that the same centralist tendencies and behaviours have emboldened political elites to hold grip on the resources. In fact, the fund allocation of such a nature goes against the principle of democratic check and balance and militates against the spirit of local democracy. In fact, the present government commanding almost two third majority in the federal parliament and also holding sway in State and local government should have justifiably discontinued the allocation which was not in consonance with the values of federal governance where the constitutionally mandated State and local governments have been elected and undertaking the implementation of their functions. In fact, constituency 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 State and federal government.
The decision to allocate resources under the discretion of lawmakers both at the federal and State levels 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 law making forums in their respective levels , 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 just and democratic laws and redeem the pledge made to the people during the last polls. From separation of the power point of view too, lawmakers no matter the levels should not own and take over the responsibility and function of executing budget and implement development projects. They should carry out the oversight functions of development projects and point out the lapses and shortcomings of the government policies and programs.
When lawmakers themselves desist from the lawmaking role and takeover the function of project selection and execution, this tends to 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 as this will lead into concentration of authority. The experiences have indicated that the resources allocated for the lawmakers in the past do offer bleaker picture of use and utilisation.
According to a study conducted to audit the use, there was no transparency in the formation of the users groups as well as in selection of the local projects. As a result, the expenditures could not meet the actual needs of the people. A sizeable amount had remained unsettled raising serious issues on fiduciary risk. Moreover, there had been some cases of duplication of resources as the planning process defined in the rules and regulations was not followed in letter and spirit.
However, the question at present is not utilisation or misutilisation but it is the matter of the constitutional principles and norms of the federal governance. Instead of institutionalising and enhancing local governance institutions according to the provision of the constitution and local government operation act under federal system, allocations of resources to be spent through the federal and State lawmakers’ discretion would lead on to jeopardising the prospects of local democracy, decentralised development and service delivery at the local level .
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues)