National

Former VIPs continue to enjoy state facilities without any legal provision

  • Experts say the perks should be distributed through a law to ensure transparency
- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Apr 13, 2019-

Every time the Office of the Auditor General releases its annual report, it brings to the fore several facets of how government money is spent and how state agencies fail to justify their spending. The report also points out flaws in procurement processes and misuse of grants and government facilities.

The report of the constitutional body, released for the fiscal year 2017-2018 on Friday, which says per capita debt of Nepalis has surged to Rs31,750, shows how a handful of people, though, were using state facilities without proper legal measures in a blatant misuse of taxpayers’ money.

“One former chief justice who retired on March 15 last year has neither returned the vehicle nor furnished its price to the Supreme Court,” the report states. Former chief justice Gopal Parajuli retired in March last year after a controversy over his date of birth.

“At least 21 vehicles have been used by individuals along with their drivers and fuel covered by the state coffers,” says the report.

Misuse of state facilities, however, is not new in the country. But despite reports, including the ones by the auditor general, the government has not been able to come up with a mechanism to streamline the process and maintain transparency.

Former chief secretary Bimal Koirala said there was an understanding that former office bearers including ex-home ministers would be provided with a vehicle, driver and fuel after assessing the threat but everyone enjoys the facilities.

“It’s a complete mess now,” he said.

Prolonged political instability and frequent changes of government in the past meant a sharp rise in the number of VVIPs who then avail of state facilities even after they leave office. Questions have been raised from several quarters in the past also whether a poor country like Nepal could afford the perks to all of them and for how long.

While there are arguments that certain facilities should be given to VIPs, there should be proper rules to govern the process.

“We need a proper system in place to ensure transparency,” Koirala said.

Earlier, a bill on the facilities meant for former VVIPs, especially former presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers, chief justices and Speakers of Parliament, was withdrawn from Parliament after a public outcry.

Tabled on March 10, 2017, the bill had defined former presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers, Speakers, chairpersons of the National Assembly and chief justices as “former office bearers”.

Had the bill, which was discussed at a parliamentary committee, been endorsed, the retired office bearers would have been legally entitled to billions of rupees worth of privileges from the state. The bill proposed a wide range of facilities including monthly allowance, vehicles, vehicle repair allowance, fuel, house rent and government staff. Though the bill was withdrawn, facilities were not and former office bearers are still freely enjoying them without proper legal provisions, causing a dent on the state coffers.

“The Act on remuneration and benefits of Supreme Court justices states that the vehicle facility could only be used for seven days after their retirement and that vehicles could only be taken home if the respective justice buys it as per Clause 7(6) of the Act. However, one chief justice who retired on March 15, 2018 has not returned a vehicle worth Rs12,960,000 and the vehicle’s price has not been furnished yet,” states the auditor general’s report.

The report further states that the Supreme Court is yet to get back vehicles taken by former chief justices as mentioned in last year’s report.

The report also states that the Prime Minister’s Office has provided 21 vehicles for different individuals--former president (1), former chief justices (13), former lawmakers (4), Bhutanese human rights activist (1), former minister (1), and former lawmaker (1).

“There is no record of the office bearers receiving the vehicles,” the auditor general’s report states.

In last year’s report, the Office of the Auditor General mentioned that 13 former chief justices had not returned as many vehicles to the Supreme Court, whose combined value was Rs44.9 million.

Last year, the auditor general’s report stated that the Act on Remuneration and Facilities of the Officials of Parliament is silent on the vehicle facility for them, but three former officials had been using government vehicles.

“All the former VVIPs should be held to account immediately for unauthorised use of state property,” said Balaram KC, a former Supreme Court justice. He also questioned the competence of the Office of the Auditor General and the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority for failing to control the misuse of public property. “Such practice of misusing state facilities is against constitutionalism and rule of law.”

However, former chief justice Kalyan Kumar Shrestha questioned why the media was only after justices and not former prime ministers.

“There must be uniform rule for all top officials of the state. We are ready to abide by the law which applies equally to all,” he said.

Published: 14-04-2019 07:41

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