Print Edition - 2014-07-06  |  Free the Words

Bad proposition

  • Doling out money to CA members is opposed to the notion of financial accountability
- Khagendra N Sharma
Bad proposition

Jul 5, 2014-

The government recently regularised the ill-defined disbursement of Rs 1 million as constituency development funds through each of the 601 parliamentarians. One million is a pittance in the context of a nation. But the cumulative figure to be disbursed through the 601 parliamentarians is not an insignificant sum for a poor country like Nepal.

How will the Rs 6 billion be spent? Development presupposes proper planning and sincere implementation. Do constituenties have a planning mechanism in place? The answer is no. Do they have an administrative mechanism to make proper use of this fund? The answer is still a no. Who will then be responsible for the development work in the constituency?

For whom?

Obviously, the programme was faulty as it was initiated with a political motive of making the Constituent Assembly (CA) members popular. A legal confusion arises as to how to determine the constituency of the 335 CA members that were elected through the proportional system or  the 26  members nominated by the Cabinet. Are their constituencies determined on the basis of their residence? Or are they to be deprived of the constituency development grant?

The other question is why is it necessary to disburse development funds through the parliamentarians who are primarily responsible for making national policies and laws? It is ill-conceived for several reasons. One reason is that the Member of Parliament (MP) cannot give the time needed for local (constituency) development. More so as the MPs or CA members are supposed to devote most of their time for writing the constitution this year. It is their most important and primary role.  Furthermore, the Speaker-cum-Chairman of the CA has put a moratorium on the CA members from going outside the Capital to focus on constitution writing. In such a situation, disbursing Rs 1 million to them is a clear case of corruption. It contravenes all notions of financial accountability and moral responsibility.

Development has several aspects of which two are indispensable requirements. First of all, developmemt is participatory in a democratic set up. The people, at whom the development activity is intended, participate in both planning and its execution for which an institutional set up is necessary. This is the second requirement of development. If an institutional set up already exists, it is the primary vehicle of participation. If development is conceived in an institutional void then at least an ad hoc institution has to be formed for the sustenance of the project.  

Existent structures

Let us examine these aspects in the case of constituency development. In Nepal, there are two sets of local institutional structures. The first are the Village Development Committees (VDCs) and the urban municipalities at the grassroots. The second are District Development Committees (DDCs) at the district level. But there are no institutional arrangements at the constituency level. In districts with only one constituency, the DDC and the VDC or the Municipality can work as the institution for constituency development with the support and coordination of the CA member. But in the case of districts with multiple constituencies, there arises a problem.

The VDCs, municipalities and the DDCs are the structures of local governance established by law with the primary focus on local development. The DDC is responsible for the overall development of the district regardless of the number of constituencies. It is expected to cater to all the constituencies without prejudice for or against any one constituency. In this respect, the very concept of constituency development is not only redundant but introduces rivalry within the existing structure.  

The DDC and the primary levels of local governance bodies enjoy two kinds of resources. They can either raise money through taxation or obtain central support in the form of grants. These grants can be general as well as programme bound. The local bodies determine how they plan to use the resources except in the case of specifically defined grants. They are equipped with administrative and technical manpower to handle development activities from design to implementation. In the given scenario, the best approach to aid constituency development is to channelise funds through the given institutions. As the DDC is responsible for local development activities, constituency development being basically local development, there is no reason why a separate arrangement is needed. So the disbursement of funds to CA members to develop their constituency is ill conceived.

District does it

The other problem is, funds can be used as per the discretion of the CA member. The MPs are not responsible to the local bodies. They are instead elected for a particular period of time from among many political parties. Naturally, there will be opposition to and concerns regarding the money. The DDC will not be obliged to support the constituency as it is outside its framework. In districts with many constituencies, there is no guaranteee that activities in each one of them will be linked. There is an equal chance of rampant financial irregularies too. Now, there is a new debate in Parliament to increase the constituency fund from Rs 1 million to Rs 50 million. This is preposterous. This indicates a total disregard for the existent institutional framework. The role of the DDC is purely forgotten. Who will execute a constituency development activity worth Rs 50 million an area where there is no institution for it?

If development is the goal, then it would be best to somehow link the CA members with the workings of the DDC to expedite district development. The MPs can attend the DDC meetings during their break from Parliament. And if the existing mechanism and resources are utilised to their full potential no extra funds will be necessary. Secondly, if the existent resources are not enough, the DDC can always demand more from the central government. Then the MPs can liaise with the concerned central authority and expedite the process of disbursing funds.

It is obvious that development in Nepal is not saturated. It is also understood that condtituency development is part of the overall district development process. So to discriminate between condtituency and district development is to corrupt the concept of development itself. The grant component of the DDC can be augmented if necessary, but the detached approach to constituency development is to defile and defame the whole process of integrated development. So, by all means, stop the constituency development disbursement and consolidate the district development process.

 

Sharma is a freelance political analyst

 

Published: 06-07-2014 09:59

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