Money for nothing
- Instead of demanding a Rs 50 million fund, lawmakers must concentrate on building a strong, accountable governance
Jul 9, 2014-It has been argued that democracy promotes development through dignified means. There is a wide consensus that the democratic system considers the interests of the majority of the people, if not of all the people. Representatives of the people are trusted to rise above narrow personal interests and set an example for wider society. In a transparent democratic system, the attitude, behaviour and actions of the people’s representatives quickly translate into social norms. In other words, they determine social behaviour as a whole. This is precisely what makes them important. If they lose this crucial political trait, they not only set a bad example but also lose crucial public trust.
Politics is not a voluntary job. This is why Constituent Assembly (CA) members and full-time party cadres are paid for by the people to work for them. Working for the people means drafting fair laws and policies, creating economic opportunities and on the whole, raising the living standards of the people by strengthening governance. Any action of the people’s representatives that undermines good governance should be condemned and corrected.
As such, there was recently a huge public outcry against the demand of CA members for Rs 50 million for each constituency as a development fund. Earlier, this fund was Rs 1 million a year, the extent of the misuse of which has been widely reported in the media. To the extent of this scribe’s knowledge, there is no such provision in established democratic countries. Such funds mainly exist in countries like India, the Philippines and African nations. Even if there is such a system, it must fall under the established machinery of government implementation.
In a country like ours, where even established implementation agencies are dysfunctional, it is hard to believe that the amount of money demanded will be spent in compliance with the public account and auditing regulations. The argument that the Rs 1 million provided to Members of Parliament (MPs) in the past could not be effectively utilised because of its small size is flawed. Such arguments must be condemned and controlled through grassroots mobilisation. For the finance minister to address this vested demand for more funds will be a regressive decision in Nepal’s economic and political history.
In cases like these, the government, considering the larger political economic context, generally tends to address the demands of influential and powerful groups. However, doing so can sometimes be an outright mistake. What will happen if all civil servants, teachers, policemen and armymen demand Rs 1 million as salary every month? Such calls are a sign that Nepal is heading in the wrong direction. Any fair-minded person would agree that the demands of powerful and organised groups are not all valid. In this regard, providing CA members access to this Rs 50 million fund will have negative consequences for the economy, bureaucracy and society as a whole.
Lack of faith
Indeed, such a demand reflects the lack of trust CA members have in the existing system. Instead, it is imperative that they put in crucial time and energy on strengthening a fair and professional governance system. Such a system should be able to serve both the CA members and the general public. Parliamentarians need to be absolutely clear on the fact that their job is to write the constitution and laws so that governance is made stronger, more reliable and meets the expectations of the people. They should work on designing legal frameworks for a balanced budget and scientific criteria for selecting development projects.
Some CA members have argued that providing Rs 50 million to each constituency will help address local development initiatives and thus, boost capital spending. If such an argument were valid, the easiest route to increase capital expenditure would be to distribute the money to all Nepali citizens. Having a poverty alleviation fund is itself contrary to providing Rs 50 million to each CA member to increase capital spending. Such a decision would undermine the much-needed reforms of existing institutions and expose our narrow mindedness.
It is also intellectually dishonest to link the Rs 50 million fund with Nepal’s goal of graduating to a ‘developing country’ status by 2022. It is evident that to achieve this milestone, we need big projects. But scattering resources across 601 CA members will prevent the government from initiating large projects that have high potential to spur economic growth.
Lawmakers or project managers?
The bottom line is that CA members should not be the chiefs who implement small projects. When a lawmaker themselves becomes a project manager, the principle of separation of powers comes under question. As Congress leader Lokesh Dhakal has argued, providing such a fund will divert the attention of CA members away from their core duty of finalising the constitution. Dhakal has also stated that such a move would be unfortunate for the Congress party, democracy and the nation as a whole. It is an accepted fact that among the three organs of the state—the legislative, executive and judiciary—no organ should interfere with the functioning of another. Furthermore, such an act could be a repeat of past Parliaments where MPs were provided tariff-free imports of vehicles.
The long-term impact of this decision will be the criminalisation of politics, the erosion of a working culture and the devaluation of the existing government system. Dhakal has also stated that such a move will have severe negative social implications. It is obvious that no monitoring mechanism will be able to check impending corruption and irregularities in such a loosely managed fund and in the absence of developed and transparent institutions. It would be premature to introduce such schemes before designing accountable institutions.
These are some of the reasons why Dhakal has requested civil society to oppose this unethical move. In a nutshell, the demand for Rs 50 million in the name of a constituency development programme neither commands public support nor is constitutionally or economically correct. The powerful and the organised should not exploit the powerless. This would be just another version of feudalism. Remember, this country also belongs to many unorganised laymen/women.
Bhusal is affiliated with the Economic Management Division of the National Planning Commission Secretariat
Published: 10-07-2014 19:05