Clear case of lack of public accountability

Kathmandu, May 4

The government has collected billions of rupees from the general public over the last few years in the name of development and reconstruction of heritage sites, but in a clear sign of lack of accountability, majority of such funds have remained idle while the progress of the targeted projects have been dismal at best.

For instance, Rs 18 billion had been collected till mid-April as infrastructure tax to develop the 1,200-megawatt Budhigandaki Hydropower Project.

The fiscal budget of 2016-17 had enforced infrastructure tax of five rupees on the sale of every litre of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel since last fiscal.

The staggering amount generated so far makes the sluggish progress, with the government yet to develop a special purpose vehicle for the project, all the more appalling.

According to Krishna Karki, convener of land compensation distribution committee for those affected by Budhigandaki project, only Rs 2.55 billion has been mobilised so far to distribute land compensation to those affected in Gorkha and Dhading districts.

The committee led by former vice-chairman of National Planning Commission Swarnim Wagle had recommended developing Budhigandaki Project by mobilising domestic resources and also explored the feasible resources for project implementation. However, even as it has levied additional taxes on fuel, the government seems to lack the confidence to execute the project by itself.

Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada had earlier said the government would work on making Budhigandaki Project ready for implementation, but expressed doubt that it could be developed by mobilising domestic resources only.

According to Karki, it would take at least two more fiscal years before the land compensation to the Budhigandaki-affected locals is completed. This means that the public will have to continue shelling out extra money when buying fuel.

Similarly, telecommunication service subscribers have been paying additional one per cent since fiscal 2015-16 after the government allowed the telecommunication service providers to raise its bill amount by the said rate for the purpose of rebuilding heritage sites. While it has collected over Rs 1.6 billion under this plan, the money had remained idle in tax offices as ‘heritage reconstruction fund’.

Bishnu Nepal, director general of the Inland Revenue Department, said the additional telecommunication service charges collected for the reconstruction of heritage sites will be mobilised through the government’s reconstruction fund.

Bhisma Kumar Bhusal, joint spokesperson for National Reconstruction Authority, said the NRA would mobilise additional telecommunication service charges collected from telecommunication service users as per the need and NRA will also ask Nepal Telecom for Rs 1 billion it had committed for reconstruction of Dharahara.

Sobhan Adhikari, joint spokesperson for Nepal Telecom, said the company would continue to collect extra charges from service users until the government directed it to do otherwise.