SC moved to abrogate pork barrel fund

Kathmandu, June 2

Two writ petitions were filed today at the Supreme Court demanding annulment of Local Infrastructure Development Partnership programme of the new fiscal budget introduced in the Parliament on May 29.

Under this programme, the government has proposed to increase infrastructure development expenditure amount from Rs 40 million to Rs 60 million from the new fiscal that each lawmaker elected under the first-past-the-post electoral system will be able to spend in his/her electoral districts. This is also known as a pork barrel fund.

Advocate Paras Mani Bhattarai, a resident of Babarmahal, Kathmandu, and Dinesh Raj Subedi, a social activist from Ramechhap district, have filed the petitions demanding abrogation of the pork barrel fund.

Bhattarai and Subedi argued that the new federal constitution had provisioned for three types of government - federal, provincial and local - and all types of governments were autonomous and independent. They added that the budgetary proposal to allow FPTP lawmakers to spend Rs 60 million in their electoral districts violated constitutional provisions,  as lawmakers would be interfering in the work of local levels which had absolute authority to carry out infrastructure development projects.

Bhattarai told THT that if FPTP lawmakers were allowed to spend money from government coffers in their electoral districts, then that would not ensure level playing field during polls. “Pork barrel fund is akin to corruption. Such funds violate sanctity of polls. The government should not allow lawmakers to spend money in their constituencies. Lawmakers only have powers to enact laws, formulate policies, conduct parliamentary hearings and impeach erring public officials,” Bhattarai said. He added that allowing lawmakers to spend government money in their constituencies would let them interfere with the local government’s work, besides bleeding government coffers and setting  bad precedents.

“We hear that provincial lawmakers are also demanding pork barrel. Why should lawmakers be given fund to carry out development projects, when local levels have absolute jurisdiction over infrastructure projects?” Bhattarai wondered.

Bhattarai had first sought to file this case on May 28, a day before the government brought the new budget, but SC Registrar Lal Bahadur Kunwar attached a refusal order to the writ petition, saying the petitioner had wanted the court to intervene in anticipation that the government would allocate pork barrel fund in new budget and thus the petition was not fit to be entertained.

Bhattarai then filed a petition the same day at SC challenging Kunwar’s refusal which was heard by a single bench of Dambar Bahadur Shahi on May 30. He filed the case today upon receiving written order from the court.

According to Bhattarai, the SC observed in the order that the case should be allowed to be filed at the SC as a constitutional question needed to be settled. The constitutional bench of the SC will hear the two cases on June 7. Petitioners have named the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers as defendants.