Editorial: End pork barrel

In the changed context, there is no need to dole out funds directly to lawmakers in the name of constituency development

Misuse of funds from the state coffers by public office holders have long been the order of the day in Nepal. Governments have often been criticised for doling out funds at their whim and fancy. One of the most criticised—but yet implemented, partly though—issues is the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), under which parliamentarians are disbursed funds under the Constituency Development Programme (CDP) and Constituency Infrastructure Development Special Programme (CIDSP). The current fiscal budget (2017/18) allowed each parliamentarian to spend up to Rs 5 million under the CDP. Each constituency was entitled to Rs 30 million under the CIDSP. That altogether meant around Rs 10 billion, as there were 601 lawmakers and 240 constituencies.  But then Parliament, which until the promulgation of the constitution on September 15, 2015 also served as the Constituent Assembly, was dissolved on October 14 last year.

Against this backdrop, the Supreme Court last month stayed the government decision to spend Rs 10 billion under the CDP and CIDSP. The bench observed that “no such programme(s) other than those approved before October 14, 2017 shall be operated until the newly elected members of federal Parliament assumed office”. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) recently issued a circular to all district technical offices (DTOs), directing them to act as per the interim order issued by the apex court. While the MoFALD circular asking the DTOs to halt all CDP and CIDSP is a good move, it is now time to give a rethink to the entire idea of disbursing funds to lawmakers. Funds for lawmakers and constituencies directly from the state coffers, prima facie, may generate positive vibes, as it is believed that the money can be spent well on development of constituencies, but the moot question is whether it is necessary. Then, there were arguments that lawmakers “know their constituencies better and the needs of the people there”, it would be a wise idea to let them spend the fund for the development of constituencies.

These arguments, however, beg the question: Is it necessary to channelise fund directly to lawmakers? And is there any need of CDP and CIDSP when the country has already elected new representatives at all levels? The CDP was first introduced in 1996/1997 and the budget allocation at that time for each lawmaker stood at Rs 300,000. But now in the changed context, there is no need to dole out funds to lawmakers individually in the name of development. Their direct involvement in development through funds could give rise to the possibility of misuse of funds. On top of that, allocating an equal amount of money to lawmakers elected under the First-Past-the-Post system and Proportional Representation (PR) system is also an absurd idea, as lawmakers who are in Parliament under the PR quota do not have specific constituencies. Development is a key issue, but that should now be dealt with by local, provincial and federal governments. Lawmakers on their part can definitely make a pitch for development programmes in their constituencies and should do so by getting them done through government machinery. The pork barrel politics must end.

Regulate EVs

With the rising number of two-wheeler Electric Vehicles (EVs) the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) is gearing up to make it mandatory to get them registered with it. Earlier, the two-wheeler EVs were not required to register with the department and a rider also would not need to possess a driving license. The DoTM’s move is a welcome step as the number of such vehicles is rising in the country after the government offered incentives on their import in a bid to curb vehicular emission.

The DoTM decided to get them registered with it, saying it will be very difficult to keep track of the unregistered EVs if they are involved in the hit-and-run cases or any criminal activities. But most of the two-wheeler EVs are not registered with the DoTM as it was not mandatory. As an incentive, the government has imposed only 10 percent customs duty on two-wheeler EVs and one percent on big electric vehicles. It is estimated that around 5,000 electric two wheelers of different brands are plying the Valley roads. But the DoTM needs to come up with a clear policy on two-wheeler EVs.