In all certainty, no MP has got elected by adhering to the poll expenditure limit set by the EC

Nepali Congress leader Shashank Koirala's claims that he had spent Rs 60 million in the last general election – 24 times more than the poll expenditure limit set by the Election Commission (EC) – have caused a brouhaha. This is a serious violation of the code of conduct set by the EC, and Koirala has thus been served a show cause notice to submit a report within a week on his recent statement. The EC had allowed the first-past-the-post candidates to spend no more than Rs 2.5 million in the last general election.

But, according to the EC, Koirala had submitted fake expenditure details, following the 2017 general election, in which he had stated that he had spent only Rs 2.175 million while contesting the election.

How Koirala will defend himself for what he has said remains to be seen, but his remarks carried by the media show his political naivety and could find himself mired in legal matters should the EC so desire.

Shashank, who is the son of popular Nepali Congress leader B.P. Koirala, is said to have made the remark about his excessive poll expenses to drive home the point that contesting elections in Nepal was an expensive affair. This is no secret and has become a fact post-1990, with candidates said to spend many times more than what Koirala has done. But by revealing this known-to-all truth, what Koirala has done is it has given the fringe parties and the general people just the ammunition to create a furore, especially with the local election taking place in one month's time and the provincial and general elections slated for later this year. In all certainty, no Member of Parliament has got elected by adhering to the poll expenditure limit set by the EC. And by manipulating the actual expenditure as per the EC requirement, not only Koirala but all other MPs have lied to the EC and the public at large.

This is a serious breach of honesty on the part of the elected candidates who are supposed to lead the country by example.

With the country conducting three tiers of elections every five years - at the federal, provincial and local locals - in which thousands of candidates from different political parties participate, one can well imagine the colossal amounts of money that go into winning a seat. This raises several pertinent questions - why would candidates spend so much when there is far less to make from salaries, allowances and perks. Secondly, who funds the poll expenditure of the candidates, and what favour do they get in return? Thirdly, isn't the extravagant poll spending responsible for both corruption in general and policy corruption? Perhaps, the EC should revise its unrealistic cap on the poll expenditure so that the candidates don't have reason to flout the norms. The EC, for instance, has put an impractical Rs. 7.5 lakh expenditure ceiling for candidates vying for the mayoral and deputy mayoral seat in a metropolitan city in next month's local polls and Rs 5.5 lakh for these seats in a sub-metropolitan city. How the EC reacts to the clarifications given by Koirala and the CPN (Unified Socialists) that violated the code of conduct during a programme organised at Bhrikuti Mandap on Saturday will demonstrate if the poll code is to be taken seriously by the candidates.

Housing for all

Encroaching public land, particularly river banks, by the so-called landless people or others who are displaced by natural disasters is not a new problem in Nepal. Whenever people are displaced from their ancestral land for whatsoever reasons, they tend to occupy public or government land, be it river banks or forests, as the government cannot immediately provide them any piece of land for housing or farming for their survival. Many families are displaced every year during the rainy season due to landslides and floods. They do not have any option other than to occupy public land, which later on becomes their permanent residence.

Addressing a function the other day, Minister for Urban Development Ramkumari Jhankri stressed the need to socially boycott those who encroach the river banks or public land. Theoretically, socially excluding those who illegally occupy public land might be a novel idea. But what has the government done or what can it do to settle the landless people in a systematic way? Right to shelter is a fundamental right of citizens enshrined in the constitution. It is the duty of the state to provide them with housing facility.

They also should be settled in safe places.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 13, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.