Rather than seeking pork barrel fund for their constituencies, lawmakers would do well to focus on the lawmaking process
In a parliamentary democracy, parliamentarians have twin tasks: form a government and make laws. That is why they are called lawmakers. They are not supposed to be engaging in day-to-day development activities. Constitutionally, it is the responsibility of the government to carry out development works and provide services to the people based on the approved fiscal budget. The lawmakers, by virtue of the separation of power among the executive, legislative and judiciary, are supposed to conduct study and research in myriad areas so that they can make laws to address the emerging challenges in society. They, however, have every right to mount pressure on the executive to allocate budget to development projects that benefitt a large section of society. But all these programmes have to be carried out through the state mechanism, as even a single penny of the taxpayer cannot be spent unaccounted for. They can form a parliamentary panel, if necessary, to see if such projects have been completed on time or have benefitted the people.
However, our lawmakers have developed a wrong tendency of seeking pork barrel funds for the development of their constituencies, where the government can allocate budget in its fiscal budget. The lawmakers started seeking such pork barrel funds soon after the restoration of democracy in 1990, and continues till today. Independent studies carried out by various institutes in the past have proved the total failure of the pork barrel fund, known as the constituency development fund. The fund has had little impact on the given constituencies. Much of the fund allocated to one or the other programme has gone to waste and done little more than appease the influential cadres and the vote bank of the elected representatives, whose sole motive is to get re-elected by misusing the taxpayers’ money. It also does not provide a level playing field for those who could not get elected or who want to stage a comeback.
Considering these anomalies, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada, in his first fiscal budget on May 28 last year, excluded the pork barrel fund meant for the lawmakers. However, he had to relent to his own party’s lawmakers, who threatened to fail the budget if he did not allocate budget for the pork barrel projects. Later on, Khatiwada allocated a budget of Rs 40 million to each of the 165 constituencies with a rider. Under the provision, a lawmaker elected under the First-Past-the-Post (FPtP) shall form a panel with other PR lawmakers and rural and urban municipality chairs/ deputy chairs as its members to select projects as outlined in the guideline. But it is the FPtP lawmakers who have the final call on the projects in case of no consensus. One year down the road, some of the PR lawmakers are now crying foul for being treated like “second-class” lawmakers. That said, the PR lawmakers do not have their own constituency, where they can spend the fund that is hardly utilised for the stated purpose. Learning lessons from the past, the government would do well not to dole out any money to the lawmakers, who lack institutional capacity to spend and monitor the fund. It would be better if they focussed solely on the lawmaking process, which is their responsibility.
In a show of rare honesty, a taxi driver has handed over a bag containing gold ornaments worth a whopping Rs 350,000, left behind by a woman, to the Traffic Police. And it has come to be known that this is not the first time the cabbie, Simal Rai, 38, has handed over to the police things left behind by his passengers. The news has found good coverage in the Nepali media, and we would like to believe that although the country is plunged in chaos, filth and corruption, there are people of integrity who are happy with whatever they earn for the day without having to steal from others.
When it comes to honesty, taxi drivers in Kathmandu (or elsewhere) are not known to live by it. Rarely will a taxi give a ride with the fare meter on, and when it does, you find that it has been tampered with. Last fiscal year, 8,100 taxis were booked for various offences in Kathmandu. On the roads of the capital, unscrupulous taxi drivers rule the roost and refuse to provide their service over short distances. Cabbies would earn a lot of kudos if they were to provide their service honestly without cheating the passengers every now and then.
A version of this article appears in print on February 22, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.