EDITORIAL: No to pork barrel

The CISP has faced criticism in the past as it is largely geared towards giving the elected lawmakers an edge during the elections and purchase votes with patronage

The budget session of the Federal Parliament began at the International Convention Centre on Monday, which will debate the government’s policies and programmes for the next fiscal year before the  budget is presented at the House on May 29. Although the focus of the discussion in the Federal Parliament this session will be on the budget, yet some umbrella bills, crucial for implementing federalism, are expected to be debated and passed. There are at present 46 bills which are under consideration in the Parliament. While a healthy discussion on the pros and cons of the government policies and programmes is desired to ensure that the targeted growth rate for the next fiscal is achieved, there are fears that the lawmakers might be more absorbed in hiking their pork barrel. With the start of the budget session, lawmakers, especially those from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), have been making a beeline to the corridors of power, seeking a hike in the Constituency Infrastructure Special Programme (CISP) to Rs 100 million from the current Rs 40 million.

The lawmakers had lobbied with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister last year too to increase the CISP fund to Rs 100 million, to be awarded to each of the 165 federal lawmakers elected through the first-past-the-post polls. The government had silenced the lawmakers by inflating the amount to Rs 40 million from Rs 30 million. Now the NCP has launched a signature campaign, for which more than two dozen signatures have already been collected. Lawmakers from the opposition, the Nepali Congress, are also for raising the CISP fund.

The pork barrel projects have proved ineffective in that the constituency budget is distributive in nature and finds its way mostly to the unproductive sectors, with no provision to hold the lawmakers accountable for the spending or service delivery. The finance minister’s quest last year to limit the expenditure on a handful of projects failed, and the lawmakers were allowed to spend in as many as 20 projects in their constituency. The CISP has faced criticism in the past as it is largely geared towards giving the elected lawmakers an edge during the elections and purchase votes with patronage, depriving the contestants outside the Parliament of a level playing field. Thus, it is not justifiable to increase the pork barrel regardless of the pressure this government is in from its own lawmakers. If possible, it should be scrapped for good. Allocating resources for pork barrel spending will only encourage others, such as National Assembly members and provincial lawmakers, to make similar demands. Earmarking large sums of money, worth billions of rupees, from the country’s scarce resources simply to please the lawmakers is bad politics.

This has never gone down well with the people, who elected them in the first place. Now that the country has gone for a federal set-up under a new constitution, it is only right that the selection and execution of small projects should be the prerogative of the provinces and local levels. The job of a federal lawmaker is to make laws, not to engage in petty development activities.

Petro pipeline

The cost of transporting POL products will go down remarkably once the 69.3-km-long Motihari-Amlekhgunj oil pipeline comes into operation in the next two weeks as the pipe-laying process on both sides is almost complete. Proposed in 1996, an understanding to this effect was reached during Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal in 2014, and the two governments reached an agreement on laying the oil pipeline in 2015. Only four kilometers of the section in Nepal remains to be completed.

It is hoped that the oil pipeline being built at a cost of INR 2.75 billion will help control pilferage and technical leakage of POL products. The transportation of petroleum products will be easier, safer and faster and will also ensure their regular supply in Nepal. The oil pipeline will have a capacity of supplying 200,000 litres of oil per hour. In the first phase, Nepal will import diesel through the pipeline. Plans are also afoot to expand the oil pipeline up to Chitwan, from where the petroleum products will be distributed across the country in oil tankers. Petroleum products imported from Indian Oil Corporation account for nearly 14 per cent of the country’s total import bill.