Unless there is a change in the attitude of those in power, it would be futile to expect good governance

When strict financial discipline is lacking and there is no government accountability, there is every chance of taxpayers' money being misused by those in the government. The latest annual report of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) for fiscal year 2019-20, which was submitted to the President on Friday, makes mention of at least one policy-level loophole that has been used to spend money from the treasury without much transparency. The home minister and the home secretary are said to have used their discretionary powers to release Rs 14.8 million collectively in 2019-20 to maintain peace and security in the country. A provision, as per a decision taken by the Council of Ministers on May 26, 1993, allows the home minister and the secretary to spend personally up to Rs 50,000 and Rs 20,000 respectively at one time to mobilise undercover agents to maintain peace and security. While the minister and secretary have invoked the provision to release the amount, whether the expenditure was justified or actually spent for the purpose is a moot question. Also, while the provision puts a limit on the amount the minister or secretary can spend at one time, it is silent on how many times they can release the said amount in a week, month or year.

The growing number of irregularities and arrears pointed out by the OAG in its annual reports is worrisome.

As per its latest report, total arrears which the government needs to recover stands at Rs 418.85 billion. Year after year, arrears are piling up, with about a trillion rupees being added annually.

The growing arrears being run by the local levels is another cause of concern, which runs almost parallel with the arrears of the federal government. The local levels were found running arrears to the tune of Rs 40.8 billion after auditing Rs 813 billion in expenditures by 694 local levels out of the 753 local levels. The federal government showed arrears of Rs 44.39 billion in fiscal 2019-20. However, many of the local level arrears or irregularities might have occurred while giving priority to the outcome than to the procedure for the release of funds. This is especially so during natural disasters, like floods, landslides and fires, and epidemics, when there is no time to follow the required procedures as money has to be released for immediate rescue, relief and treatment.

The growing arrears incurred by government agencies could have been arrested and even reversed had all three tiers of the government followed the directives issued by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) after it holds discussion on the OAG report in the parliament.

When the report of the OAG and the recommendations of the PAC are seen as mere annual rituals, it is difficult to instill accountability, transparency and the rule of law in the authorities. Otherwise, how could the government have ignored the OAG's recommendation that the government systemise the expenditures to maintain peace and security through the mobilisation of undercover agents for so long? Unless there is a change in the attitude of those in power and in the bureaucracy, it would be futile to expect good governance in the country and end to the irregularities that sees no end.

Child marriage

Child marriage is still rampant despite the government and non-governmental orgainsations' campaign against it for decades. The government has spent billions of rupees for girls' education and has also offered various incentives to keep them in schools and colleges for a long time, but to no avail.

The practice of child marriage is quite common in the rural parts of the country due to poverty, illiteracy and lack of work opportunity within the community.

In order to prevent this ill practice, religious gurus and senior citizens of the ethnic communities in Siraha have pledged to stop it by raising awareness in their communities. Child marriage is especially common in the Dalit community in this Tarai district, where girls are married off at a tender age, which affects their physical and mental growth while also starting to bear children even before they reach 20 years of age, the legal age for marriage. Province 2 has launched the "educate daughters, save daughters" campaign along with incentives for girls. This campaign can be more effective in curbing child marriage if the religious gurus and senior citizens are also roped into the campaign that has left a positive impact on the so-called upper castes.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 23 2021, of The Himalayan Times.