It is argued that there is gross misuse of the CIDP fund because none but the lawmakers basically decide how, where and when to use it to warm their own pockets and those of their cadets
Recently, a writ was filed at the Supreme Court to annul the Constituency Infrastructure Development Programme (CIDP), also known as the Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme (LIDPP), or the ‘pork barrel fund.’ Under this programme, the lawmakers of the House of Representatives and the Provincial Assemblies, elected under the first-past-the-post electoral system, get government funds for the development of infrastructure facilities in their constituencies.
In the writ petition, it is argued that the CIDP is a violation of the constitution, and it holds no rationale as the provincial and local governments have been mandated to perform all such activities that the lawmakers have been doing under the CIDP. It is also argued that there is gross misuse of the CIDP fund because none but the lawmakers basically decide how, where and when to use it to warm their own pockets and those of their cadets. Only in exceptional cases do the lawmakers use the funds in the larger interest of the people.
In the present federal system, the federal government is expected to work as a facilitator, while the provincial and the local governments are the main agencies for implementing the development projects. Therefore, criticism against the CIDP intensified after the promulgation of the new federal constitution in 2015 and the formation of three tiers of government in 2017-18.
It was in 1994 that the then Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari introduced the CIDP with the sole objective of pleasing the then lawmakers in the country. The Public Procurement Act allows lawmakers to implement projects up to Rs 10 million through the consumer committees without any competitive process. This empowers the lawmakers to easily form such committees of their own people to misuse the funds. To appease the voters, the lawmakers often tend to allocate the CIDP funds on small projects, which is distributive in nature. Its purpose is to serve the interests of the cadets.
In fact, the lawmakers run a parallel government mechanism. One example is clearly noticeable in Province 2. Nearly one-third of over Rs 1,000 crores that were made available to the government by the federal government in equalisation grants were allocated to the 107 Assembly members. Another one-third of the grant was allotted to the civil servants. And, only one-third was left for the activities of the six ministries and the Chief Minister’s Office. Thus, the 107 lawmakers of Province 2 had as much resources at their disposal as the Provincial government itself.
However, not all lawmakers are entitled to get the funds equally under the CIDP. Though the status of the lawmakers in the Parliament or in the Provincial Assemblies is the same, they are discriminated in getting such funds.
Following the introduction of the federal system in 2017-18, only Rs 5 million each was allocated to 165 lawmakers of the House of Representatives elected for the development of their respective constituencies. Subsequently, this amount was increased to Rs 40 million in 2018-19 and to Rs 60 million in 2019-20. But no such fund was given to the remaining 110 lawmakers elected under the proportional system. Instead of making any compromise on the judicious use of the CIDP funds, there is a tendency of the lawmakers to increase its volume. Often, cutting across the party lines, the lawmakers are united in opposing any criteria, if at all made, aimed at controlling the misuse of CIDP funds.
Following the footpath of the lawmakers of the federal parliament, the lawmakers of the Provincial Assemblies also receive funds for the development of their respective constituencies. In Province 2, the elected lawmakers get much more funds for the development of their constituencies as compared to those elected under the proportional representation system.
The funds under the CIDP widely differ from one province to another. In Province 2, for example, the amount allotted for the development of an electoral constituency in 2017-18 was initially Rs 5 million for the period of three months or so, which was subsequently increased three times to Rs 15 million in 2018-19 and to Rs 30 million in 2019-20.
On the other hand, in Karnali Province, Rs 50 million each has been allotted to the lawmakers in the current fiscal year under the CIDP. In Sudurpaschim Province, the funds amounted to Rs 20 million in 2018-19, which increased to Rs 30 million this year. In fact, the lawmakers have no authority to spend CIDF as it encroaches upon the domain of the provincial and local governments. Additionally, there is little transparency in this system. Because of the hefty sum of money at their disposal under the CIDP, the lawmakers are not serious about enacting laws, formulating policies and conducting parliamentary hearings, which is their basic duty. They are so addicted to using the CIDP funds that they will not give it up no matter how this affects the fiscal balance.
Had there been no elected representatives at the federal, provincial and local levels, there could have been certain justification of the CIDP. The CIDP not only breeds corruption, but it is also illegal, anti-constitutional and against the core principle of federalism. It is a drain on the taxpayers’ money. Therefore, it is in the national interest to scrap it, both at the federal and provincial levels.
Jha is Executive Director of Centre for Economic and Technical Studies in Kathmandu
A version of this article appears in print on January 09, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.