The recently elected executives of the local level governments–Gaupalika and Nagarpalika- especially from Province 3 who met at Dhulikhel for an orientation organised by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) released a communiqué the other day asserting their position on various issues related to local governance, resource allocations and intergovernmental relationship and so on.
The most noticeable one of the issues they have raised in the communiqué is their categorical objection to the huge sum of the constituency area development fund (CDF) allocated in the budget to be spent under the discretion or direction of the members of the national legislature.
Of course, it was at the time of the NC government formed following the election of the Constituent Assembly in 2013 that the constituency development allocation was raised lavishly when the then Finance Minister appropriated the increased budgetary resources for it as he was under pressure from the lawmakers both from the ruling and opposition camps in this connection.
At the forefront to raise and pitch for this demand had been the NC lawmakers, and they had been fully and vociferously supported by the UML legislators. Others had also lent their committed support but not explicitly and vocally. The NC and UML lawmakers had even threatened to resist the passage of the budget should the Finance Minister fail to address their demand. The demand raised by the lawmakers had sent ripples across all walks of life and provoked comments and reactions from different political, social and economic quarters at that time.
In fact, outgoing Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara of the previous coalition government -who has been shifted to look after the Foreign Ministry portfolio in the present coalition cabinet headed by NC president Sher Bhadur Deuba – should have justifiably discontinued the allocation which was not in consonance with the new and evolving context of Nepal where the constitutionally mandated local governments have been elected, and they seem to be well placed to take over the tasks and responsibilities of local governance and development.
Former Finance Minister Mahara would easily stonewall the opposition if any from the legislators and would have defended his position solidly if he had reversed and revoked the practice of the CDF allocations. He could argue that the constituency area development fund allocations go against the letter and spirit of the constitutional provision that elevates the local government institutions to stand and exercise state authority provided for their jurisdiction at par with the provincial and federal government. But he chose not to do it because this budgetary allocation serves not only his interests but also the interests of his party legislators and lawmakers.
No matter what the size of the amount allocated to the lawmakers is the basic question is whether this was justified from political, economic and development perspectives. At least at this important juncture that the national polity has arrived by dint of the local level elections the decision to allocate resources to the lawmakers has been fraught with flawed interest and misplaced priority. The lawmakers have been indeed the members of the national legislature and they are basically mandated by the people to write the constitution. They are duty bound politically, legally and ethically to focus on legislative functions that basically include making the laws and redeem the pledge made to the people during the last CA polls.
From separation of the power point of view too the lawmakers should not own and take over the responsibility and function of executing the budget. They should carry out the oversight functions and point out the lapses and shortcomings of the budget implementation in which local level governments have got lions share through the present budget. When lawmakers desist from this role, usurp the function of project selection and execution this will undermine the fundamentals of the democratic polity.
Normally, three organs of the government – executive, legislature and judiciary- have their differentiated and distinct roles and structures. These roles should not be duplicated and fused as this will lead into monopolisation of authority. The experiences have indicated that the resources allocated for the lawmakers in the past did offer very dismal picture of utilisation as larger fraction of the resources has been misspent without following the provisions of the guideline prescribed by the government. The existing DDCs had acted as the pipeline without overseeing and checking as to how the budgetary provision has been expended.
According to the assessment made by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD), there was no transparency in the formation of the users groups as well as in selection of the projects as a result of which the expenditures could not meet the actual needs of the people. A sizeable amount has remained arrears raising serious fiduciary questions and issues. Moreover, according to the MoFALD assessment, there have been the cases of duplication of resources as the planning process defined in the rules and regulations was not followed in letter and spirit.
The allocation of budget to the lawmakers can be defended maintaining that the CDF spending would be carried out only to those projects which are in accord with the local level government priority and monitored and checked by the local communities. However, the question at present is not utilisation or misutilisation, but it is the matter of the constitutional principles and priorities.
Instead of institutionalising and enhancing local governance institutions according to the provision of the constitution the increase in allocations of resources to be spent through lawmakers’ discretion is sure to jeopardise the prospects of local democracy. This will jeopardise the prospects for strengthening local government institutions in the country.