Is it time to discontinue pork barrel funds for lawmakers?


Economy Politics

Members of the House of Representatives, from both the ruling and opposition parties, have started lobbying for an increase in Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Program (LIDPP). What started with 10 million funds initially has been increased to 60 million for each elected member in the upcoming fiscal year. The scheme was first introduced in the fiscal year 2014-15 in order to propel implementation of development programs. In the absence of elected representatives at the local levels, it seemed justifiable to channel development expenditure through members of the parliament. However, the state and local level elections in 2017 have set federalism in motion in the country. Nepal now has elected bodies that are tasked with the implementation of local infrastructure development. Thus, it is time we question if it is still wise, and more importantly permissible to continue the program.

The newly formed state and local level bodies have taken an enthusiastic lead on development projects. The local governments create an annual development plan for the overall development of the local level, as envisioned by the constitution and the Local Government Operation Act. In this context, federal lawmakers’ direct involvement in executing infrastructure development works may be interpreted as an intervention in the state and local level’s jurisdiction.
It is understandable that MPs want to deliver on promises they made to their constituents during elections. But the direct involvement of lawmakers in implementing infrastructure development may undermine their oversight roles.

On the other hand, the LIDPP procedures give discretionary power to first-past-the-post lawmaker of an electoral constituency to make the last call on projects and these development projects can bypass due procedure. In fact, many lawmakers are found to have funded projects related to their political party’s sister organizations and non-governmental organizations affiliated to political parties. Moreover, there’s no set practice for citizens’ participation in the planning and implementation of such projects. This impedes citizen’s right to demand accountability on where, when and how money is spent. Thus, there’s a significant risk that LIDPP will be used to fund lawmakers’ pork barrel projects. Such projects will only woo voters for the re-election of lawmakers than fulfill the needs of people and meet development priorities.

All these reasons lead one to doubt the relevance of schemes like LIDPP. Instead of doling out large sums of money for schemes like LIDPP, the government should prioritize channeling budget to state and local level bodies through federal grants for development expenditure. The federal government also needs to develop the capacity of the local level for efficient allocation of resources. The local level is better suited to implement development infrastructures, as they are well informed about the needs and priorities of citizens and are also directly answerable to them.