It has emerged that the government is all set to distribute Rs 10 billion to the cadres of various political parties in the name of ‘people’s participation program’. Although the Maoist-led government has taken the initiative, leaders of all major parties seem to have colluded in diverting state resources to their constituencies. This, it is believed, is being done to revitalize party grassroots in lieu of the general elections that are likely to be announced soon as the country has a new constitution. The funding for the purpose is being arranged through diversions from such vital heads like ‘social security’ under the Ministry of Local Development. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. Just about every political party in governments formed post 1990 has been cultivating local-level support by distributing state largess among their constituencies.
It has to be accepted that clientelism is an inescapable reality of under-developed countries with democracies. But the practice has taken such a strong hold in Nepal that it is hard to think of any workable remedial measures. It also doesn’t help that it is nearly 12 years since the last local-level elections were held in Nepal; and local bodies have been lying vacant for the last seven years. In the absence of elected representatives, top political parties have decided to share the spoils from the center among themselves.
Interestingly, the secretaries at both the Finance Ministry as well as the Ministry for Local Development have spoken out against the people’s participation program. We agree with their argument that at a time the country is struggling to complete the peace process by compensating ex-Maoist combatants who have opted for voluntary retirement in the recently completed re-categorization process, such diversion of vital funds is hard to justify. The secretaries also reckon that money will be better spent on ‘hardware projects’ (basic infrastructure) rather than on ‘software projects’ (which encompasses such nebulous headings like temple construction, preservation of local culture and raising people’s awareness). Unsurprisingly, most of the funds earmarked for constituencies of influential leaders are going into the software projects, which are comparatively easier to finesse.
It is difficult to even begin to think of remedial measure without first electing local office bearers who can be held accountable by their electorate. But as the country’s past experience shows, even that is no guarantee that resources will be properly spent. So, first, the political parties must work out the earliest-possible date for the long-overdue local-level election, which must be done as soon as the issue of new constitution is settled. In light of the past experiences, there also needs to be some kind of a strong oversight mechanism to look into possible misuse of resources. The undue influence of political leaders to ramrod handpicked projects through government mechanisms must be curtailed