Provincial budget plans eye up political gains more than service of the citizens

As the country is getting over the second wave of Covid-19 and bracing itself for an imminent third wave, politicians are busy with their own shenanigans. After a lot of hullabaloos over the finance minister announcing the new budget for the next fiscal year at the federal level, a similar suit has followed as provincial governments also presented their annual budget plans last week.

Even though the budget plans promised to be beneficial for the people, experts say that most of the projects only favour politicians and the different organisations they are affiliated with. Despite people claiming the budget plans reflected the political desires of the leaders and called for amendments, the governments have not listened to the suggestions. The budget plans are so favourable towards provincial lawmakers and political leaders that even opposition parties are not opposing them.

Even though they say the budget plans have been drafted with the pandemic on their mind, funds have been set aside for the projects pleasing provincial ruling parties and their leaders. Apart from that, funds have also been set aside for organisations established in the name of popular political leaders.

Out of the seven provinces, Province 1, Province 2 and Bagmati are the most active in misusing the budget for their political gain.

Province 1: The Statesman’s Park

If Province 1’s programmes go as planned, PM KP Sharma Oli’s home district Jhapa will have a Statesman’s Park to honour the PM as the statesman. The park is proposed to be built in Damak as the Province 1 government has set aside Rs 10 million for the completion. Along with the park, Damak will also have a view tower, a stadium and an industrial estate which will need billions of rupees to get completed.

The province is planning to make the Statesman’s Park near the Madan Bhandari Highway which will now pass through Damak. Damak municipality has already announced it will provide land for the park dedicated to politicians who have become prime minister of Nepal.

Two years ago, Province 1 had planned to construct the park in Biratnagar. But, after the city showed no interest, the plan has now been shifted to Damak. However, it is still not clear which political leaders will have their statues in the park yet. But, sources say that as a lot of people from the area consider Oli as their statesman, the park will most likely be dedicated to Oli and people close to him.

Province 1 is also planning to construct a memorial in areas where major political events took place. Around Rs 50 million has been set aside to construct a memorial in Dhungesanghu, Chintang, Sukhani and Urlabari.

The provincial government also announced that it would be handing out funds to organisations formed under the name of leaders like Ram Prasad Rai, Narad Muni Thulung, Manmohan Adhikari, Madan Bhandari, Girija Prasad Koirala, Sushil Koirala, Surya Bahadur Thapa, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Nona Koirala and Bharat Mohan Adhikari. Around Rs 30 million has been set aside for this.

Province 2: Rs 60 million set aside for statues

Province 2 is also spending a lot of money on unproductive areas. Around Rs 10 million has been set aside for a memorial park to honour people who died in the Madesh uprising, people’s movement and the Maoist war.

Apart from that, around Rs 670 million is being set aside to construct tarmac roads in all electoral constituencies. Along with that, Rs 60 million has been set aside for the construction of statues for Durgananda Jha, Ramraja Prasad Singh and Gajendra Narayan Singh.

Money has also been set aside for two parks: Rs 20 million for Dev Narayan memorial park while Rs 17.5 million has been set aside for Madesh Martyrs Memorial Park.

Bagmati: A swing for Hanuman and Baikuntha Road

In a bid to protect Nepal’s political and cultural heritage and history, Bagmati, in its budget plan, has stated it will build a museum in Tribhuvan Park in Thankot, Kathmandu.

Along with that, a budget has also been set aside for the development of Ayodhyapuri in Chitwan. According to the budget, funds will be given for the construction of Baikuntha Dham Marga, Ayodhaya Batika, Ram Sita Garden and a swing dedicated to god Hanuman.

Despite knowing about the situation, the budget says nothing  about helping squatters who have been chased away from Chitwan National Park.

The provincial government also announced that Charikot Hospital in Dolakha would be renamed Pashupati Chaulagain Memorial Hospital after Chaulagain who recently died of Covid-19. Chaulagain was a CPN-UML member.

The provincial government also set aside Rs 1.29 billion for the construction of a ring road that will join all districts of the province and name if Puspa Lal Ring Road.

A conference centre under the name of deceased Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai has also been proposed in the budget. The Bhimphedi-Kulekhani tunnel has also received a budget of Rs 750 million, but the provincial government also decided to rename it in memory of late Maoist leader Post Bahadur Bogati.

The Bagmati provincial government has continued the pork-barrel programme in the name of Health Infrastructure, Promotion and Covid-19 Restoration Partnership and it allows lawmakers to allocate funds to the projects they please.

Around Rs 2.42 billion has been set aside for this programme.

Similar cases in other provinces

Like provinces 1 and 2, Gandaki has also announced that it will be constructing parks dedicated to martyrs in each of its districts. To appease provincial lawmakers, it has also set aside Rs 720 million to develop touristic infrastructures in each election constituency. A reward will also be given to people involved in social service.

Lumbini is also building infrastructures named after political leaders. Around Rs 10 million has been set for the construction of Uttar Kumar Wali Road Security Programme. Wali was a former member of the provincial assembly. A stadium named after Communist leader Netra Lal Abhagi has been given a budget of Rs 150 million. Around Rs 50 million will also be given to lawmakers to develop infrastructures in their constituencies.

In Karnali, the provincial government has decided to focus on areas affected by the Maoist war. Museums are being constructed in Pili in Kalikot, Khara in Rukum and Juni in Jajarkot. Along with that, it has also planned to develop touristic infrastructures in the area. A martyrs memorial park is also included in the budget.

Sudurpachim is the only province that has not tried to use the budget for political gain. It has handed a certain amount to all lawmakers, but most of that will be spent on developing infrastructures in the province.

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Ghimire is a senior business journalist at Onlinekhabar.

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