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Excuses, excuses

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

The delay in construction of this bridge has had a domino effect: three hydropower projects along the Dordi River in Lamjung have been delayed because construction material cannot be supplied for these projects without a bridge. Photo: Yuvaraj Shrestha

From the Nepali Press

Yuvaraj Shrestha in Himal Khabarpatrika, 19-25 March

There is no earthquake, blockade, or shutdowns to blame for the delay in Nepal’s development projects this year. But more than two-thirds of the government’s capital expenditure remains unspent in western Nepal. It is likely to be frozen.

For this fiscal year, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) had earmarked over Rs 20 billion for infrastructure development in the 16 remote districts of western Nepal. Nine months later, only Rs 6 billion has been spent. There is no way the remaining money can be disbursed in the remaining three months.

“Barring a few districts in the Tarai, there is no obstruction at all. Even so, capital expenditure is just not being spent,” says Baburam Bhandari of the MoF. Interestingly, government offices that have spent less than 33 per cent of capital expenditure have already spent nearly 60 per cent of their regular expenditure.

Last month, Tanka Mani Sharma, secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, warned a gathering of senior government officials in Pokhara: “If you cannot spend budget, just leave and let others do the work.”

But Yam Kumari Khatiwada, the regional administrator from west Nepal, says one of the reasons infrastructure projects are delayed or development budgets are unspent is the frequent transfer of government officials.

There are other reasons as well: politicians, bureaucrats and local people are also responsible. In the absence of elected local representatives, politicians have been using connections to get the budget approved for projects they want, often bypassing village and
district councils.

Madhu Adhikari, Maoist leader in Lamjung, wrote on Facebook last month thanking Local Development Minister Hitraj Pandey for approving Rs 20 million for an irrigation project which they had been lobbying for. That project was not endorsed by the annual meeting of the District Development Committee of Lamjung.

As per the guidelines prepared by the Department of Irrigation, necessity of an irrigation project first needs to be identified by local people, and then approved by the village council and then the district council.

Those projects that pass through these three phases of approval are often implemented, but schemes pushed through by politicians that bypass these approval procedures often remain unimplemented, increasing the percentage of the unspent budget lines.

Shishir Koirala of the Western Regional Irrigation Directorate explains: “By the time a project is identified by the local people and then approved by the village and district councils, its Detailed Project Report can be prepared. But if a project is thrust upon us from above, we lack its design and cannot implement it immediately.”

In some cases, contractors have delayed projects, and government authorities failed to goad them into expediting work. Sapana Jayababa JV, a local contractor, was awarded with a Rs 30 million contract for building a bridge over the Dordi River in Lamjung. The contract was to build the bridge in two years. But only pillars of the bridge have been erected in five years.

The delay has had a domino effect: three hydropower projects along the Dordi River have been delayed because construction material cannot be supplied for these projects without a bridge.

In some villages, local people are vertically split and cannot decide on the projects they want. Their user groups have been paralysed, and leave their budget unspent. In the previous few years, Nepalis always had blockades or earthquakes to blame for delays. This year, they have run out of excuses.

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