11-17 July 2014 #715

Shamelessness

Deshantar Saptahik, 6 July

If there is a black spot in Nepali politics it is the ‘Pajero Scandal’ of 1994. Elected members of the parliament in Nepal’s newly-restored democracy at that time forgot about serving the people and granted themselves the facility to import duty-free SUVs. They did not just undermine themselves, they undermined democracy. The members didn’t have Rs 5 million in cash that the Pajeros cost, so they bought the cars on behalf of smugglers and businessmen and sold it to them for a profit. Some rented their tax-free SUVs back to government projects, while they walked or took a tempo to parliament. The state lost billions.

After that the MPs pushed to raise their constituency grants to Rs 1 million. The money was supposed to be spent on development, to help their constituents, but there was widespread misuse. It allowed national-level corruption to trickle down to the grassroots. That destroyed what little trust the people had on democracy, and the scandal was serious enough for the facilities to be later discontinued. But this time, CA members individually and in groups are shamelessly demanding again for tax-payer’s money to buy them duty-free cars and Rs 50 million worth of development projects that they can control. This time, too, there is a coalition government that doesn’t have the strength to stand up to the pressure of legislators.

The Nepali Congress party however is aware that it cannot allow some corrupt, greedy, ambitious MPs to use the weakness of the government to give democracy a bad name and provoke a backlash from angry citizens. The party has decided not to give its CA members control over the Rs 50 million they have demanded, but to earmark it for the development budget of their constituencies equally. The NC’s caretaker chair Ram Chandra Poudel has formally taken the initiative to take the decision so the CA members will be forced to follow suit.

That is the party’s viewpoint, but it is doubtful if leaders in government will go along. Given the character of CA members, you can never be sure.  Even six months later, they haven’t taken a single decision to provide relief to people, they haven’t made progress on the constitution, they haven’t gone back to their constituencies, but want to award themselves Rs 50 million each. To take such a step knowing the public’s disgust with the lack of progress is not just cynical, but a stab in the back of voters. Government ministers are looking out for themselves and their cronies and relatives.

To be so blatantly selfish, and obsessed with increasing their personal allowances and facilities, is the height of shamelessness.

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