Nepali Times
Unaccounted for

If you are a taxpayer, some of the money the government is taking from you is paying for the following expenses:
. Rs 1,158,000 in phone and electricity bills for ministers over a sixmonth period.
. Eight phone lines registered in the names of dead lawmakers yet to be returned to the Parliament Secretariat.
. Padded expenses amounting to thousands of dollars by ministers and senior officials on foreign junkets.
. Pork barrel funds MPs have put into private accounts instead of for development work in their constituencies.

Two years ago, ministers of His Majesty's Government said that rather than depend on their offices to settle their personal utility bills, they would take the money from the government and make the payments themselves. Between August 1998 and June 1999, 19 ministers took Rs 1,158,000 from the national coffers to pay their telephone, electricity and water supply bills, according to the latest Auditor General's report. Now it turns out many of them never cleared the bills. What's more they have amassed more utility arrears. The breakdown of some of the unpaid bills just for periods between 1998 and 1999 are as follows:

. Electricity bills from October to July totalling Rs 561,000.
. Telephone bills from August 1998 to January 1999 amounting to Rs 1,771,000.
. Water bills from October 1998 to January 1999 otalling Rs 281,000. It seems our leaders are not as brazen as they used to be when male MPs billed the exchequer for maternity expenses, or took winter holidays in southern climes paid for by you and me. But, as the Auditor General's report shows, there are big holes in the national bookkeeping- evidence that chronic and widespread misappropriation of public funds continues. Arrears have been detected everywhere: in government, in the courts and in parliament. Many of the irregularities were also pointed out in the past, and still remain as wrongs because the executive has not taken basic steps to regularise the spending. Past efforts by the parliament's public spending watchdog to get back some of the misused money have failed to achieve much.

Last week, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) summoned officials and gave them another deadline to make amends. "We'll go to the extent the law allows to get the accounts straight," says Subash Nemwang, PAC chairman. The Committee has also instructed concerned agencies to publish names of defaulters and deduct money from the salaries of employees to settle advances. "There is much money that still remains to be accounted for," says Bishnu Bahadur K.C., the Auditor General. "I just don't understand why no major effort is made to realise the misspent money." The Auditor General has also pulled up the Prime Minister's office which has Rs 2.5 million at its discretion for grants to the needy. Last year it spent Rs 1.16 million, but we don't know who the needy were. Members of Parliament have been enjoying Dasain allowances even though there is no provision in the legislature regulations allowing this. The issue of Dasain bonus may be a minor procedural lapse, but it is an example of the widespread inability of lawmakers to make laws and abide by them. More serious are actions by politicians, which show malafide intentions. A sampling from the Auditor General's list:
. A minister for parliamentary affairs leading a delegation to Moscow for the 100th meeting of the Inter- Parliamentary Union in September 1998, billed $500 as taxi fare from hotel to conference centre to airport. A joint secretary travelling with the same group billed $1,200 for the same ride.
. The Parliament Secretariat has not taken back 111 telephones from former MPs, eight of whom have already died.
. The personal assistant to the Chairman of the National Assembly signed for the salary of the entire staff of his (the Chairman's) private office. The Vice-Chairman went a step further-he personally signed receipts for the salary of his private staff. The auditors don't know if the payments were actually made. Since there are no receipts, one is forced to believe that pocketing salaries of assistants seems to be a well-entrenched system of augmenting the hakim's own earnings. Such irregularities have even been detected in the hallowed halls of the judiciary too. The then Chief Justice collected Rs 249,000 on behalf of all seven people he was entitled to appoint to his private office. There were no records to show when the employees were hired. The honourable judges got much bad press in 1997 collecting salaries on behalf of their household orderlies. The PAC has since ordered that proper papers be submitted.

Last year all 19 Supreme Court justices, 47 appeals court justices and 25 district court justices received Rs 1,649,000 on behalf of their assistants. But this time, the Auditor General found that many judges had presented receipts signed by orderlies or came armed with authorisation letters. Every year the Auditor General reminds us of how our money is being misspent, and the next year he reminds us again.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)