Nepali Times
Editorial - As if there is no tomorrow

There may be no military victory to this conflict. But there is certain to be economic defeat.

Revenue is down, the bottom has fallen out of tourism, even remittances are faltering. The Indians are putting the squeeze but raising fuel prices won't be enough to pay them for the backlog. If it wasn't for remittances and the fixed exchange rate with the Indian rupee we wouldn't even have to wait till June for this country to go bankrupt.

Public frustration will rise this summer with inflation in the double digits due to the recent diesel price hike, the combined effects of a disappointing monsoon and an unprecedented five-month drought that has turned Central Nepal into a dust bowl. And then we have power cuts the likes of which Nepalis didn't see even in the worst days of the Panchayat. But Nepal's city-dwellers are an apathetic lot and they'll probably sit tight till the worst is over on or around 6 April-Comrade Prachanda's D-Day.

But even if public anger isn't boiling over yet, the bureaucracy is seething. There is outrage at the arbitrary heavy handedness of royal nominees. Which is why the chief secretary had to appease the civil service with promises of raises and perks. The anger is strongest among those looking after finance and audit as officials have watched aghast at the open plunder of the national exchequer.

According to a cover story in this week's edition of our sister paper, Himal Khabarpatrika, a staggering Rs 50 billion as been paid out from state coffers to fund purchases of royal limousines, organising royal weddings, handing stashes of cash to loyal royals and large mysterious payoffs to the Home and Defence Ministries. A detailed list of dates and amounts paid shows billions transferred from budget account heads to Contingency and Miscellaneous and then slipped across.
On the week when victims of the Myaglung fire were sent back empty handed in January 2003 because of "lack of budget" a sum of Rs 130.5 million from a disaster relief budgetline was transferred to another account and then sent to the palace. Rs 70.9 million from the 'Integrated Development' account was moved to Miscellaneous over a period of four days last month. In July 2002, Rs 20 million was transferred with unusual haste from a standard budgetline to a contingency account within four days of the national budget being passed and then used to purchase of two bullteproof Jaguars.

We can perhaps understand the Home Minister making fungible transfers for intelligence-gathering during times of insurgency but other opaque, arbitrary and unaccountable transfers since 2002 of an amount equal to the annual development budget is systematic ransacking of the treasury on a breathtaking scale. An even more damning indictment is that the leadership of the poltiical parties were in key ministeries for some of that period.

Had there been a parliament, the Public Accounts Committee would have provided oversight and no one would have dared do this, not even the palace. But without democratic safeguards, and the country in the hands of shadowy powerbrokers, it is plunder as if there was no tomorrow.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)