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Consumer committees plagued by rampant irregularities

Consumer committees plagued by rampant irregularities

Deepak Khatri from Thalaraikar, Jajarkot, has gone out of contact after receiving Rs 881,977 from the Karnali Province Veterinary Services Office. Khatri, the chairman of the local people’s consumer committee, obtained the funds as a government subsidy to construct goat sheds for 48 farmers. Locals in the area have reported that Khatri has departed for India.

Agra Bahadur Bista (Sunil) misappropriated Rs 3m during his tenure as the chairman of the consumer committee tasked with building the Lalighat-Suntharali road in Naraharinath-1, Kalikot. He entered into a contract with a local construction entrepreneur to use an excavator at a rate of Rs 3,600 per hour. The excavator operated for 560 hours for which Bista paid Rs 2.01m. However, he furnished fake documents to claim the excavator fee at a rate of Rs 9,000 per hour and pocketed Rs 3m.

These are just a few instances of financial embezzlement within consumer committees of Karnali Province. These committees, often formed based on political affiliations, seem more focused on financial gains rather than completing the designated tasks.

In Sanni Tribeni-3, the consumer committee misused unemployment allowances by providing daily wages to 11 teachers during the fiscal year 2019/20. As per the unemployment allowance work procedure, individuals with employment cannot participate in the program. Of the allocated Rs 4.5m for the Gawakhola-Lampata irrigation canal project to be overseen by a consumer committee, Janak Devkota, a defeated candidate of CPN-UML for ward chairman, took Rs 300,000, stating that he needed to provide the amount to ‘province staff’ who secured funding for the project. Furthermore, he pocketed an additional Rs 28,500 as daily wages for 38 days, even though he never appeared at the work site. A committee formed to probe irregularities in the consumer committee concluded that Rs 682,250 had been misappropriated. However, no steps have been taken to recover the amount.

The Public Procurement Act and Public Procurement Regulations have laid down procedures for government procurements. These laws aim to ensure credibility in procurement processes, promote competition, and establish fairness, competitiveness, and accountability in the process. However, consumer committees have been observed subcontracting the work to contractors.

According to existing laws, public projects valued up to Rs 10m, with the potential to generate employment, can be entrusted to consumer committees. However, in Karnali, individuals with political connections form these committees and secure projects. Instead of involving the general public, these committees are composed of leaders and members of political parties. Such practices lead to careless spending, which, in turn, undermines the quality of work.

Advocate Durga Sapkota stated that consumer committees are flouting existing laws and regulations. He added that ensuring good governance in consumer committees has emerged as a new challenge for the government.

BP Bishwakarma, a member of the Village Executive of Subhakalika Rural Municipality in Kalikot, said irregularities are rife in consumer committees founded on political affiliations. “The situation is so concerning that non-Dalit members form consumer committees for projects in Dalit settlements,” he added. He also mentioned that defeated candidates are often included in consumer committees so that they can ‘recover’ some of their election expenses.

Complaints regarding irregularities by consumer committees are piling up at the Karnali Provincial Office of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). Sushila Marasini, a section officer at the CIAA’s Surkhet-based office, shared that “Most complaints involve cases like erroneous estimates, dual payments in collusion with contractors, submission of fraudulent documents, and violation of laws and regulations.” Marasini also noted that complaints related to irregularities within local units are on the rise.

As per the CIAA Karnali Office, a total of 481 complaints were lodged against 72 out of 79 local units in Karnali during the fiscal year 2022/23. Among the local units in Surkhet, the majority of complaints were against Gurbhakot Municipality. In Dailekh, the highest number of complaints were against Narayan Municipality. Similarly, complaints have been filed against nine local units in Kalikot and all 10 local units in Salyan, while 49 complaints have been filed against three out of four local units of Mugu.