KATHMANDU, Dec 12: Taking embezzlement in the allowances of Maoist combatants seriously, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have demanded accountability from the prime minister and finance minister during the first meeting of the Special Committee after categorization.
It was revealed during the categorization that the UCPN (Maoist) had been drawing allowances for even those combatants who were not in the cantonments.
A source at the Special Committee told Republica that Nepali Congress representative Minendra Rijal drew the attention of Prime Minister and Chairman of the Special Committee Baburam Bhattarai, Finance Minister (FM) Barshaman Pun and Maoist representative in the committee Barshaman Pun to the embezzlement of millions of rupees drawn as allowance and ration of the Maoist combatants who deserted the cantonments.
“As the prime minister and finance minister of the country, you were supposed to be accountable for every penny of the tax payers´ money, but you have remained silent. You can not demonstrate accountability by maintaining silence,” a source quoted Rijal as saying at the meeting.
The embezzlement of millions of rupees was revealed after it was found that only 16,964 combatants were in the cantonments, which is 2,638 less than the number verified by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). The UN political mission had verified 19,602 Maoist fighters in 2007. But the government was releasing allowances to 19,525 until last month. According to a government record, the government had released Rs 9,300 on an average for each combatant per month. It means the Maoists were drawing Rs 24.62 million per month from the state coffers.
This is the first time the main opposition parties have raised this issue in the Special Committee, the government-formed body that is responsible for management of Maoist combatants. According to political sources, the representatives from the main opposition parties on the Special Committee, Rijal, Dr Ram Sharan Mahat, Ishwor Pokharel and Bhim Rawal had recently raised the issue jointly at the Special Committee meeting.
CPN-UML representative in the committee Bhim Rawal, emerging from the Special Committee meeting, told media persons that they raised the issue and sought response from the prime minister and the finance minister, who represent the UCPN (Maoist) in the committee.
But the prime minister and the finance minister remained silent in the meeting.
“I do not want to comment on this issue,” said Pun emerging from the meeting.
Following the controversy, the Office of the Cantonment Management has made up its mind not to release this month´s allowances to the combatants until the actual number of the combatants is finalized.
“We have made up our mind only to release this month´s allowances after the actual number of the combatants is given to us," said a source at the Office of the Cantonment Management.
At the meeting, Pun had sought that the 6,500 quota allocated for integration should be increased in view of the increasing number of combatants opting for integration. But Nepali Congress and CPN-UML representatives on the committee replied that the seven-point agreement that fixed the integration quota cannot be renegotiated. However, Pun told journalists that there was an understanding at the meeting that the issue would be settled at the political level.
Special Committee demands future plan
In the meantime, the Special Committee has directed its secretariat to prepare a plan of events for integration and voluntary retirement of the Maoist combatants and has given a five-day deadline to prepare it.
In addition, the secretariat has been asked for suggestion on how the properties and infrastructures in the cantonments should be used after they will be vacated following the management of the Maoist combatants, said Jitendra Dev, a member of the Special Committee.
According to a record of the Cantonment Management Office, the government has spent Rs 263.85 millions from the Nepal Peace Trust Fund for construction of infrastructures in all the 28 cantonments in the last five years.