Where the impossible is definitely possible: Gross misutilisation of government allowances in Humla
Village officials use finger prints of the dead and non-existent for the collection of senior citizen social security allowances. There are also those who are unscrupulous enough to collect grants intended for the prevention of malnutrition in children.
Nabaraj Mahatara: Centre for Investigative Journalism- Nepal
Abuse of social security allowances is rife in Humla. Learning about frequent irregularities in the distribution of such allowences by government officials we decided to investigate. For a reality check we visited designated areas armed with a list of those who had received social security allowances there. They included 10 wards in six Village Development Committees (VDCs) in former Humla District Developmnet Committee (current District Development Coordination Committee or DDC) – from Dardaphaya in the northern, Lali in the central and Maila in the southern parts of the district. This report is based on out investigations in those 10 wards.
In the villages we realized that the misappropriation of social security allowences is much higher than we had initially estimated. There are two major types of malpractices. Firstly, the ward secretaries and other officials of VDCs collect social security allowences in the name of deceased villagers. Secondly, they withdraw money in the name of fake and non-existant citizens who are eligible for such allowences. Another irregularity concerns omission, in the distribution list, of names of some who are legally eligible to receive social security allowance. In addition, there are cases where the government allocated allowance money is withheld for an indefinite period.
How can this be possible? One of the reasons is that in Nepal it is still customary, particularly in the case of illiterate persons, to just use thumb prints instead of signatures on legal and official documents. What usually happens is that citizens’ births and deaths are registered at the local village ward levels while social security allowances are allocated by the municipal government, to be distributed under the supervision of DDCs. The death registration notifications from the wards either do not reach the municipal government at all or take too long to reach them. In other words, names of deceased persons are not removed from the social security allowance lists for in a timely manner. Meanwhile, government social security allowances are allocated regularly in advance and on schedule, based on existing lists which may not have been updated.
Appropriate distribution at local levels, however, is a different story. Ward secretaries and other VDC staff periodically draw up their own random lists of residents eligible for receiving social security allowences. Such lists could include names of already deceased persons. What is even worse is that they could often times also include any number of names of residents who are actually eligible for social security allowences, but whose names have been intentionally omitted and replaced by fake names of non-existent persons. In all such cases forged fingerprints (instead of signatures) are used as proof of having received relevant payments by those whose names are listed.
There are government rules and regulations in place for the administration and distribution of social security allowences. But implementing them at the grassroots level in remote areas where the actual distribution takes place is highly challenging, largely to the helplessness of the disadvantaged population affected coupled with the possibility of responsible officials getting away with not properly carrying out their duties.
Following are numerous examples of irregularities in the distribution of social security allowences in Humla:
The dead are “alive” in fingerprints
Sixty seven year old Githe Rawat of Kharpunath Village Municipality had been receiving senior citizen allowance since B.S. 2068. He died in 2073 but his signature is on the 2074 old age allowance distribution list, submitted by ward secretary Meghnath Shahi from the accounts department of Humla DCC, and allowances in his name are still being issued. After repeated questioning him he said, “In order to satisfy senior citizens who are entitled to social security allowance but whose names are not in the list, money received in the name of dead persons are equally distributed among them.” This is basically just meant to cover up his personal misconduct. When we asked around we were unable to find anyone in the village that had received such equally distributed payments.
According to former chief of then Raya VDC (current Kharpunath Village Municipality), Prem Budha, the practice of receiving deceased persons’ allowences by the VDC secretary is quite common. Furthermore, those who are entitled to social security allowance are helpless when at times ward secretaries inform them that their names are not in the list and collect the relevant amouts for their own personal use.
In Adanchuli Village Municipality No. 1 we found a case where thumb prints were used to receive social security allowance in the name of Surjit Luwar who had died three years ago. His name is on the list of persons to whom social security allowance was distributed in 2074 by Adanchuli ward secretary Tulsi Bhandari and Takka Dutta Pyakurel. Luwal’s name under code #61-23-00007452377 is still on the list approved by the Department of Civil Registration (DOCR) of the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development. It shows Surjit’s thumb prints for having received the last advance payment for the period Chaitra 2073 – Asaar 2074 at the rate of NRs2,000/month. Secretary Bhandari’s explanation for this was similar to the one given by Shahi. He mentioned that the allowance distribution lists of all three villages in Kalkhe of Adanchuli Village Municipality #1 had also been sent to the district headquarters. We tried to verify this by showing him the receipt from the accounts department of the District Co-ordination Committee, of money received by deceased persons. Bhandari then hesitated and refused to comment.
There is an even better example from former Raya VDC. An 84 year old resident, Hauyijali Tamta, who had been dead for 10 years, was listed for having received senior citizen social security allowance under code #61-21-00001431123. Tamta’s name and finger prints are there as proof of receipt of his last four monthly social security allowance of NRs8,000.- in Shrawan 2074.
In the last week of Kartik 2074 we read out to those who had gathered in Gumbadhara Village of Raya VDC, the names on the list of senior citizens who had received social security allowance. Manabire Kami then found that his mother’s name was also listed, when in fact she had passed away 10 years earlier. As he was illiterate himself he had no choice but to believe whatever the ward secretary said.
Jiru Thapa, Hiru Mahatara, Surjite Luwal, Kinnakala Mahatara and Samante Mahatatra have all passed away in the last two years. They were from ward numbers 6, 7 and 8 of former Srinagar VDC. However, in the name of these five deceased persons and some others, social security allowance worth NRs144,000.- has been collected in the last two years. Even now their names have not been removed from the list for the distribution of such allowance.
In order to prevent malnutrition among children in Karnali Zone the government distributes a grant of NRs200/month per child. But it is not easy to get exact details of cases of wrongful collection of such grants. It would require visiting individual households and schools to obtain names of the children concerned.
It is also possible for non-existent persons to have finger prints
In former Lali VDC #5 Buddha Kami’s name is in the list of those who receive social security allowance. There is nobody by this name in the village. But finger prints on a cash receipt #93 of the accounts section of the DCC confirms that NRs4,000.- has been received by him.
Rupsila Bumi is on the list of distribution of allowance in Srinagar VDC #6 under Code #61-23-00005818367 and ID #2010040300733. Although there is no such person in the village her finger prints are on the cash receipts submitted to the DCC, for having received the allowance. Likewise, NRs60,000.- has been withdrawn in the name of Mun Bhandari, Mauki Mahatara, Bajjir Bumi and Hanskala Budha, none of whom are resident in the village. The list of receipt of payments was submitted to the DCC accounts section by ward secretary, Tulsi Bhandari, of the former VDC and ward secretary of current Adanchuli Village Municipality 1, Takkadutta Pyakurel.
The situation in former Kalika VDC is even worse. There allowances are regularly collected in the name of 83 deceased and non-existant persons. In the fiscal year 2073/2074 alone it has been found that NRs916,000.- has been confirmed received by these so called senior citizens and single females. The relevant information is available at the DCC.
In ward numbers 7 and 8 of the same VDC (currently Adanchuli Village Municipality ward #4) alone 28 fake names of senior citizens are listed. Although they do not live in the village, their allowances are still regularly distributed.
When we cross-checked names in the village against the names of receipients of social security allowance list fom the VCC, we found that in former Raya VDC ward numbers 2, 3 and 4 alone details of 59 persons did not tally. Some had already died earlier while the names of others were faked. Yet even today allowances continue to be withdrawn in the names of those listed.
Examples abound of withdrawal of social security allowances in the names of non-existant persons, like in the case of 67 year old Maura Shahi and 69 year old Umer Singh Budha of Raya ward #2. Nobody by the name of Rag Bik of Raya ward #4 lives in the village either. However, there are proofs complete with finger prints in the VCC accounts section, of these persons having received their last payments of NRs4,000.- or NRs8,000.- in 2073. Former Raya VDC chief, Prem Budha, expressed surprise at so much money having been used up.
The general public has been cheated due to whimsical misconduct by officials. Sixty five year old Nanikala Shahi of Darndaphaya, Village Municipality 7 of Simkot district headquarters, has not received her social security allowances for three years. Approaching the ward secretary when he came to the village, she was told that they had not received the money from the government. She was not satisfied with the practice of distributing allowances in an irregular manner.
The government regularly sent out the money intended for allowences. But as experienced by Nanikala, the practice of ward secretaries in Humla keeping the allocated amounts for themselves or delaying payments to rightful recipients is very common. From the DDC records it can be seen that Nanikala had regularly received social security allowance since 2068. Her name is under serial #31 in the list of recipients in Darndaphaya VDC. Apparently she has been paid a social security allowance of NRs2,000/month.
Similarly, 66 year old Lafa Rawal of ward #4 in Raya VDC had been receiving social security allowance regularly for four years. But lately the VDC ward secretary, Meghnath Shah said that they had not received the money from the authorities, which she simply did not believe. We told her that the DCC claimed her allowance had been paid so she visited the DCC the next day. There it upset her that the ward secretary had received NRs4,000.- using finger prints.
No fear, no shame, needs investigation
These are only some examples of the misutilization of social security allowances in Humla District. The local ward secretaries do as they like with government allowances meant for the helpless senior citizens, single women with no relatives and dalits who are victims of racial discrimination. They even collect allowences in the name of non-existent persons using their signatures and finger prints.
The concerned officials neither seem to be afraid nor are they ashamed of what they do. From our research/investigation/study carried out in six former VDCs in Humla it is clear that there is frequent misutilization and irregularity in the use of government social security allowences. It is necessary to investigate to what extent and which officials are involved in the misutilization of social security allowances in 27 former VDCs of Humla.
The rules and regulations
The government has also developed working procedures for the distribution of social security allowences. Eligible persons must be present personally in order to receive their allowences. Where possible the allowences will be deposited to a bank account. Otherwise there is a legal system to hand deliver allowences to the homes of eligible recipients. They must have national identity cards from relevant local channels in order to receive their allowences. The first four monthly alowance of the year will be settled on 1st Asar, the second on 12th Magh and the last installment on 15th Jestha. These arrangements are made according to Clause 13 of the working procedures of 2069.
It is also required that the allowences be deposited into bank accounts. According to Clause 14 (i) of the working procedure, VDCs/Municipalities have to send to the DDC periodically, the following documents of eligible persons with new ID or renewed ID cards: names, addresses, national identity and citizenship/birth certificate numbers as well as bank account details.
Likewise it is first necessary to identify beneficiaries who cannot present themselves at the bank, like those who are fully disabled, those with physical disability and can only move around with the help of others, those who are bed-ridden as well as children. According to Sub-clause 1 of Clause 7 of the working procedure, details of their appointed representatives also need to be submitted.
But will there be strict implementation in future?
A complaint had been lodged at the Commission of Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) against then Maila VDC secretary, Kali Bahadur Hamal, of Narakot 2 in Jumla. On 18th Chaitra the Special Court of Kathmandu ruled for him to be fined NRs1,220,200.- and NRs2,276,400.- for the misuse of social security allowences in Kalika VDC and Maila VDC respectively. Subsequently on 16th Shrawan 2074 Humla District Court pushed Tanjakot Village Municipality (former Maila VDC) to implement the special court ruling.
Locals had also previously lodged a complaint at the DCC against former Kalika and Maila VDC secretary, Gopal Lama, for not distributing social security allowences. On this basis he was summoned to the District Administration Office on the last week of Ashwin 2074. DCC Secretary, Lok Bahadur Sunal, together with then CDO, Dhan Krishna Sharma Poudel, ordered Lama to distribute relevant allowences to the beneficiaries. In the 2073 auditor general’s report it had also been pointed out that NRs5,500,000.- was unaccounted for under his name. But he has yet to settle this amount.
Another case of a complaint being lodged against Darnda Phaya VDC secretary, Ram Prasad Devkota, involved the non-distribution of social security allowances to beneficiaries for two years. When a three member investigation team found that he had used the money for his personal household expenses, Devkota settled the required amount with VDC over six months. Then the responsibility of distributing the allowences was passed over to incoming VDC Secretary, Ram Lal Pandey. However, he too kept the money himself and failed to distribute it as required. So the DCC raided and confiscated NRs600,000.- from his home. The remaining balance of NRs200,000.- was deducted from his salary.
The misuse of funds allocated for social security allowences is rampant. The DCC Auditor, Bishal Bohara, says that the secretaries divert the funds for their personal use and that the distribution of allowences is not transparent. As far as possible and based on authorization from the central government, the DCC transfers funds to local governments once every four months. Most secretaries withdraw the funds from banks within a week. However, instead of distributing allowances as required they hold on to the money for months for their personal use. The problem is only getting worse. Bohara said that they have not been able to control the situation.
Sub Clause 9 of Clause 9 for working procedures states that VDCs/Municipalities must have at least five persons from different political parties, representatives of community based organizations and local respected elders. A written deed (mujulka) must be drawn up confirming that the distribution has been carried out under their joint supervision. One copy of this deed is to be displayed on the VDC/Municipality notice board. Another copy is to be filed with receipt for future auditing. However, the officials usually do not pay any attention to this legal requirement. Raj Bahadur Rokaya of Simkot is of the opinion that VDC secretaries are under the protection of different political parties and they need not act according to the law. The question is: Who can possibly penalize them?
In another item of Sub Clause 9 of Clause 9 for working procedures it is stipulated that every four months there is an arrangement to inform the DDC within seven days of settlement of all advance payments. However, Humla DCC secretary, Lok Bahadur Sunal, said that he was unable to monitor them properly even when the relevant documents were received on time. This, according to him, will be strictly implemented from now on.
Thus it can be seen that there is much need not only for proper administration, supervision and distribution of social security allowance but also adequate auditing and penalization where necessary, in Humla district. Perhaps it is also the case in other parts of the country.