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Payback time


DEWAN RAI


SAM KANG LI
Soldiers in the PLA cantonments are surviving on Rs 60 per day while the Finance Ministry continues to hold back their wages, unpaid for the past one year because of claimed Maoist violations of the peace agreement.

Under the 23-point accord negotiated by the seven-party alliance and the Maoists, the PLA troops were supposed to receive a monthly salary of Rs 3,000 to remain in the cantonments. This was paid for the first seven months but stopped in July last year, according to Avanindra Kumar Shrestha in the Office of the Central Coordinator for Cantonment Management.

Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat blamed the delay on the Maoists' not keeping their end of the bargain, including not furnishing proper accounts and failure to return property they confiscated during the war. Part of the agreement stated that the payment of PLA salaries and the return of seized assets would progress simultaneously.

"The accord must be implemented in a package," said Mahat. "If they do not return the property, the ministry will not release the funds."

The total amount of unpaid salaries for the nearly 19,000 qualified PLA soldiers now totals more than Rs 500 million.

The government disbursed Rs 1,771,903,400 through Peace Fund and Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction for cantonment management. An additional Rs 933,138,729 was given for infrastructure, medical expenses and energy through the concerned ministries.

Government records show a total of Rs 525,858,000 was disbursed for six months of salaries for qualified PLA soldiers and disqualified combatants at different dates till April 2007. A consolidated sum of Rs 553,623,200, which includes a monthly salary for the PLA was handed over to Communication Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara in July last year.

The committee has released Rs 692,422,200 for rations of the PLA soldiers at a monthly basis from April 2007 to July 2008. The ministry transfers this money to the local Cantonment Management Office at the concerned districts and the local office hands it over to the PLA commanders. These commanders provide the ministry with the salary receipts to make sure the money is actually received by the individuals of the cantonments.

So for the past one year the soldiers have been sharing out funds intended for 'cantonment management' to obtain basic necessities like food and water, Shrestha said.

Although many ex-guerrillas are finding it hard to make ends meet, the PLA has made little noise about the unpaid salaries, causing suspicion in some quarters that the money meant for the combatants had gone straight into the party coffers for use in electioneering.

"There is a surprising hush-hush even among the Maoists about the unpaid amounts. It is as if they don't want this investigated because it would uncover past money being diverted to election campaigning," one Finance Ministry source told Nepali Times.

The guerrillas say they haven't complained because they trust their leadership to resolve the problem. "The party has our interest at heart and is fighting for us," said one.

"Of course we care," said Maoist leader Dinanath Sharma. "Their problem is also our problem." He said that the salaries that were paid were the result of constant pressure from his party.

But the new government is nowhere in sight, everything else is in limbo. Even after UNMIN's term expires on 22 July, however, a smaller team of arms monitors is expected to stay behind in the cantonments.

Reporting also by Sheere Ng in Chitwan



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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