Why politicians pamper the military

Ramesh Kumar in Himal Khabarpatrika, 8-14 April

In September 2017, three months after this fiscal year’s budget was unveiled, a Cabinet meeting approved the Nepal Army’s proposal to buy three new helicopters, and the Finance Ministry had to fork up Rs418 million for the acquisition.

One month later, the Army tabled another proposal to buy another aircraft which was also swiftly endorsed by the Cabinet. And the Finance Ministry sent an additional Rs80.56 million to the military. In January 2018, the Army sought another Rs1.70 billion to upgrade military aviation for search and rescue, and the government quickly handed over a cheque to that amount.

No matter which government is in power, Nepal’s politicians quickly approve whatever the Army has in its wish list. In 2011, the Army sought Rs3 billion to buy two new MI-17 helicopters, but Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai sanctioned even more than what was asked, he gave Rs 3.5 billion. In 2016, during K P Oli’s first tenure as Prime Minister, Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel allotted Rs27 billion in non-budgetary resources for the military.

During the insurgency, when the military was mobilised in 2001 to defeat the Maoists, the government met every Army demand. But there is no longer a war to fight, there are no external threats, yet the Nepal Army’s budget keeps going up.

One ex-Finance Secretary told us: “Political leaders have always feared a military coup, so they want to keep the Army happy. The monarchy is gone and the Army is now under civilian control, yet the old mindset persists.”

But that is not the only reason. Another top Finance Ministry source puts it bluntly: “Politicians, the generals, everyone benefits from military procurements.”
Corruption within the military is never investigated. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) does not have a mandate to question the generals. In every annual report, the Office of Auditor General points out glaring irregularities in military procurement, but no one in government has ever taken any action.

For this fiscal year, the finance ministry earmarked Rs44.16 billion for the army -- a 25% increase from last year. This is on top of the Rs4.72 billion the Army has already got this year -- Rs1 billion more for recurrent expenditure and Rs3.72 billion more for capital spending. The Finance Ministry has had to reallocate money earmarked for other programs to satisfy the generals.

Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada in his White Paper this month said the treasury was empty, it remains to be seen where he is going to get the cash to meet the Army’s demands for new helicopters and aircraft.

“When the generals march into the Finance Minsitry with their armed body guards, no one can say no to them,” says one official. When Bimal Koirala was Finance Secretary, Army Chief Gen Prajwal SJB Rana reportedly threatened to throw him into the Bagmati River if the military’s budget request was not met.

In case the Finance Ministry does muster the courage to turn down the Army’s request, the generals simply go up to the Prime Minister or Defence Minister and get it sanctioned. After the Cabinet approves a military budget demand, the Finance Ministry has no choice but to meet it.

Ex-Finance Minister Devendra Raj Pandey asks: “Why do we need to have a budget plan if the Cabinet just hands over money arbitrarily to the military?”

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