Nepal | November 18, 2019

‘The government is against federalism’

The Himalayan Times

After a year in office, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli recently claimed that his government had set the foundation for institutionalisation of federalism by implementing the constitution. The main opposition Nepali Congress, however, dismissed PM Oli’s claim labelling the foundation as useless and fragile. Moreover, NC has also criticised several federalism-related bills the government has registered in the Parliament saying they are against the spirit of the constitution and federalism. Jagdishor Panday of The Himalayan Times caught up with Nepali Congress lawmaker Dilendra Prasad Badu and talked about many cross-cutting issues ranging from the disputed bills to the government’s performance. Excerpts:

Interview with Nepali Congress lawmaker Dilendra Prasad Badu, in Kathmandu, on Friday , February 22, 2019. Photo: Naresh Krishna Shrestha/THT

What do you say about the bills the government has registered in Parliament? Are they really against the spirit of constitution and federalism?

All federalism-related bills have not been registered by the government in the Parliament till date. Some of the registered bills are against the spirit of the constitution and federalism.

For instance, Federal Civil Servants Bill, Nepal Police and Provincial Police Bill, Peace and Security Bill are against the spirit of federalism. Going through the provisions of these bills, I can say the centre doesn’t want to decentralise power to provincial and local governments.

In the Civil Servants Adjustment Act, the government hasn’t incorporated the provisions that strengthen federalism. As all the civil servants belong to the central government. Firstly, there is need to internally integrate them in the three tiers of government as needed. Secondly, civil servants should be given a chance to choose the place and position on their own. Finally, the centre should allow provincial and local governments to hire their own staffers.

The centre should pave the way for province and local levels to enrol their employees by making umbrella laws. Besides, the centre should come up with different laws to address the genuine demands of civil servants. Now, the government has brought the Federal Civil Servants Bill, which has given rise to controversy. Some government employees say they are under the federal government even after integration in the province and local levels and they should be allowed to return to the federal service once the provincial and local governments hire their own staff. The official union of civil servants has also been demanding the same. Their concern is genuine.

On the other hand, the bill only focuses on civil servants at the federal level, not provincial and local levels. The provinces are complaining that the centre has not given them authority to handle enrolment and deployment of civil servants in the respective provinces.

Moreover, the federal government has curtailed the rights of provincial governments by appointing chief secretaries and secretaries in the provincial governments on its own. The move is against the spirit of federalism. At least the provincial governments should have the right to appoint secretaries letting the chief secretaries be a bridge between the province and federal government.

In this regard, Nepali Congress has registered an amendment proposal to the Federal Civil Servants Bill, stating that the centre should hand over authority to provincial and local governments to look after the issue of civil servants.

How do you comment on the newly registered Nepal Police and Provincial Police Bill as the bill, many say, intends to make the chief district officers more powerful than the provincial governments?

This is a wrong move. How can CDOs deployed by the federal government be more powerful than the provincial governments?

As the bill states that the CDOs are not under the internal security ministers of the provinces, they can never be accountable to the provincial governments. The CDOs should work as bridge between central and provincial governments in terms of security and the provincial government should be given all the power to look after security within their provinces. If the centre looks after all these things, there is no relevance of provinces. There has been a lot of criticism, even from the chief ministers representing the ruling Nepal Communist Party, over the federal government’s move on the proposed role of CDOs.

Do you feel that either the government does not want to hand over power to provinces/local levels or the centre does not have faith in provincial/local governments?

There are two things. First, the KP Oli-led government does not want to hand over power to province and local levels. Secondly, those who are in power and are drafting the bills want to curtail the rights of provinces and local levels. They believe the province and local levels should be guided from the centre.

Each and every activity of the central government clearly indicates that it is against federalism.

So, how do you justify the incumbent government’s role against federalism?

After one year in office, the Oli-led government has stood against the spirit of federalism. Its intention is to weaken the structures of federalism. PM Oli has also centralised power in himself. His Cabinet members feel helpless, powerless.

For instance, the National Vigilance Centre and the National Investigation Bureau, which were for long under the Ministry of Home Affairs, have now been brought under the PM’s office. The move is completely unjustifiable. It proves the PM wants to centralise all powers.

Likewise, the PM’s Office has brought different departments of the Ministry of Finance under it. Good governance will just be a day dream if the PM’s Office handles all procurement and tax related issues. The PM’s Office has completely failed to handle issues ranging from billions of rupees parked in Swiss banks to irregularities in purchasing the wide-body aircraft.

PM Oli has also tried to control the power of the Parliament. The government never abides by the parliamentary committees’ directives. By forming a committee to investigate the purchase of wide-body aircraft, the government has undermined the role of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority.

Let’s look at the budgetary allocation, 76 per cent of the total budget was allocated for the centre while the provinces got a mere 9 per cent and the local bodies 15 per cent. Interestingly, the PM’s Office enjoys 12 per cent share of the total allocated budget. This clearly reflects the government’s centralised mentality.

Similarly, the federal government has not allocated necessary budget to development projects to be implemented in the provinces and local levels.

Provincial and local governments have a long list of projects, but are without sufficient funds to execute them.

How do you evaluate Oli-led government’s one year in office?

On the strength of two-thirds majority, the government is trying to control all three organs of the state — executive, legislature and judiciary. For example, the Constitutional Council nominated Deepak Raj Joshi as Chief Justice of Supreme Court but the Parliamentary Hearing Committee disqualified him for the post without furnishing any reason. PHC has secured a two-thirds majority of the ruling NCP. By appointing the chairs of different constitutional bodies in the absence of the leader of the main opposition party, the CC has also undermined the value of democracy.

Being the main opposition, what kind of role has the Nepali Congress been playing to strengthen federalism and check the government’s wrongdoings?

Nepali Congress has been playing a constructive role in the Parliament. We have registered several amendment proposals to make the bills compatible with the spirit of federalism. Our party is also running awareness campaigns at all levels to put public pressure on the government. We will use both the street and House to protest against the government’s wrong moves. NC wants federalism to be institutionalised at the earliest.

A version of this article appears in print on March 04, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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