Confusing state of federal affairs

KATHMANDU: A year on since Nepal adapted federal structure, the country has undertaken a leisurely yet unending and burdening walk to attain subsidiarity and decentralisation.

Looking at the recent confrontation between Province 2 and  federal government over Provincial Police Bill and wide criticism of top leadership's abuse of "authoritarian" attitude from all sides in matters pertaining to state-related-affairs, one can say that the right to self-government is yet to be ensured.

Moreover, the problems facing self-governance appear grand and suggest a lack of homework when looked through a minuscule lens:

For instance, after scrapping of agriculture offices from districts, farmers are now impelled to travel to province headquarters or nearby trade hubs where government has partially set up information centres. But without administrative offices in local levels, farmers reckon that service delivery will not be as effective as it was in the past. Moreover, the works related to agricultural marketing, technical services and providing subsidised crop seeds have come to a standstill after DADO dismissal.

Prior to DADO scrapping, farmers were aided in eliminating crop infestation and used to receive subsidised winter crop seeds through the local office. However, local levels in the present setup have not come to their aid.

Likewise, despite formation of ministries at provincial level, service seekers from all 77 districts have to visit Department of Foreign Employment in Tahachal in Kathmandu to acquire even basic service such as a work permit renewal.

Hence, the plans to make services available at door-steps have not materialised even after a year in transition and the situation cannot be expected to improve unless issues pertaining to decentralisation are effectively addressed.

However, at a time when rural municipalities and local levels are reeling under a severe man power crunch and mounting backlog of works, government's decision to halt PSC hiring serves as a counter-productive measure that exacerbates issues of service delivery. Moreover, delay in formulating civil service laws has hindered the authorities from resolving the human resource related issues resulting into ineffective service delivery at the local levels.

Moreover, the state and local bodies have not yet been able to exercise the rights to self-governance because of delays in formulating crucial laws that facilitate province-centre coordination, employee deputation and foreign aid mobilisation.

Even after PSC hires employees to bloat the bureaucracy, authorities are still unclear on how to address challenges of deputation. With the state hoarding huge proportion of wealth through taxes, raising incentives for staffers on condition to work at remote administrations would lure them to accept deployment. On contrary, the government wants to make things work through passing threats of expulsion and dismissal or with stern laws that would turn staffers into scapegoats.

Moreover, an enlarged and bloated bureaucracy in the provinces, apart from quickly emptying coffers, has also paved way for economic and political elites to capitalise on devolution of power to indulge in dirty power plays in the region and amass vast wealth through corruption. It is unclear, whether governments have mulled taking any counter-measures to curb unethical practices through stronger regulations.

Like a governance system of the unitary government in the past, current system is still plagued by economic syndicates and presence of middle-men in every sector, as such provincial governments need to formulate laws ensuring stern actions against corrupt practices. However, no steps have been taken yet in that regard. If the states are to be empowered, the federal government should implement necessary laws that enable fair and clean subsidiarity at earliest as possible.

In this backdrop, government's decision to analyse issues related to tax collection, budget implementation and policy ambiguity in federal governance system. albeit late, is a praiseworthy move.

With a responsibility to help country achieve the promised sustainable development goals, the government should also expedite processes pertaining to decentralisation at grass root levels. Furthermore, without a well functioning administration that ensures productive utilisation of power and budget, the goals of decentralisation and sustainable development cannot be effectively met.

However, even after a year on since the elections, the federal parliament has failed to introduce laws ensuring corruption free and smooth functioning local governments.

Given that, the only way to let people enjoy fruits of federalism is to really operationalise the basic principles that are already in the constitution. Federal government in unison with provincial and local level governments should now keep talks aside and walk the walk.