The primary role of the Centre is to facilitate the sub-national govts so that they can function as per the spirit of federalism
The concept of federalism is quite new to Nepal. But it does not mean that we are not familiar with the very principles of federalism, which is in practice in many countries, including India, the USA, UK and Australia, to name a few. The very idea of federalism is to devolve state power to the sub-national governments so that they can provide services to the people easily and carry out development activities as per their needs. The new constitution, which came into force in September 2015, has clearly defined the jurisdiction, power and responsibility of the three tiers of government. Even the local levels can also function independently within the confines of the constitution, and they do not need to take prior permission from the federal and provincial governments while taking any decisions allowed by the constitution and the related laws. One of the best things about federalism is that even the local levels can enact laws applicable to their territory. Despite the fact that the local levels are independent bodies, the federal government is trying to take their power, as if they were the Centre’s extended agencies, as recently aired by the Prime Minister himself. This is a centralised mindset that needs to be discarded.
The latest example of how the Centre is not letting the local levels take decisions on their own is its refusal to allow the local levels to change their headquarters and names. Lawmakers have now demanded that the federal government’s right to change the names and headquarters of the local levels be passed on to them, which can be done through their council meeting. Since the elections were held to the local levels in 2017, the Centre has already changed the names and the headquarters of 102 local levels — headquarters of 62, names of 18, and names and headquarters of 22 — the latest being the headquarters of Bhimsen Thapa Rural Municipality in Gorkha. Why should the federal government take a decision on this issue whereas the same can be done by a two-thirds majority of the council meeting of the concerned local level?
Officials at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration claim that the provision requiring the local levels to get endorsement of the Centre for changing the names and headquarters of the local levels is to bring “uniformity and stability” in governance. This is simply an excuse to retain the Centre’s power over the local levels. If the local levels decide to change their names and headquarters by following the due process of law, there is no reason for the Centre to object to it. However, such changes made once should not be revoked after every election to ensure administrative stability. In case some local levels have the same name, the federal government can assist them in changing one of the names to avoid duplication, that too, with their informed consent. The Parliament also made a mistake while enacting the Local Governments Operation Act, which allowed the Centre to retain such power. The Act must be changed with some riders to hand over power to the local levels. The primary role of the
Centre is to facilitate the sub-national governments so that they can function as per the letter and spirit of federalism.
Don’t hurry projects
The government in Nepal has the propensity to carry out development projects at the eleventh hour – towards the fag end of the fiscal year – to prevent the allocated budget from freezing. But this has telling effect on such projects, which begin to crumble in no time. Panchthar in east Nepal has just seen some newly built structures collapse in just three weeks of the start of the new fiscal year. Two people were killed when the roof of a temple under construction at Yalamber Park crashed on them, while the walls of a secondary school and a veterinary hospital have collapsed. Landslides are posing a menace at many places in the district as boulders were removed just when the monsoon began to build roads.
When such shoddy work done in a hurry is replicated across the seven provinces and 753 local units, it amounts to a colossal wastage of resources, money that could have been used on a few but highly productive projects. It makes little sense to talk about poor quality of development works when no one is doing anything to do things differently. Unless someone is held accountable for the poor quality of projects, it is unlikely that things will change for the better this fiscal, too.
A version of this article appears in print on August 09, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.