Govt’s bid to push its way through the Parliament to strengthen the role of the CDO is against the spirit of federalism
The federal government’s quest to give the Chief District Officer (CDO), who is appointed by the centre, a pivotal role in the functioning of the provinces has met with considerable opposition in the Parliament, not only from members of the opposition but also from the ruling party. Despite the opposition seen while discussing ‘Some Nepal Acts Amendment Bill’ on Sunday, the parliamentary panel went ahead to include the CDO as a member of the Town Development Committee. A CDO’s role in security matters is understandable, but what responsibilities he will be fulfilling in a town’s development is bemusing. The argument by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs that development in a town was not possible without the CDO’s role is unconvincing. The reasoning that one cannot acquire land for any development purpose without the CDO according to the law sounds hollow when the federal set up has been ushered into the country. If this is the case, then the law must change.
Just a few days ago, the Parliament saw another heated debate while discussing the Civil Servants Adjustment Bill to replace the Civil Servants Adjustment Ordinance. A provision in the bill that allows the Prime Minister to appoint secretaries in the provinces has irked the lawmakers. When the provincial ministers are appointed by the Chief Minister and provincial secretaries by the Prime Minister, this is sure to invite conflict in the ministries, raising questions about their loyalty and accountability. The lawmakers decry that some of the bills brought by the government in recent times do not even give the Chief Minister the power the zonal commissioner enjoyed during the partyless Panchayat system. Instead, by giving sweeping powers to the CDOs, it has only made them as powerful as the erstwhile zonal commissioners of the autocratic era. The Internal Security Bill, now registered in the House of Representatives by the Ministry of Home Affairs, proposes to give broad powers to the CDO, including powers to mobilise the provincial police, monitor the work of the Nepal Police and provincial police, and to inspect the monitor public service delivery in the district.
The government’s bid to push its way through the Parliament to strengthen the role of the CDO is against the spirit of federalism. This might be okay for a certain period of time, during the transition phase, but ultimately, it must adopt a policy to recall the CDOs from the provinces. When the people have elected a government they want in the provinces, it is hard to see where the CDO appointed by the centre fits in there. Even if the argument is that the provinces have no experience in running a state, let us still give them the benefit of the doubt. The centre has no right to be interfering in the business of the provinces, and the CDO will only be seen as a mole working in the interest of the federal government, not the provinces. The central government should not be seen as being against the spirit of federalism, and eventually it should place the CDO, police chiefs and secretaries under the provincial government. The federal government can have the CDO as its representative in the district, but the authority governing it should lie with the provinces. Any tendency to centalise the mechanisms of power in the federal government and the bureaucracy should be avoided.
It’s encouraging to learn that Nepal will have replaced all of its risky cable contraptions, called the tuin in Nepali, by suspension trail bridges in the next two years. Of the 135 cable contraptions that were operating in different parts of the hills and mountains, 115 have already been replaced, and a Detailed Project Report has been prepared to phase out the remaining 20. Though highly risky, young children, for instance, have no option but to cling on to a tuin if they want to cross a river to go to school.
The government had announced in October 2015 that all such cable contraptions would be phased out, and the progress has been satisfactory. Nepal’s hinterland is not seeking huge projects when it calls for development. Small interventions like the trail bridge, micro-hydropower projects, small drinking water schemes and foot-trails can make a huge difference in the lives of the people there. These schemes do not require huge capital, and they can be maintained by locally trained technicians. After the cable contraptions, what next? The government could perhaps start planning right now.
A version of this article appears in print on February 12, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.