Dr. Khimlal Devkota, Member, National Assembly, Nepal
The government’s reluctance to implement federalism properly is proven by many examples. One prominent illustration is the failure to create a police force at the provincial level. The provincial governments still do not have their own police force. Another example is the government’s failure to enact federal civil service laws. Their absence has created significant challenges at the subnational levels. Lack of control over the security force and civil service personnel raises questions about the autonomy and effectiveness of the subnational governments.
The government’s ability to promote good governance and ensure the success of the federal system is in question.
The Inter-Province Council (IPC), comprising the prime minister and chief ministers, convened in December 2019 and endorsed an action plan to facilitate the implementation of federalism across 29 distinct thematic areas and 84 points.
As per the timeline, most of the activities were to be completed by April 2019. However, the Prime Minister’s Office reports that many of these activities have not been executed. Several critical laws pertaining to education, agriculture, tourism and others, besides the criteria for the formation of local government services, were to be drafted by April 2019. That hasn’t happened either.
Furthermore, it must be pointed out that no IPC meeting has taken place for four years. The government’s failure to implement the IPC decisions, and the prolonged postponement of its meetings, are clear evidence of its insincerity.
What the people want
The Nepali people have consistently fought for democracy, and the government system has been changed repeatedly due to unmet expectations. Over the past 75 years, Nepal has seen seven constitutions and experimented with various forms of government. These frequent constitutional and system alterations have disrupted the nation’s development and prosperity.
What the people truly desire is development, good governance, prosperity, peace and security, the rule of law, and other progressive improvements, rather than a specific government system. Therefore, in order to align with the people’s expectations, a 15-point resolution regarding the implementation of federalism was introduced in the National Assembly in June 2022. This resolution aims to enhance the overall government system, including reforms in intergovernmental relationships, and address the core concerns of the populace.
The Assembly unanimously approved the resolution, and instructed the government to implement it. On October 14, 2022, a cabinet meeting approved the action plan related to the resolution’s implementation. However, it appears that the government is unaware of its own action plan, let alone the Parliament’s instructions. According to the action plan, the IPC meeting should take place every year in March-April. Yet, as of today, there has been no progress in scheduling a meeting.
The action plan included a schedule to collaborate with the Policy Research Institute aiming to ensure consistency in policymaking and law formulation across all three tiers of government. Regrettably, this initiative has not commenced as of yet. Furthermore, a decision was made not to allocate small schemes and programmes under the name of conditional grants from the current fiscal year 2023-24. Even then, many small plans and programmes have been distributed through the budget statement.
While the constitution grants the Fiscal Commission the authority to determine the overall pool of fiscal transfers, legislation has curtailed the commission’s rights. The action plan has outlined that corrections in the laws will be made within a year, but no progress has been made thus far. Likewise, the action plan outlined the adjustment of the provincial police force within a year, which has also not seen any progress. Additionally, the action plan promised to resolve the issues faced by subnational-level employees by the end of the second week of July 2023, but there has been no visible improvement in their situation. Considering these facts and evidence, it is apparent that the government may not be fully committed to the proper implementation of federalism.
The Federalism Implementation Study and Monitoring Parliamentary Special Committee, formed by the National Assembly in June 2022, presented a report in October 2022. This report encompasses recommendations that touch upon various aspects of governance, such as formulating and implementing laws to protect the rights of economically disadvantaged and marginalised groups. It also addresses issues raised by the Constitutional Commission and delves into administrative, fiscal, and political federalism.
The Assembly, in response to the committee’s report, instructed the government to execute these recommendations. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal pledged to sincerely oversee its implementation. The report, if executed sincerely, has the potential to resolve citizen concerns and enhance the governance and federalism system. Recommendations include drafting laws to ensure inclusive representation in state organs and women’s participation in the electoral system, both at the federal and provincial levels. The creation of a joint Parliamentary Committee for Federalism, the development and implementation of an action plan based on parliamentary committee recommendations, and the establishment of a decentralisation plan to delegate responsibilities to subnational levels are highlighted.
Moreover, the report suggests organising training and public awareness programmes on federalism, democracy, and the rule of law from the central to the local levels. It also emphasises the need for equal and easy access to state services, the safeguarding of the rights of marginalised communities, and the creation of a trustworthy environment to combat violence, abuse and discrimination against vulnerable groups.
Implementing fundamental rights, including social security, dignified living conditions for senior citizens, and the guarantee of human rights, is considered essential. To maintain consistency within the administrative system and the spirit of the federal democratic republican governance, the report suggests forming a high-level administration reform commission chaired by the prime minister. It advocates for a legal and policy framework to ensure that the chief executive officer of the local level is not below the under-secretary level. Discussing matters in sectoral thematic committees before presenting bills in Parliament is recommended to maintain consistency in laws across different government tiers.
While the report serves as a valuable foundation for comprehensive government reform, it is disheartening that the government’s implementation appears insincere. The leaders who spearheaded the movement for republic and federalism now hold power, but their commitment to implement federalism properly seems lacking. Currently, support has surged for the former king and new political parties, potentially due to the government’s underperformance and people’s disillusionment with the established political parties. Failure to meet the people’s expectations could lead to increased dissatisfaction with the system. To address this, the government and major political parties must align their actions with citizen expectations. It is a time for honest action rather than indulging in idle gossip or blaming others.