Attack on federalism unacceptableIt is important for the Nepali people to raise their voice strongly against this move.
Many have called the dissolution of the House of Representatives by the prime minister an attack on the constitution and federalism. As per Article 76 of the constitution, Parliament can be dissolved and mid-term elections held only if a new prime minister cannot be elected from the House of Representatives even after passing five different stages. But the prime minister has assassinated the House by killing the constitution that gives stability and plunged the country into a state of conflict. In fact, federalism has come to the country due to the great sacrifice, penance and sacrificial movement of the Nepali people. There have been many achievements since adopting federalism. There is fear that these achievements will be lost due to the attack on the constitution.
The basic governance structure of Nepal is made up of three tiers including federal, provincial and local levels; and more than half of the functional responsibilities have reached the provincial and local levels. The constitution has taken the rights centred in Kathmandu to the doorsteps of the people. The federal republic was institutionalised with the provision of a president and vice-president. In fact, the president is a symbol of the federal republic. Unfortunately, the president has signed the dissolution of the House of Representatives without any discussion with the political parties. Now, the president is also in the midst of a controversy.
Achievement of federalism
At least one-third of the members in the federal Parliament and provincial assemblies are women. Among the 275 members in the House of Representatives, 110 come through the proportional representation system. And out of the 550 members in the provincial assemblies, 220 come through the proportional electoral system. Those coming through the proportional representation system belong to such groups who were out of the mainstream of the state. They include women, Dalit, Janajati, Muslim, Madhesi and other vulnerable groups and communities.
An arrangement has been implemented to have one woman among the local level chiefs and deputy chiefs, and two women members in each ward. Out of the around 36,000 elected representatives at the local level, 41 percent are women. Similarly, about 20 percent represent Dalit women. If there was no federalism in the country, there would not be such a good inclusive representation.
Due to the protracted Maoist conflict, people had left their homes. There was no living environment in the village. The villages were deserted. The fertile lands were left barren. Many factories and businesses were shut down. This had direct and indirect effects on the overall revenue, income and employment of the country. After the country entered federalism, people have returned to their villages. Industry and business have flourished. Peace has returned again. The barren land is now covered with greenery. The indicators of socio-economic development including local education and health have improved.
In the previous unitary system, citizens were compelled to visit the district headquarters and the capital city time and time again even for normal paperwork. Now the people are receiving hundreds services at their doorsteps. They have found their people's representatives at their doorsteps. Now the local level is more capable than in the past due to the change in the range of resources. There used to be large crowds at the District Development Committee. Now the crowds have moved to the village and local levels. Offices such as education, health and agriculture which were located at the district headquarters have now been moved to the local level.
In the past, the government was involved in resolving small disputes around the village. Now, these rights and responsibilities have been constitutionally devolved to the sub-national levels, and problems have also become localised. Under the former unitary system, most senior-level officials were unwilling to leave the capital city. At present, there are about 100 secretaries/joint secretaries at the provincial level alone. High-ranking employees have also reached the local level. The constitution has dragged them down to the people level. This also indicates that rights have really come closer to the grassroots people.
There have certainly been many achievements since the country went federal. However, the federal government has not been so positive in implementing federalism. For example, the report of the Public Expenditure Review Commission 2019 states that the federal government has unnecessarily entered the jurisdiction of the sub-national levels. The report also includes details of about two dozen federal government departments operating in the jurisdiction of the sub-national levels.
The report also says that the ministries and agencies of the federal government have 60 percent more employees than required. Further, the federal government is not supporting the law-making process properly. The law regarding the federal civil service has been under consideration in the federal Parliament for more than two years. As this law has not been finalised, the provincial civil service act has not been passed yet. Although Provincial Public Service Commissions have been formed, they have not been able to function properly without this piece of legislation.
Atmosphere of uncertainty
While federalism is slowly gaining momentum, the House of Representatives has been dissolved, which has had an impact on the provinces. The game of accusation and mistrust has begun. There is an atmosphere of uncertainty everywhere including the functioning of sub-national governments.
Allegations have started circulating among the political parties. The administration has become a silent witness. Parliament has been dissolved due to the need to move forward by consensus on the economy following the Covid-19 outbreak. It is estimated that around Rs40 billion will need to be spent to hold the election. The economy is still in a poor situation. Even in a normal situation, it is not good to dissolve Parliament. Dissolving the House of Representatives has weakened our constitution. The implementation of federalism has been disrupted. This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. It is important for the Nepali people to raise their voice strongly against this move. It is expected that the Supreme Court will come in favour of the constitution and the people.