Things to do before the budgetInstitutional structures at the federal level should be reduced by at least a quarter.
Khim Lal Devkota
After the restructuring of the state, three levels of government are carrying out their constitutional functions. But there is a huge shortage of officials at the subnational levels. For example, in Sudurpaschim Province, there are positions for 24 under-secretaries at the administrative division, but there is only one official working there. In terms of the local level, many wards that are closest to the people do not even have ward secretaries. Provincial Public Service Commissions have been formed for the management of subnational level officials; but due to lack of laws, these commissions have not been able to work properly. The Federal Civil Service Bill, which deals with staff management up to the ward level, has been stuck in Parliament for two years. The government's policies, programmes and budgets need to pay special attention to solving staff management issues. Since most of the responsibilities of the previous unitary system have gone to the subnational levels, many old laws are not in line with the constitution. After the change in the basic structure of the state, it is necessary to revise all the laws.
The subnational levels are now making laws. Some laws are in conflict with the jurisdiction of levels of other government, and some have quality problems. There are disputes between different levels of government over housing tax, agricultural income tax and natural resources tax. Although some laws related to fundamental rights have been enacted, many laws are yet to be made. With the proper management of staff, it is necessary to formulate policies, programmes and budgets by giving high priority to law formulation and implementation.
Office buildings needed
Another important aspect of the institutional structure is office buildings. Many wards do not even have offices. It is necessary to focus on building the institutional structure of the ward office including the local level. Further, it is necessary to build large office buildings in the designated places of the provincial capital. In the name of various programmes and projects, there is a bad tendency to unnecessarily add more institutional structures at the federal level. Such institutional structures increase administrative costs and badly affect the jurisdiction of the subnational levels. Instead of reducing the institutional structures, the federal government is increasing them in the name of various projects, and the provinces are increasing the structures side by side with the federal government. This needs to be reviewed seriously.
In order to strengthen federalism in Nepal and earn the trust of the people, it is necessary to reconsider the number of ministers in the provinces so that it does not exceed 10 percent of the members of the Provincial Assembly. It is also necessary to review the institutional structures at all levels of government. Further, institutional structures at the federal level should be reduced by at least a quarter. In order to make the services provided to the citizens at the local level effective and accountable, it is necessary to formulate policies, programmes and budgets that fully include performance measurement-based grant distribution at the local level.
It is necessary to measure the performance of the local level in coordination and cooperation with the provinces on the basis of some indicators like non-submission of the budget on time, non-audit, non-disclosure of income and expenditure details, annual progress review and non-submission of annual and quarterly details, and non-disclosure of movable and immovable property. It is necessary to include a larger portion of the fiscal equalisation grants going to the local level in the performance measurement tool. This tool will create competition between the local level entities. But this requires coordination and cooperation between the Ministry of Finance, the Fiscal Commission and the concerned provincial governments.
The practice of intergovernmental relationships is an important tool for the consolidation of the federal system of governance. The constitution and the laws provide for various institutional structures to strengthen intergovernmental relationships. They are the Inter-Provincial Council, Provincial Coordinating Council, Intergovernmental Fiscal Council, National Coordinating Council and Sectoral Committees. But these institutions are not as active as they should be. In order to move the country forward on the basis of coordination and to increase the citizens' attachment to federalism, continuous coordination of these institutions is necessary.
Resources for villages
Despite having a three-tier and majority government, changes have not been felt as per the expectations of the people. Many resources are being concentrated in accessible areas when more and more resources have to go to the most marginalised areas. There are no schools or health posts in remote areas. However, view towers are being built in large urban areas. As per the spirit of the constitution, the operation and management of large-, medium- and small-scale projects should be done by the federal, provincial and local governments respectively. But like local-level entities, the federal government is also involved in small-scale programmes and projects. Even in the same project, there has been widespread misuse of resources due to the budgets of all three governments.
Entrepreneurs and citizens have complained that neither the federal nor the subnational levels have addressed the issue of the Covid-19 pandemic seriously. During the first phase of the pandemic, people came from India in large crowds. The situation is similar during the second wave of the pandemic. But our governments have not been able to keep the citizens in the villages for even two-three months. The Prime Minister's Employment Programme and the Prime Minister's Agriculture Modernisation Project, which were formed for job creation, have not been very effective. It is necessary to make these programmes more systematic and effective in coordination with the provincial governments, and bring programmes targeted at the Covid-19 pandemic. The subnational level entities should be able to exercise the rights conferred by the constitution. None of the government levels should overstep their constitutional mandates. These aspects also need to be taken into consideration while formulating the budget.