Fault lines in federalismUnless the concerns of the states are addressed, stagnancy will prolong
Published at : December 11, 2018
Updated at : December 11, 2018 10:43
The first meeting of the Inter-State Council took place on Sunday in Kathmandu, three months after it was abruptly postponed. This marks a good beginning. But expectedly, the chief ministers were loaded with complaints regarding the centre’s apathy towards handing over authority and resources to the provinces. The centre and the provinces have been on a collision course with each other over a number of issues including mobilisation of personnel and resources, and jurisdiction. We decided to adopt a federal system because it was acknowledged that power had long been concentrated at Singha Durbar—the main administrative building in the country. Yet, almost a year on, there has been little change on the ground. Unless the concerns of the states are addressed, the fault lines in Nepali federalism could deepen.
The prolonged absence of infrastructure and legal instruments has continually made our transition to a federal system an uphill battle. The draft law for the Public Service Commission (PSC) and subsequent Provincial PSCs are yet to be put in place. This delay has continually impaired service delivery at the provincial level as there is no legislation with whose support the vacant seats can be filled. According to the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, only around 12,900 civil servants have been mobilised at the provinces against the need for 21,000. This shortage of bureaucrats has in turn hit their ability to spend the budget allocated for them.
In the first five months of the current fiscal year, the provincial governments have spent only 2 percent of their budget on average. The combined budget of all the seven provinces for the current fiscal year is Rs113.43 billion whereas their combined spending stood at Rs2.36 billion as of December 5. Singha Durbar, or the centre, on the other hand, spent 20.91 percent of its total budget during the same period, as per the federal Finance Ministry. Even when it comes to construction works, around 1,100 regional road projects have been halted for more than a month as they have not been handed over to the provinces. Only one project, the Seti Highway, was handed over to Sudurpaschim Province, and that too just a few weeks ago.
What is evident from this is that there is a tussle between the centre and the provinces at the moment. The provinces are rightly demanding their autonomy that the centre is reluctant to hand over. This dynamic relation of competition, cooperation and conflict that was hardly apparent before is what makes a federal system more enticing than other systems of government. Of course, federalism will be futile unless power is dispersed and diversity is permitted. At a time when there are already doubts whether federalism will work in Nepal or not, the government should make sure those statements won’t amount to anything more than mere speculation. Like the chief ministers rightly highlighted at the meeting, the centre must divulge power. The provinces and the local level, on the other hand, should work with utmost sincerity and ensure effective service delivery. Only when the two complement each other can federalism come to fruition.