As officials prepare to amend local government law, municipalities want jurisdiction defined clearlyLocal governments want law to allow them to exercise their power in areas of education and registration of businesses, among others.
As the centre prepares to amend the Local Government Operation Act 2017, local authorities have asked the federal government to cement their exclusive rights granted by the constitution.
Local governments have long been complaining that a lack of clarity in the provisions of the Local Government Operation Act has been enabling the federal government to encroach upon their exclusive jurisdiction stated in schedule 8 of the constitution.
Ashok Byanju Shrestha, chair of Municipal Association of Nepal, a grouping of the municipalities said that municipalities want clear provisions in the law that would ensure that their powers are not trampled upon by federal or provincial governments.
“Currently, by taking advantage of the lack of clear provisions in the law, the federal government has been infringing upon the jurisdiction of local governments,” he said.
The association, which recently wrote to the government with a list of suggestions, has demanded that local governments be given full authority on affairs related to the regulation of cooperatives, registration of businesses and management of education.
The association pointed out that a municipality was barred from exercising its authority over education by a court order due to lack of clarity in the law.
Ghodaghodi Municipality, Kailali, in 2018 was preparing to merge six schools in the municipality to provide better facilities to its students. As per section 11 (2) of the Local Government Operation Act, local governments are authorised to merge schools and manage their property.
However, the Dipayal High Court ruled last year that the local government failed to follow due procedure to do so. According to the association, the court ordered that the municipality first formulate its own laws to merge schools. Ghodaghodi Mayor Mamata Prasad Chaudhary said that the merger couldn’t go ahead after the court order.
Similarly, the federal government continued to maintain its presence in local schools by establishing the Education Development and Coordination Unit, which has been assigned to maintain records of teachers, conduct exams for grades 10, 11 and 12, and liaise between the federal and local governments to implement the centre’s projects
The unit, which was reduced to small departments under the District Administration Office after local governments came into existence, now have been revived as bodies subordinate to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
The federal government has also denied local governments their right to recruit teachers in primary and secondary schools, the association says.
The association has also complained that several federal laws contradict each other when it comes to the jurisdictions of the local governments.
Provisions of the Forest Act introduced last year contradicts with the provisions of the Local Government Operation Act, which has allowed 10 percent of royalty earned by selling forest products to go to local governments. In addition to the forest law, provisions of laws related to the registration of enterprises also contradict with that of the Local Government Operation Act, according to the association.
Federal authorities said that the amendment would help reduce ambiguities in the law regarding the jurisdiction of the local governments.
“The main focus of the amendment is to clarify ambiguities in the prevailing laws and to make clear provisions on monitoring and reporting,” said Pralhad Kumar Karki, under secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration.
According to him, the new law will incorporate specific provisions regarding public hearing and social audit to improve governance at the local levels and come up with specific provisions on how local governments are to report to the provincial and federal governments regarding a number of issues such as their expenses. Another priority of the federal government is to clarify the roles of district coordination committees as their role has remained unclear.
On the issue of education, Karki admitted that there is a need for clarity on what the federal government’s role should be in primary and secondary education. “The federal government;s involvement is expected in areas such as courses and examinations to bring uniformity across the country,” he said. “We should not forget that schedule 9 of the constitution categorises education under the concurrent jurisdictions of all three levels of government.”