Shift in political dynamics may lead to oversized governments in provinces, experts warnWith UML no longer in power at the centre, provincial governments are also undergoing shake-ups. But there is a risk of the new power-sharing deal leading to bloated cabinets.
Nepali Congress leader Krishna Chandra Nepali Pokharel on June 13 formed a coalition government in Gandaki Province replacing CPN-UML’s Prithvi Subba Gurung.
Gurung resigned after his party fell into minority when the assembly members from the CPN (Maoist Centre), Rastriya Janamorcha and an independent member withdrew their support to the provincial government.
As the UML is the largest party in Gandaki with 27 seats, Pokharel needed the support of all the remaining parties including the independent lawmaker to secure a majority. In return for support, Pokharel had to induct ministers from all the parties, except for Rastriya Janamorcha, which raised the number of members in his Cabinet to 11.
Gurung had seven ministers in his Cabinet for three and a half years.
The Constitution of Nepal allows a provincial council of ministers to have up to 20 percent of the total provincial assembly members. Article 167 (2) of the statute says the chief of state shall, on the chief minister’s recommendation, constitute the State Council of Ministers consisting of a maximum 20 percent of the total number of assembly members, including the chief minister, following the inclusive principle, from amongst the assembly members.
The Gandaki provincial assembly has 60 members, which means the provincial council of ministers can have 12 members at most.
The Karnali government has eight ministers, the maximum number permitted by the constitution as the province has 40 assembly members.
The size of the Karnali Cabinet led by Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, a Maoist Centre leader, increased after he inducted the ministers from the Nepali Congress in order to survive after the KP Sharma Oli-led UML withdrew its support to his government.
Like in Gandaki and Karnali, the other provincial governments are also competing to increase the size of their cabinets after the change in the political dynamics as a result of the March 7 Supreme Court verdict that split the then Nepal Communit Party (NCP) and revived its constituents CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre).
Before the party split, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led six of the seven provinces, except for Province 2. And prior to the merger between the UML and the Maoist Centre in May 2018, the former led the governments in four provinces and the latter in two with each other’s support.
Even after the party break-up, the UML remains the largest party in all the six provinces. The only way to form governments in these provinces without the UML’s support is to get all other parties to come together but this could lead to an increase in the size of the council of ministers as in the case of Lumbini and Karnali.
“There is unhealthy competition among the provinces in increasing the size of their cabinets in order to manage political and power interests of the political parties,” Kashi Raj Dahal, former chair at the administrative court, told the Post. “This is a result of dirty politics which is ultimately ruining people’s faith in the provincial governments.”
The Dahal-led Federalism Recommendation Committee had recommended in December 2014 that the provincial governments shouldn’t have more than seven ministries. Until the change in the recent political dynamics, most of the provinces had seven ministries.
Dahal says when the provincial governments have functioned with seven ministries for three and a half years, increasing their size now when these governments have hardly one and a half years left is clearly a misuse of state resources.
In the latest incident of new government formation, Kul Prasad KC of the Maoist Centre took over the office of chief minister in Lumbini Province after UML’s Shanker Pokhrel resigned from the post.
After taking charge, KC inducted seven ministers and he plans to expand his Cabinet in a couple days.
The Province 2 government too now has 12 ministers after the Congress and the Maoist Centre joined the Janata Samajbadi Party government last month.
“This is unfortunate. The provincial governments don’t need more than five ministries,” said Khim Lal Devkota, a National Assembly member and an expert on federalism. “The very constitutional provision that allows 20 percent of the provincial assembly members to become ministers is wrong. We have to raise our voices to revise it to 10 percent.”
Devkota says billions of rupees will be spent in administrative costs if all the provinces start having bloated governments in the name of power sharing.
According to him, the internal income of Karnali Province is around Rs1 billion and it is around Rs2 billion in Sudurpaschim.
“A large chunk of the internal income will be spent to meet administrative costs if the provincial governments keep on increasing the size of their cabinets,” Devkota said.
Bagmati, the largest province in terms of provincial assembly members, has eight ministers including a state minister. Karnali Province, whose assembly is one third the size of Bagmati, has the same number of ministers.
“Bagmati Province will have 22 ministers if 20 percent provision of the constitution is applied,” Devkota told the Post. “We must discourage the ongoing competition in adding ministers.”