Upper house panel suggests fewer ministries to cut costsCalls for scrapping 10 federal ministries and reducing the number of provincial ministries to 10 percent of assembly’s size.
A special committee of the National Assembly has directed the government to reduce the number of ministries in both the federal and provincial governments for sustainable federalism. The panel has also suggested slicing off half the existing departments under the federal government.
As per the recommendations of the parliamentary special committee formed to study the implementation and monitoring of federalism, the upper house committee has directed the government to do away with 10 of the 25 ministries in the federal government and limit the number of provincial ministries to 10 percent of the total strength of that particular assembly.
“After a thorough study and consultations with experts, authorities of all three tiers of government and civil servants, we have made 99 recommendations,” said Khimlal Devkota, who heads the special parliamentary committee. “The government should implement them to ensure that federalism sustains for a long time.”
Devkota, a member of the National Assembly who is also an expert on fiscal federalism, handed over the study report to the chairman of the National Assembly, Ganesh Timilsina, at a function organised in the Capital on Thursday.
The recommendation of the National Assembly panel comes at a time when some political parties, including the right-wing Rastriya Prajatantra Party, several independent candidates and some leaders of major parties like the CPN-UML have been proposing that the provincial level be scrapped. Their major concern was the cost of sustaining federalism.
Based on the study, a meeting of the special committee formed under the Parliamentary Sustainable Development and Good Governance Committee of the upper house has directed the government to take initiatives to cut the ministries of the federal government to 15 by mid-July next year and to halve the departments under the federal government, which are now almost defunct following the implementation of federalism.
“Administrative costs have risen due to the increase in the number of provincial ministries and ministers,” stated the panel in its set of recommendations. “The number of provincial ministries must not exceed 10 percent of the total assembly members, with five provincial ministries as the bare minimum.”
There have been many studies on how many federal ministries are needed after the country adopted federalism, which allows transfer of around 60 percent of the workload of the federal government to provincial and local governments.
The Public Expenditure Review Commission led by the economist Dilli Raj Khanal submitted a report to the government in February, 2019, suggesting that the number of federal ministries be limited to 16.
The commission formed by then KP Sharma Oli government in August, 2018 had given two reasons for slashing the number of ministries—the workload of the federal government had gone down significantly with two other tiers of government at the provincial and local levels taking many of the functions of the earlier unitary state system and, secondly, to reduce the state expenditure.
In 2014, the Administrative Reform Recommendation Committee led by Kashi Raj Dahal, former chairperson of the Administrative Court, had suggested limiting the number of federal ministries to 12 once the country embraced the federal set-up.
In the report submitted to the then Sushil Koirala government in April 2014, the Dahal-led panel had suggested having 18 ministries until the general elections after the promulgation of the new constitution and reducing the number to 12 once the local and provincial governments come into operation.
The Devkota-led parliamentary special committee has also recommended the government to cut 50 percent of the civil servants and stop promoting the civil servants who have not served for at least two years. The committee also recommended keeping the chief administrative officers of the local level to the provincial governments concerned, besides setting budget ceilings for provincial and local governments.
The committee made 99 recommendations to ensure smooth functioning of federalism, along with a time-bound chart including the authorities responsible for implementing the recommendations.
The recommendations include developing laws to make civil servants accountable to their work, installing CCTV cameras at places where public services are provided, and forming a High-level Administration Reforms Commission led by the prime minister.
Though the parliamentary committee, after a thorough study, made the recommendations to the government with a time-bound action plan, committee members have doubted its proper implementations.
“It’s a matter of trusting our political leadership,” Devkota told the Post.
Experts on administrative reforms are also apprehensive about implementation.
Dahal, who is an expert on administrative reforms, also said his study panel had recommended that the provincial ministries must not exceed seven but none of the recommendations was implemented.
He pointed out three problems in administrative reforms after the country adopted federalism—unstable structural setup, managerial problems such as creating positions catering to individuals instead of need, lack of successor plan and behavioural problems.
“So far, not even 25 percent of the directives issued by parliamentary committees have been implemented,” said Dahal. “There is no basis to believe that the government and the parties have the willpower to implement the directives issued by the parliamentary committees.”