Making federalism workPersonnel and infrastructure should be provided to make local governments effective
Nepal has adopted a federal structure under which local governments are autonomous, and they have the right of self-decision, self-control and self-management. Local governments are responsible for delivering administrative services and development as per the choice and voice of the people. Furthermore, the constitution has granted local governments a judicial role too. They have to hear civil cases and pass judgment. Very few local governments in the world enjoy such power.
There is no doubt that local governance is the foundation of democracy and a major pillar of our nascent federalism. The implementation of the constitution and federalism is impossible without strengthening local governance. The newly elected local representatives have a high level of morale and enthusiasm, but they are facing many challenges. Most local units have no office buildings or sufficient space to perform their designated tasks. This is especially true for new municipalities and those who don’t have their own resources. According to the new system, the offices of line ministries like education, health, agriculture and livestock come under local jurisdiction; but they are scattered all over which is a problem for the local government in terms of job assignment and control.
Similarly, the work of local governments has been badly affected due to the lack of administrative and technical staff. The government has seconded officials from different offices at the central and regional levels to the local units, but most of them are reluctant to go where they have been assigned. Consequently, local service delivery is ineffective and development efforts have been hit. As per a preliminary estimate of the government, there should be at least 37,000 employees at the local level to ensure smooth and efficient service delivery.
Furthermore, local levels have to do diverse kinds of work while facing logistical challenges. Most political and administrative heads are using rented vehicles which creates pressure on the local budget. In addition, they don’t have sufficient furniture, computers and other electronic equipment to facilitate day-to-day tasks. Revenue generation at the local level is important to strengthen the local government and implement fiscal federalism. Autonomy to the local level depends on revenue formation and mobilisation capacity. Barely 10 percent of the 753 local units are financially independent.
The government has been trying to overcome all these challenges, but the efforts have been insufficient. Due to a slim exchequer and budget deficit, the government has been indecisive about addressing demands at the local level. Around Rs240 billion in grants was allocated at the beginning of this fiscal year but it proved to be insufficient to meet local needs.
Similarly, the government is going to allocate funds for the construction of local level offices. The agenda will probably be inserted in next year’s budget. A number of proposals submitted by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development for strengthening the local level are being considered by the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development has sent 30 model laws and bylaws to support local governments in formulating basic laws to conduct their daily activities. Several training programmes related to planning and budget formulation, revenue improvement, financial management, disaster management and climate change adaptation have been conducted at the local level to help them become more efficient.
The above mentioned efforts are not adequate to enhance the effectiveness of local governments. The central government should make greater efforts to strengthen them. Problems related to physical, financial and human resources should be dealt with immediately. This does not mean that the federal government can address all kinds of demands and expectations immediately, but there should be a prepared action plan with priorities and a time frame. Everybody is aware that the government has insufficient resources, but it should ensure that the available resources are being used in the essential sectors. Nepal’s development partners are happy to support the local governments. Hence, the central government should take the initiative to mobilise such cooperation for the empowerment of the local level.
It is said that the bureaucracy has a tendency towards centralisation, and that they want to retain power at the central level. This is true to some extent. The bureaucracy is a part of governance, so it should play a supportive role to implement federalism. The adjustment of civil personnel should be completed as soon as possible so that local governments will have the essential human resources.
The line ministries must expedite the process of handing over charge to their local offices and including physical resources. The effectiveness of local government is not only a constitutional provision but also a medium to promote the happiness of locals and communities. The political and administrative leadership must be sincere and dedicated to make local governments strong and effective. Everybody’s support is expected to internalise the agenda.
Adhikari is joint secretary, Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development