Thursday, 6 May, 2021

Federalism Shapes New Institutions


Mukti Rijal


The government headed by KP Sharma Oli has completed three years since it assumed office following the elections held for the federal parliament. The situation when it took office was not very much usual and conventional marked by a succession of governments formed one after the other in the normal and routine pattern.
The country had witnessed a systemic and epoch-making change both in the political and constitutional term. The present government was therefore the new and different typology of government formed in a new context marked by the federalisation of state structures and devolved mode of governance.

Onerous task
The present government has been thus vested with a challenging and onerous task to build structures and organisation for implementation of the federal polity in Nepal according to the provision of the new constitution. Needless to say, the federal constitution has transformed the country into a federal democratic republic. It has proclaimed that the people of Nepal are endowed with the paramount authority to exercise sovereign power. This is a distinct departure from the past.
The people have become both the de jure and de facto source of power. The rational of federal polity in Nepal has been that it has promised to end discriminations based on class, ethnicity, region, language, religion and gender through the implementation of provisions guided by progressive norms and values of federalism and principles of subsidiarity.
Moreover, the federal polity embodied in the constitution articulates its pledge to create an egalitarian democratic society in adherence to the principles of inclusion, proportional representation and participation.
The principal aspect of the federalism has been that it has made proper arrangement to transfer power from the central level to the state (Pradesh) and local government levels. Federalism is indeed a system of government in which power is divided between the national (federal) government and various sub-national governments. As defined in the Constitution, state (Pradesh) and local governments are not the representatives and subordinate agents of the central government, but democratic institutions granted exclusive powers and competences to govern in their respective jurisdictions.
With their own legislative and executive branch, in particular, state (Pradesh) and local governments are empowered to pass, enforce, and implement laws, provided they do not violate the provisions of the Constitution. This arrangement not only allows state (Pradesh) and local governments to respond directly to the interests of their local populations but also serve to check the power of the federal government. Most governmental responsibilities are shared by federal governments and state(Pradesh) and local government. The three layers of the government are involved in public policy issues like taxation, business, public service delivery and development
The present government has achieved significant milestones in institutionalizing and implementing federalism in Nepal. Assessing the achievement made so far, it can be said that federalism is taking root in Nepal with progress to note. Both institutional and regulatory environments for strengthening federalism have been created. Basic organizational, institutional and regulatory, and physical infrastructures have been already put in place.

Fiscal responsibility
Within these three years, state (Pradesh) and local governments have accounted for over thirty-two per cent of the national budget significantly boosting their fiscal responsibility. As a result, the pace of local governance and development has been accelerated in a meaningful way. However, It is seen that significant gaps exist between the needs and existing capacity at all levels of government to manage new functions and responsibilities.
Furthermore, the important and basic features of the federalism in Nepal has been that it has created avenues to create specific independent constitutional panels. These include the Women Commission, Dalit Commission, Janajati Commission, Madhesi Commission, and Muslim Commission besides the national human rights commission so on. These commissions co-exist with the National Human Rights Commission to promote and protect the human rights of the marginalized commissions. These commissions have also been given mandates to recommend changes in the laws, policies and practices that discriminate against or deny rights to the respective marginalized communities.
Despite objections and criticism, the government has appointed the commissioners in these panels to give a new boost and momentum in their structural and functional capacity. These commissions are expected not only to help make the state inclusive and representative of the voices of the people but also boost the human rights profile of the country. It needs to be noted that most of the laws in enforcing fundamental rights of the citizens have also been enacted by the Parliament.
The government has also constituted the National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission to determine objective and evidence-based formulas and basis regarding the distribution of revenue from the federal consolidated fund to the federal, provincial and local level governments. The commission is working meaningfully to define and fix scientific basis for sharing of revenue across three tiers of the government namely federal, state (Pradesh) and local governments.

State powers
According to the federal structure of Nepal, the state powers ( Rajkiya Shakti) has to be used by the three layers of the government namely federal, provincial and local subject to the provision of the constitution. It is apt to note that the power for each level of the structure has been stipulated in different schedules of the constitution.
Like in many other federal countries, the Constitution also provides for concurrent/shared power for the federation, sate(Pradesh) and local level. The power relating to any subject that is not mentioned in the list of powers of the federation, province or the local level entity, or the concurrent/shared powers of the federation and the province lay with the federation as residual powers. The government has already formulated the law to manage intergovernmental relations and govern to intergovernmental fiscal relations. It is an important achievement in resolving irritants in intergovernmental relations.
Finally, though state(Pradesh) and local governments are grappling with the capacity-related issues, it can be said with certainty that the achievement in the implementation of federalism has moved along the right trek satisfactorily.

(Rijal, PhD, writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.