The federal republican system of governance in Nepal has been taking its roots gradually, with the federal, provincial and local governments working as per the spirit of the constitution. The country has been on track when it comes to developing institutions required for the federal system to run smoothly. However, a lot still remains to be done in terms of institutional development as well as implementing federalism in full swing. People had expected much from this system of governance in regard to facilitating service delivery and bringing about desired changes in their lives as it is a hard-won political change.
However, the nation has yet to witness the anticipated transformations. What is more saddening is that the nation has gone through continuous political instability since the start of the constitution-drafting process. The devastating April 2015 earthquake and COVID-19 were also an obstacle to an effective implementation of federalism in the country. All these have hampered the institutionalisation of the federal system in one way or the other, dampening people’s hopes. The two-tier elections that were held for the federal and provincial legislatures in November 2022 have resulted in hung parliaments, aggravating political instability. In such a scenario, the political parties are found to be involved in power plays one after another. Repeated changes in provincial governments have badly affected the performances of these subnational bodies. This type of uncertainty has not only weakened provinces but also given rise to various political anomalies.
Vote of trust
Following the November 2022 elections, the CPN-UML had forged an alliance with the CPN-Maoist Centre, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) to form governments in the centre as well as provinces. But the relations between UML, CPN-Maoist Centre could not last long, leading to an unexpected fall of the coalition government in the centre. Nepali Congress, the largest force in the House of Representatives (HoR), joined forces with CPN-Maoist Centre and other fringe parties to form the government. With that new political development, six out of seven provincial governments were toppled. On Friday (June 30), the UML-led Koshi Province government also collapsed as Chef Minister Hikmat Karki was unable to secure a vote of trust in the provincial assembly. Karki had assumed office on January 8. This has opened the door for the opposition parties to form a new government. By now, UML has been stripped of its power.
It is not easy for the ruling parties to maintain the federal as well as provincial governments in view of the lingering political instability in the country. It is quite challenging for the parties to be in the same boat for long because of their varied ambitions and interests. Even the federal government was in a shaky situation until the HoR endorsed the annual budget on Wednesday (June 28). The governing parties are reported to have reached an understanding concerning giving continuity to the Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda-led government. Janata Samajbadi Party and CPN-Unified Socialist were not satisfied with the budget. Even their top leaders had voiced their concerns over the ‘injudicious’ allocations of budget in public. Meanwhile, UML was instigating Nepali Congress to form its own government.
Provincial governments have also been criticised for their uninspiring performance. They have been unsuccessful in meeting the people’s needs and expectations when it comes to managing public finance and carrying out development activities. In the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, budget mobilisation of provinces on average stood at only 44.4 per cent. However, utilisation of development budget exceeded 50 per cent in Koshi Province during the review period. This province was found using 56.5 per cent of its total budget of Rs. 39.74 billion. But the performance of the Madhes Province was the worst as its progress remained just 31.29 per cent of Rs. 46.88 billion budget. Bagmati Province utilised 46.54 per cent of its Rs. 70.93 billion budget.
Meanwhile, Gandaki Province spent just 43 per cent of its budget of Rs. 35.9 billion while Karnali Province utilised 40 per cent of its Rs. 32.74 billion budget. The rate of budget utilisation of Lumbini and Sudurpaschim provinces was at 49.6 per cent and 43.74 per cent from their annual budgets of Rs. 42.63 billion and Rs. 36.74 billion, respectively. The utilisation of capital expenditures of provinces was also not so encouraging.
To manage the growing number of ministerial aspirants in provinces, there has been a growing wrong trend among provincial cabinets to split ministries. Thus, taxpayers’ money is not being utilised for the welfare of the people and the nation. In recent times, Madhes provincial cabinet has split one of its ministries for the third time. In the past, there were only 11 ministries in the province. The number has now increased to 14. In Bagmati Province as well, a minister without portfolio has already been appointed. This hints at the provincial government’s plan to divide one of its ministries. Lumbini and Sudurpaschim provinces also seem to be in the process of adding ministries, putting an additional financial burden on the state coffers. The move to increase the number of ministries is against the recommendations made by various expert teams.
Against this backdrop, provinces recently handed a 17-point demand to Prime Minister Prachanda. Following an Inter-Province Chief Ministers’ meeting held in Pokhara, Gandaki Province CM Surendra Raj Pandey submitted the demands to the Prime Minister, calling for strengthening provincial governments to carry out their statutory responsibilities in an effective manner. Some of the key demands include instant adjustment of police for maintaining law and order, managing disaster on time and coordinating with security agencies.
The CMs also asked the federal government to introduce the stalled Federal Civil Service Act soon and transfer ownership of lands and buildings being utilised by the provincial governments to the provinces. They have demanded that an arrangement be made to send civil servants to the provinces only after forging consensus with the concerned provincial governments. Besides, they have called for allowing the province ministries to establish direct linkage with the federal ministries as per the Federation, Province and Local Level (Coordination and Interrelations) Act, 2020.
As demanded by the Chief Ministers, the federal government, the major political parties and other stakeholders need to take necessary steps to make provinces more effective in carrying out their constitutional roles.
(The author is a deputy executive editor of this daily.)