Vested Interests Penetrate Policies


The government shelved the education amendment bill last month giving in to the pressure of the teachers who had challenged some of its provisions. One of the key demands of the teachers was that they should be kept under the purview of the central   government like any other government employees adjusted at the federal level following the introduction of federal constitution. The teachers were unhappy and dissatisfied with the proposed legal provision that they have to work under the administrative or supervisory control of local governments. Moreover, they have also demanded to get equal pay, status and benefits as provided to the government civil servants. The teachers wrapped up their defiant protests that went on for almost a fortnight after the government agreed to address their demands following the endorsement of the six-point deal agreed with their representatives.  

Although the teachers strike has been halted for now with this deal, some points in the deal have been questioned on the ground that they are contrary to the letter and spirit of the federal constitution. The school level education comes under the mandate and competence of the local government according to the constitution. It obliges teachers to be accountable to local governments. Any step at weakening or prejudicing the exclusive constitutional competence of local government would result into jurisdictional conflict. Though there may be several procedural and behavioural reasons as to why teachers have raised objections to work under the administrative management of the local governments, their demands cannot be duly met without tampering the provision of the constitution that devolves authority of school education management exclusively to local governments. 

Moreover, prior to agreeing with teachers to dilute the local governments’ constitutional authority, it would have been better had the federal government chosen to discuss the matter with local governments as the key stakeholder on the subject. The local governments, both  rural municipalities and municipalities have their own  membership based representative organisations like  National Association of Rural Municipalities (NARMIN) and Municipality Association of Nepal (MuAN) that could discuss the matter with the government  and articulate  their positions and perspectives  on the subject.

Bureaucratic confines

This shows that the policy making process in Nepal has not been able to break the narrow bureaucratic confines and walls despite the fact that statutory provisions do underscore the need for stakeholder consultation in each step of policy formulation. Another constraint of policy making is that the  occupational groups like teachers organisations and civil servants associations, among others, are so dominant that they are able to capture the policy making process. When necessary, they are able to prevail and bear disproportionate pressure upon the policy making authority. 

The policy provisions that seek to regulate and straighten their vested interests are opposed tooth and nail. As the occupational groups are mostly affiliated with political parties or tied to the powerful political leaders directly or indirectly, government cannot take any policy decisions without the concurrence or connivance of the dominant occupational groups because of the fear of losing political favours and support. For example, teachers are a formidable occupational group who have maintained formal affiliation with different political parties. They can easily mobilise the support or curry favour of the political leaders to lobby against the policy instrument that they perceive is against their vested interests. 

Furthermore, as mentioned above, another deficient aspect of the policy making is that the stakeholders of the policy issues are not properly identified. Moreover, they are not consulted and their interests and perspectives are not taken into consideration. For example, had the teachers’ issues and interests had been discussed properly and their concerns whatsoever taken into consideration, they would not have probably hit streets of the capital.

Broadly defined, a stakeholder is a person, group, or organisation involved in or affected by policy provisions. Stakeholder engagement refers to a process by which a policy making authority involves people or groups of people who may be affected by the decisions it makes or who can influence the implementation of decisions. Stakeholders may support or oppose policy agenda with reference to their interests. The type and extent of key stakeholder engagement in policy development may depend on a number of factors including the specific context of the policy development, the purpose of the engagement, available resources and the power-sharing structure in the political and social set up.  

Participation or engagement can be defined in five broad levels. The first level of engagement is to inform through factsheets, websites and public announcements and so on. Another level of engagement is consultation through comment, focus groups discussion, opinion surveys and public meetings. Stakeholders can be involved by organising workshops, dialogue forums and so on. The important aspect of stakeholder engagement is collaboration through which policy is co-formulated and co-created in which stakeholders are valued as collaborators. 

Areas of agreement

There are several reasons to consider involving key stakeholders in policy formulation and implementation process. On a practical level, stakeholder engagement identifies areas of agreement as well as disagreement and provides an opportunity to understand more fully what may be driving key stakeholder differences. Stakeholder input may also help articulate the values of the broader community affected, and align policy recommendations with their needs and expectations. In addition, by building mutual understanding, credibility and trust, policies may be more likely to be implemented as intended by the stakeholders.

Stakeholder input is also an important factor in increasing the quality and trustworthiness of the policy aimed at improving outcomes. In Nepal policy making process needs to be thoroughly democratised in practical and behavioural terms to ensure that policy provisions are in line with the needs and aspirations of the stakeholders and broader group of citizens. 

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.

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