Federalism For Effective Governance

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Following the formation of a new alliance at the Centre, which resulted in a shift in government partners, provincial governments are also changing. When alliance partners decide to change their relationship with political parties, they normally create new provincial dispensations. Even though Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has headed governments even after several changes in coalition partners after the 2022 elections, the same changes have altered the shape of state administrations. Seven provinces are now prepared to welcome new faces to their governments. Soon after a new coalition at the Centre, its members began withdrawing support for provincial governments led mostly by Nepali Congress leaders. The most recent change in provinces will be the third in one and a half years, following polls held on the same day as national elections for a federal parliament.  

The "swift alteration" of provincial governments has hurt the well-being of people in provinces. Provincial governments are regularly accused of failing to carry out development initiatives based on people’s expectations and desires. The rise and fall of provincial governments have absorbed much of the parties' time, as they have failed to advance development projects. For example, the Koshi province has seen the formation and collapse of its governments for several rounds since the 2022 elections because the number of party representatives fell short of forming a government with a majority.

Interesting incidents

The Nepali Congress termed the formation of the current Koshi government, led by Kedar Karki, a rebellious act as Karki garnered support from the UML members. As it turned out, the Maoist Centre, which was attempting to construct a Koshi government led by one of its members, saw the rebellion by Karki as a political backstabbing by the Congress, ultimately resulting in a split in the Central coalition. The current crisis at the Centre will almost surely result in new government leadership and cabinet faces in provinces. Several provinces' chief ministers, mostly from the Nepali Congress, have dismissed Maoist Centre ministers and installed ministers from non-Coalition parties at the Centre. 

The chief ministers of the Far Western, Lumbini, and Gandaki provinces have already ousted several ministers from their former partners, even though they are now facing axes because of a lack of members required to create their majority administration. Many partners in provinces include the UML, Maoist Centre, Unified Socialist Party, and JSP, which will form their governments in due time. Indeed, the shadow of central governments has a direct impact on the longevity of provincial administrations as provinces become targets of centre-based parties' overtures. It has surely prompted many in the country to doubt the true worth of federalism. 

After the adoption of the new constitution in 2015, federalism took shape with the establishment of seven provinces that serve as the cornerstone of our federal system of governance. Our federalism divides government into three levels: the federal, the provinces, and the local bodies. To empower citizens in all provinces and units, the Centre must delegate authority and responsibility to federal and local governments. However, due to the volatile nature of our governments, devolution of authority and responsibility has not occurred with the necessary swiftness. The provincial governments and various chief ministers have been heard begging the Centre to offer them adequate rights and financing so that they can carry out people-centred programmes.

However, the act of handing provinces the authority and responsibility to run administration and other functions has moved slowly, confounding the public about the federal structure. The federal government has frequently been accused of delaying the creation of laws and by-laws required for the federal system to function properly. Similarly, provincial politicians and bureaucrats are frequently accused of corruption, with tens of millions of rupees syphoned off. These people have used their budget access and decision-making power to their advantage, impeding people-oriented projects.  

Against the backdrop of a slow pace of devolution of rights and responsibilities, owing primarily to central government instability and a lukewarm response to provincial demands, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration has stated that, following the recent change of government parties, priority has been given to issues related to federalism implementation, including local-level manpower management and budget execution. Other tasks include strengthening local rights under the constitution, implementing legislation, collaborating with the three levels, and resolving uncertainties in the government's policy, programme, and budget execution at all federal levels. 

Discourse

To help with the implementation of federalism, the ministry has also initiated a discourse with stakeholders, including experts in key disciplines. Though the ministry's proclamation is commendable, instability may prevent it from achieving its objectives within the specified timeframe. Commoners may ask whether our federal administration will be able to accomplish objectives that benefit the public owing to our governance structure. Because we have an election system that has been repeatedly accused of producing hung parliaments, our administrations remain unstable, affecting the provincial government and administration. 

Political parties, their supporters, and workers frequently engage in activities that impede progress towards achieving federalism's goals. However, we are certain that by efficiently implementing federalism, Nepal would accomplish its goal of a healthy and affluent nation with justice, strong governance, and economic and social progress. Without significant changes to our governance and electoral system, our country would lack a functioning administration capable of carrying out initiatives that empower people at all levels, the ultimate goal of federalism. 

(Upadhyay is the former managing editor of this daily.) 

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