Saturday, 4 April, 2020
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OPINION

Enhancing Citizen-State Relations



Mukti Rijal

 

We have adopted and practiced the democratic form of government beginning from 1990. With a view to deepen and widen democratisation process we have moved further ahead by promulgating the federal democratic constitution in 2015 in which the values and institutions of republicanism are fully incorporated and embedded. The real motive of these democratic innovation and transformation is to ensure that the exercise of the state power is carried out in accordance with the consent and participation of the people. Moreover, it is also to guarantee that relationship between state and citizens is strengthened and bonded further. Needless to say, the democratic system we have embraced offers structures and possibilities of communication between ordinary citizens and the state.
But it is found that this is not being properly cultivated and realised in our context as local, state (Pradesh) and federal governments instituted according to the federal democratic constitution seem not cognizant of the need to have dialogue and communication among themselves and also with citizen stakeholders on a constant basis. The governing mechanism and process are more or less skewed against the interests and aspirations of citizens. Even today interests and whims of politicians and bureaucrats do prevail and dominate at all levels.
The policy legislation process is so bureaucratic and top down that the federal government does not bother to consult with sub national government-state and local- while formulating policies on the subjects that fall within the competency of local government. The local government stakeholders do complain time and again that the federal government has encroached on their jurisdictions to the detriment of federalisation process. Consultation with citizen stakeholders and soliciting views of civic forums and groups on issues of civic interests has become a matter of distant cry. As a result, civic aspirations have got subdued and tamed.
Most deficient part in our political and administrative system is that the public officials hold and control the public information system in a very tight fist manner. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz chooses to describe it as the asymmetry of information. He explains its consequence not only in economy but in political realm as well. Just as asymmetries give managers the discretion to pursue policies that are more in their interests than in the interests of the shareholders. The asymmetries of information allow the officials to pursue the wilful and indiscriminate discretion to implement policies that are more in their interests than in the interests of the citizens. Needless to say access to all the citizens of the required information and knowledge for meaningful and substantive participation in decision making process especially in producing public goods and services has been the key elements of the democratic political power. More important in this respect is that the modern governments are required to work for empowerment of citizen and promotion of their well- being.
The important part in this respect is that the citizens should be endowed with democratic competence to engage with the state institutions to seek accountability and claim responsive services from the public service providers. Nepal enjoys an enabling legal framework to build a vibrant transparent access regime. The Institutional and legal infrastructures like right to information act, local government operation ac, good governance act, and national information commission, among others, are in place. They are undoubtedly the important arsenals for a transparent, participatory and open democratic system. However, their implementation is weak and poor. As a result, public organisations and agencies fail abysmally to deliver services to the people Moreover, they are not subjected to civic scrutiny, sanction and discipline for their non - performance and poor result The informed discussions on the policies being pursued and projects being implemented are hardly the case. The absence of the informed democratic dialogue, deliberation and inputs has created the institutional problems both at the local and federal level. The legal and institutional frameworks like right to information law and good governance act can yield positive outcomes only when they are effectively implemented and put to practice in an ambient social and institutional setting.
The institutional design for transparency and accountability in itself is not sufficient to produce results. They should be coupled with awareness, knowledge, capacity and willingness of the both government officials and citizens- for information sharing and the democratised positive engagement. The information access regime comprises many aspects and dimensions. The information may be related to budgets, planning documentation, contracts, procurement, and government organisations/ projects and their operations and so on. However, these information are not properly shared and disseminated. As a result accountability system is very weak in structural and functional terms. In fact, citizen stakeholders are not fully aware of its provisions and lack competence and know how as to how to use and do the rich harvest of them.
Moreover, political willingness is utterly lacking and the culture of secrecy reigns dominant. In fact, it is necessary that right to information law should be enhanced and implemented effectively as the process and tool for promoting the culture of information sharing and building vigilant citizenry. Similarly, an enhanced communication and dialogue between citizen and state needs to be enhanced and participatory governance requires to be strengthened in tandem with the provisions of the federal democratic constitution. This will contribute not only to enhance integrity and probity in the political and administrative system but also strengthen citizen state relations.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at rijalmukti@gmail.com) 

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