Oped

The significance of the Inter State Council

  • When provincial and local disappoint, forums such as ISC become imperative to keep the ball rolling
- Binay Mishra

Oct 8, 2018-

The month of September witnessed two major conferences in reference to the implementation of federalism in Nepal—the Chief Ministers (CMs) Conference and the meetings of the advocate generals of provinces. The CMs conference, the first of its kind hosted in Nepal, accused the federal government for being uninterested in addressing pressing matters, such as delegating rights, provincial structure, staffs’ adjustment, among other things. They also underscored the need of consensus, mutual understanding, co-existence and cooperation among the different governments.

At the conference, CMs shared their view that the government had failed to implement their budget, policy and programmes, even after six months of the formation of provincial governments, which had led them to ink the nine-point common agenda. The common agenda of the conference stresses on the need for decentralisation of legislative, financial and administrative powers and demands the formation of a high-level body chaired by Prime Minister for the implementation of federalism.

The CMs also recommended forming a permanent secretariat for the Inter-State Coordination Council that could work as a bridge between federal and provincial governments. It also demanded that the government enacted necessary federal laws to form a provincial policing body and a system for sharing revenue, based on an equitable principle with 40:60 ratio for federal and provincial and local governments. These shared issues were aimed to be raised and discussed at the much-awaited first Inter-State Council (ISC) meeting under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

 Unfortunately, the Prime Minister Office (PMO) postponed the scheduled meeting in the last hour because the PMO reportedly viewed the move as CMs groupism against federal government. In such  context, it is necessary to explore the theoretical and pragmatic significance of this issue.

Theoretical significance

Forums like ISC were developed as a response to the need for proper, watertight coordination between the various divisions of power. The areas of concurrent or shared jurisdiction inevitably existed from the very outset. These realities became qualitatively more significant in the 20th century,  particularly after the emergence of modern welfare and regulatory state in the 1930s. The rising demand for social policies spawned a new practice of shared programmes and joint financing schemes. More recently, pressure to achieve improved levels of economic integration and combating problems of natural disaster and terrorism have given a fresh impetus to intergovernmental cooperation. As a consequence, intergovernmental relations came to drive modern federal systems more than the formal constitutional set-up of divided powers. Such intergovernmental relations predominantly operated vertically, that is, between central government and governments of constituent units; however, they may also operate horizontally, that is, between constituent units themselves. Out of these developments, the concepts of cooperative federalism, collaborative federalism, pragmatic federalism, and administrative federalism arose, describing ways in which adjustment and engagement have occurred between the different levels of governments.

Practical significance

Periodical interactions between government officials and elected leaders are important for the communication of policy intensions, and also for the co-ordination of programmes and policies that are regarded as major lubricants of

co-operatives federalism. This way, co-operative federalism, can be defined as regional co-operation and interdependence of different federal bodies, especially with reference to the schemes of development that are predominantly financed by the federal government and administered primarily by provincial governments. As a result some agencies of intergovernmental cooperation have been devised in various federal system of the world. Let’s take the case of the Australian federal system, where the premier and commonwealth prime minister meet to discuss matters of general and particular interest, ranging from financial resources to constitutional reform. The Governor’s conference in the United States and Dominion-provincial conference in Canada are cases of similar institutions in two leading federal states of the world. Likewise, in the post 1990s, the liberalisation of the Indian economy and the emergence of regional parties have reinforced the need for holding inter-governmental consultations. After a longtime, the Indian government, in 2016, convened the meeting of ISC to institutionalise ‘co-operative’ federalism in India. Thus, intergovernmental cooperation in practice becomes desirable in all federations.

Because of these realities, Part 20 of the constitution of Nepal has also provisioned many such devices for multi-sector cooperation among various levels of governments. Particularly, article 234, which assigns the ISC to settle political disputes arising between a federation and a province and disputes between provinces. The council is chaired by the PM, and hosts the federal home minister and the finance minister and the chief ministers of the five provinces as its members. The council can even invite other federal and provincial ministers, if need be. 

Nepal is in its infancy in democratic federalism, and when provincial and local units run short of required government staffs, infrastructure, policies and various enactments, forums such as ISC become imperative. The nine-point common agenda agreed in the CMs conference thus should not be seen as groupism against the centre, rather their agenda and demands need to be articulated towards implementation of federalism in Nepal. It is because of two facts: firstly, because the CMs are also accountable to their provincial constituencies in reference to provincial governance, and, secondly, till the transitory period, it is the federal government’s responsibility to manage the overall national level governance.

Mishra is a research fellow at NEMAF (Nepal Madhesh Foundation)

Published: 08-10-2018 08:39

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