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  • The centre must devolve power to the provinces

Nov 12, 2018-

Although our political parties agreed to change the country’s unitary system of government to a federal system a decade ago, it was the 2015 Constitution that established it. The three tiers of elections-local, provincial, and federal-led to widespread excitement as it was expected to revive democracy at the grassroots, and involve local communities in their own development and future planning.

Decentralisation and the strengthening of subnational governments and administrative units are indispensable elements for the successful and efficient implementation of a federal system of government.

But our government has yet to realise this. Even after almost a year since the ambitious decentralisation reform, we have failed to administer its Federal Public Service Commission Act.

The central government has been delaying the drafting of necessary federal laws, running the risk of putting it on a collision course with provincial governments. Provincial governments have been rightly raising concerns against Kathmandu’s reluctance to devolve power to the provinces, in defiance of the spirit of federalism.

There is a serious shortage of staff at the provincial and local levels. But in the absence of  a Federal Civil Service Act, there’s been subsequent delay in the implementation of Provincial Civil Service Act and local-level service act too. Without these acts in place, permanent adjustment of government staffers will be difficult. It is necessary for the federal law to come into full effect before the corresponding provincial law for the sake of consistency in their provisions. Amid complaints of a lack of human resources, some provincial governments have started introducing laws on their own, much to the chagrin of the federal government. Such acts have recently widened the rift between federal and provincial governments.

As long as the centre decides to keep retaining all the decision-making power, decentralisation reform will make no sense. Granted, the transition from a unitary government to a federal one will not be as smooth. But that said, it is embarrassing to note that despite eight months since taking office, our lawmakers-whose primary job is to draft laws and institutionalise the federalism-are dawdling. Crafting laws is a serious exercise to be handled with sagacity and skill, based on proper consultations with stakeholders. Its casual treatment will naturally invite wrath from subnational entities.

Here’s what needs to happen: the centre has to let go its habit of holding on to power. It needs to expedite the federal law-making process so that the provincial governments can start recruiting new staff they need urgently for effective service delivery. Federalism is based on the trust between the centre and the constituencies. The minute the subnational governments start feeling the centre is restricting-and resisting-autonomy and derailing their progress, the viability of federalism comes into question.

Published: 12-11-2018 09:42

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