Chief ministers press for devolution of power

  • Provincial leaders blame federal government for held-up state affairs
- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Feb 19, 2019-

The centralised mindset of the federal government is the major hurdle to full-fledged functioning of the provincial governments, according to six chief ministers who gathered in the Capital on Monday to participate in a panel discussion during the first Kantipur Conclave, the Kantipur Media Group’s global event.

The newly drafted laws and the delay in delegating fiscal authority to the provincial and local governments reflect the federal government’s unwillingness to embrace federalism wholeheartedly and go against the constitution, they said.

“The Centre must understand that the provinces were set up to implement their own vision and policies based on need rather than its prescriptions,” said Chief Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung of Gandaki Province. “That the Centre will decide the fate of the provinces is a major obstruction.”

Province 1 Chief Minister Sher Dhan Rai took a similar dig when he spoke of Kathmandu undermining the capabilities of the provinces and its unwillingness to delegate powers as envisioned in the Constitution.

“While the provincial governments have been pushing for powers bestowed on them by the Constitution, the federal government, meanwhile is asking for our patience and taking us lightly,” he said.

Excluding Mohammad Lal Babu Raut from Province 2, all other chief ministers hail from the Nepal Community Party (NCP), the party leading the federal government. Raut’s party (Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal) chairman Upendra Yadav is the deputy prime minister and health ministers. Statements from the chief ministers expose how the ruling party leadership is reluctant to devolve powers to its second rung leaders who steer the provinces.

According to Raut, who is one of the most vocal opponents of the federal government, Kathmandu’s actions intend to weaken the provinces. “It is because the person who has always been against federalism is in the leadership [position] at the Centre,” Raut said without naming Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The federal government is keen to run a parallel administration in the provinces by retaining and even empowering entities like the district administration offices, he said.

“The constitution doesn’t recognise the chief district officer,” said Raut. Those who welcomed the constitution with a fanfare in 2015 were now at the forefront of flouting its provisions, he remarked.

Chief Minister Dormani Poudel of Province 3, a former mayor of Hetauda, said he had more authority as the mayor when he led the municipal office twice in the past. “Successive governments and their leaderships did nothing towards formulating laws to devolve powers after the promulgation of the constitution. Had they done their duty, things would have been different now,” said Poudel, who added that all three tiers of the government are independent and autonomous.

While the chief ministers accuse the federal government of restraining them, they also accept that the newfound political reality of running the provinces is an entirely new practice and that things would take time.

“Revamping the centralised governance and administration that has been in practice for decades, if not centuries, is not easy. Federalism is both a political and social process,” Shankar Pokharel, chief minister of Province 5, told the session moderated by Kantipur Editor-in-Chief Narayan Wagle. “The mindset that only Kathmandu can deliver needs to change.”

The present focus is on criticising the government rather than discussing the constitution and its spirit, he said. “Various quarters, more importantly the media, have a major role in changing this mindset both at the political and social levels.”

Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi of Karnali Province, a former Maoist guerrilla commander, stressed the need to revamp the system, warning that the recent activities of the federal government could sow the seed for another conflict. “The constitution clearly demarcates the jurisdiction of the three-level governments but the Centre’s interpretation to validate its monopoly is wrong,” he said.

All the six chief ministers gathered for the panel discussion pressed for devolution of powers so that the provinces can exercise fiscal, administrative, governance and legal autonomy. The ‘Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali’ motto can be realised only if the provinces are able to exercise their rights, they said.

Trilochan Bhatta, chief minister of Sudurpaschim Province, was not present in the panel discussion.

Published: 19-02-2019 07:49

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