Waiting for the benefits

  • The change that federalism has brought to the people of Nepal is a bigger tax burden
The ability to collect taxes properly and spend them properly are two key measuring rods of the success of a government

Jul 23, 2018-Almost three years have passed since Nepal adopted a new constitution in September 2015. All three tiers of government are now operating in full swing following the local, provincial and federal elections. Altogether, 35,863 representatives, including 275 representatives at the federal level, 550 at the provincial level and 35,038 at the local level, have been elected. Likewise, there are 24 ministers at the federal level and 49 ministers at the provincial level. However, the federal system is yet to deliver as the new structures are entangled in various complications due to procedural overlap and confusion over jurisdiction among the three tiers.

Openness and easier access to services has increased after the local bodies were formed. People don’t have to go to the district headquarters anymore for something like paying the property tax as they can pay it at the local level. However, a lot more has to be done to enjoy the fruits of the federal system. Local bodies have not been able to fully utilise their mandate. Lack of knowledge about writing legislation and scarcity of staff remain the crux of the problem. As per recent news reports, around 50 percent of the local bodies failed to issue their budget by the June 24 deadline as required by law.

When people voted for their local representatives last year, they thought their problems would be over. Providing easy and effective access to public services is the main objective of the federal system. However, if the implementation aspect is loose and if the implementing actors fail to adopt a democratic culture, the intended result cannot be achieved. Previously, the fate of many local development plans used to be decided by the central budgetary system. However, passing local development plans and arranging the budget by the local bodies themselves have created a different situation. Locals do have access to their representatives and can put forth their demands directly, but local officials say they come with a pile of demands.

The main financial basis of running the state is tax revenue that is collected from the people in a democracy. The ability to collect taxes properly and spend them properly are two key measuring rods of the success of a government. An inability to collect taxes properly and misuse of taxpayer money by the authorities is a longstanding disease in Nepal. Local bodies are authorised to determine and collect property tax from the people in the new federal system. However, if the centre’s disease is transmitted to the newly formed local bodies, the dream of development and transformation will vanish to the benefit of local power holders and vested interests.

People at local level have not yet benefitted as per the federal provisions. There is a situation where the central bodies point to the local bodies, and the local bodies express their inability due to budget scarcity or lack of legal provisions. A headmaster of a secondary school in Sankhuwasabha said the federal system had created chaos and confusion as the central and local bodies are unable to make proper coordination. The school has not obtained approval to upgrade to the secondary level, as a result, it cannot hire sufficient teachers, and many students have to cram into a classroom. The headmaster revealed a common problem faced by schools where the Ministry of Education passes the buck to the local bodies, and the local bodies cite lack of resources for their moribund state.

During the Panchayat days, a multiparty system was regarded as the panacea to the country’s problems, but that did not happen. Likewise, federalism was also seen as the answer to all problems. However, people are not getting their dividends even after one year. Rather, they have become the victims of increased taxes with little or no return in the form of service in many cases.

Acharya is a lecturer at Tribhuvan University

Published: 23-07-2018 08:01

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