Federal government shows no signs of devolving power, chief ministers say

  • Province representatives least convinced by prime minister’s promise at inter-state council meeting
- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Apr 28, 2019-

Without much headway during the inter-state council meeting, the tussle between the subnational governments and the federal administration seems unlikely to end anytime soon.

Chief ministers of the provinces and representatives of local governments appeared least convinced after Friday’s inter-state council meeting, saying that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli did not address the issues they have been raising for long.

“Leaders in Kathmandu are still guided by their old mindset and they have not been able to internalise the fact that coordination is key to driving federalism forward,” Prithvi Subba Gurung, chief minister of Gandaki Province, told the Post. “They have been dilly-dallying. They are neither devolving power nor providing resources.”

Friday’s was the third inter-state council meeting in five months.

The inter-state council is a constitutionally guided concept that aims to resolve political disputes arising between the federal and provincial governments as well as provincial and local governments. Article 234 of the constitution envisages an inter-state council led by prime minister with the federal home and finance ministers and chief ministers as members.One of the major bones of contention between the provinces and Kathmandu is the issue of security arrangements.

Provincials governments have objected to the federal government not only continuing with the chief district officers but also “empowering” them.

Province 2 in particular has prepared its own bill with the provision of having its own “district administrators”—a position parallel to CDOs, in a move that could further

escalate the conflict.

The federal government, on the pretext of national security, has registered a bill on peace and security at the federal Parliament, as per which chief district officers will have a key role when it comes to security and law and order matters in the provinces.

Provincial governments say this undermines their role.

Gyanendra Yadav, the minister for law and internal affairs of Province 2, said his government has already registered the bill on provincial administration at the provincial assembly. “The bill has been registered at the provincial assembly after being endorsed by the Cabinet,” Yadav told the Post over the phone.

The bill has a provision to replace the chief district officers with the district administrators.

On Saturday, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa said at a security meeting in Janakpur that Province 2 “cannot have a separate chief district officer as the constitution has not envisioned that”.

But Province 2 internal affairs minister disagrees.

“The home minister should rather read Schedule 6(1) of the constitution,” Yadav told the Post, when asked to comment on Thapa’s remarks.

Schedule 6 (1) of the constitution, which lists 21 state (province) powers, has “police administration and peace and order’ on the top.

Gurung, the chief minister of Gandaki Province, said there was no option for the federal government to amending the bills that empower chief district officers.

He also criticised the federal government for distributing resources on the basis of population and the socio-economic status of the provinces. He has been calling for an equal share of resources for all the provinces.

Prime Minister Oli, during Friday’s meeting which lasted almost nine hours, is learnt to have told the chief ministers and representatives of local governments that he would read up on the matter first.

“The prime minister said the rights given by the constitution to the provinces and local governments won’t be curbed,” said Shalikram Jammarkattel, internal affairs and law minister of Province 3, who attended the meeting in the capacity of the acting chief minister, as Province 3 Chief Minister Dormani Poudel is currently in China with President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

“But the way the federal government functions, it looks like it rather wants to continue to control power,” said Jammarkattel, citing a recent decision of the federal government to recruit temporary teachers.

Schedule 8 of the constitution gives local governments explicit authority to manage school education, as per which local governments are free to hire and fire teachers, develop curricula and hold examinations up to the 12th grade. The federal government has, however, taken a number of steps to curtail their authority.

Province 2 Chief Minister Lalbabu Raut could not attend the meeting because he was busy with his party’s conference.

Friday’s inter-state council meeting was basically called to discuss budgetary issues.

In the previous meeting of the council of December 18, chief ministers had demanded at least 33 percent of the total budget to the provinces.

Oli, it is learnt, has promised to increase the budget.

During the meeting, Chief Secretary Lokdarshan Regmi presented the progress of the federal government regarding coordination among the governments. Though Regmi said there had been 60 percent progress on the 29-point action plan prepared at the last meeting to implement federalism, chief ministers refused to accept it, claiming that the federal government had also reported things that had just been put into the process.

As per Article 235 of the constitution, the government has registered a bill at the federal Parliament on managing the inter-relationship between the federation, provinces and local units.  

Another major concern of  the provinces and local governments was the federal government’s tendency to retain all the authority instead of devolving power.

Many issues being raised by the provinces and the local level have not been addressed yet. The fiscal commission has got only the chief while the adjustment of civil servants is yet to be completed.

“More than 200 rural municipalities and 36 municipalities are without chief administrative officers and engineers,” said Ashok Byanju, chairman of the Municipal Association of Nepal. “Civil servants are yet to reach the local level. We have told the prime minister that the bills being presented at Parliament are intended to curtail the rights of the provinces and local administrations.”

Published: 28-04-2019 09:36

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