Local and provincial governments take exception to national budget

  • Representatives say diminished share of budget for the upcoming fiscal year shows federal government’s centralised mindset
- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Jun 1, 2019-

The local and provincial entities have expressed serious reservations over the national budget presented on Wednesday saying that the fiscal estimates are against the principle of federalism and guided by the centralised mindset of the federal government.

They have said that the federal government’s tendency to keep a majority of the national budget as its prerogative shows it does not want to strengthen the local and provincial governments that are directly linked with the general public.

The total funds to be received by the provincial and local governments for the fiscal year 2019-20 stand at Rs 464 billion, hardly 30 percent of the total Rs 1.53 trillion allocation. This is around four percent less than they have got this fiscal year.

The two tiers of government received Rs 442.74 billion—33.66 percent—of the 1.315 trillion budget in the current fiscal year. Khadga Bahadur Khatri, the minister for physical infrastructure development of Karnali Province, said the federal government was taking every possible step to weaken the provincial and local governments. The federal government has kept 70 percent of the budget with it while the remaining 760 governments—753 local and 7 provincial—have got just 30 percent.

“Had the federal government been sincere, the allocation would have been reverse—70 percent for the local and provincial levels and 30 percent for itself,” he told the Post. He was also unhappy that the budget treats all provinces, irrespective of their development status, equally. Khatri said the government had to announce a special package for the provinces like Karnali that are lagging behind.

Representatives of the sub-national governments are also unhappy that even the significant chunks of budget meant for them are allocated as conditional grants, tying their hands to spend the money in sectors of their priority. Of the total, Rs 168.24—over 36 percent—has been allocated as conditional grant.

Representatives of the two levels of government allege that the Centre is working fully against the ruling party’s electoral slogans that said federalism would take ‘Singha Durbar to the people’s doorsteps’: meaning that service delivery would be fully decentralised. In federalism, the Centre is required to make policy-level decisions and carry out mega projects with the medium and small projects left for the provincial and local governments, respectively.

But both the federal budgets presented by the government commanding a two-thirds majority in Parliament show that Kathmandu is in no mood to share the authority it has wielded for decades. Bhim Prasad Dhungana, general secretary of the Municipal Association of Nepal, an umbrella body of municipalities across the nation, said the federal government is treating them as entities that follow its command. “We object to this anti-federal budget,” he told the Post. “I want to remind the federal government that we aren’t its subordinate bodies.”

The representatives of local governments say they are surprised to see that the federal government still wants to be involved in small constructions like school buildings, playgrounds, and marketplaces. As the authority of managing school education remains with the local government, they want the federal government not to engage in any activities related to the sector.

Dhungana says allocating Rs 60 million to members of the House of Representatives in the name of development at the local level too is against the spirit. “What is the need of local governments if federal Members of Parliament engage in construction of local roads

and drinking water projects?” he questioned.

The federal government had said last year that it would gradually increase the budget share of the other two levels of government by setting up necessary mechanisms. Last year, the provincial and local governments lacked laws, staff deployment was inadequate while they were still building their administrative structures.

“It is inexcusable this time. We will raise the issue with the federal government,” Jitendra Sonal, the Province 2 minister for physical infrastructure development, told the Post.

Published: 01-06-2019 12:34

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