Fear of letting go


Bhanu Bhattarai

Less than a year into federalism, and Nepalis already seem fed up. There is utter confusion from the ward level to Baluwatar about how this is supposed to work. The constitution guarantees 35 areas of exclusive jurisdiction to the federal government in Kathmandu (like foreign affairs and defence). Provincial governments have 21 exclusive rights and local governments exercise their rights over 22 items. There are many other matters on which all three tiers of government share mandates.

The constitution also provides for local and provincial laws to be scrapped if they contradict federal laws. All this to-and-fro is delaying the passing of requisite laws in provincial assemblies and local councils, affecting development projects, and even the supply of essential medicines to government hospitals and rural health posts.

Read Also: Starting from zero, Guest Editorial

Out in Pokhara, the representatives of Province 4 assembly are not waiting for things to be cleared up, they are passing all 22 necessary laws by June so village and town councils can start functioning as they should.

At the heart of this unnecessary delay is the reluctance of central ministries, politicians and their parties in Kathmandu to devolve decision-making and the right to raise revenue to local governments. For example, property taxes are supposed to be the authority of local government, but it is still being raised by district units of the central Land Revenue Department.

Pokhara Municipality used to receive from the centre its share of land revenue worth Rs500 million before federalism went into effect. Ironically, today it receives: zero. District Education Offices were supposed to be transferred to local government, they are still controlled by the Ministry of Education in Kathmandu.

As Province 4 Chief Minister argues in our Guest Editorial what is the point of decentralisation if the central or provincial governments do not devolve their decision-making and revenue-raising powers to elected village and town councils?

Even after two months, provincial governments still do not have administrative facilities and infrastructure in place. In the capital of Province 5 in Butwal, civil servants have to take turns sitting because there are not enough chairs in the office. The Ministry of Social Welfare is housed in Butwal’s bus park terminal building. Only half the posts for provincial government have been filled so far. Province 5 has plans to make a ‘mini-Singha Darbar’ secretariat in Butwal, but that will take at least four years.

Read Also: Devolving delivery, Rameshwar Bohara

The 2015 earthquake provided Nepal with an opportunity to slow or even reverse the flow of construction workers to the Gulf. However, as our report shows, the opposite happened: even more Nepalis than before migrated to earn money to rebuild, and reconstruction in many districts is in the hands of masons from Bihar.

The disaster is an opportunity for the overly-politicised National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) to hand over its functions to local governments, and eventually put itself out of business. After all, we need to make disaster preparedness and management a nationwide affair, since the whole country is exposed to seismic risk.

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