Thursday 09 April, 2020

Federalism in Nepal

Federalism in Nepal

Reality Check

  • Nepal has almost completed two years of federalism implementation. This has been a landmark achievement as elected representative are working at the local level after gaps of almost two decades. Nepal has successfully elected around 42,000 representatives at local, provincial and federal level. Bulk of the elected representatives is now working at local level. Although it will be too early to assess the performance of federal mode of governance, but two things are evident. First, we wont revert back to old system of governance for any foreseeable future. Second, successful transition from centralist system of governance is not only slow but also complicated due to vested interest of various stakeholders. Focusing on the performance of local government, this paper outlines bright as well as blind spot of the performance of local government in Nepal.

Bright Spot

  • With the exception of few, newly elected representatives have positive attitude and enthusiasm. One explanation for this is these local leaders remain without any power for last two decades. So they took it very positively. However, sustaining positive attitude could be challenging because they have set a very high level of expectations, which will be difficult to realize in the short run. This could lead to the frustration among the elected representatives. Local election also ensures the accountability of those who are elected because for last two decades bureaucrats without any accountability managed local bodies.
  • This election also ensures large number of women and marginal group in the formal political process. This is a good first step although much remains to be done to ensure their meaningful participation in the decision making process.
  • Since all sectoral agencies such as education, health, agriculture are under the local government, it promotes better coordination. It has been noted that those LGs which have sectoral staff are performing very well compared to those who do not have. There is a shortage of staff in the local government, especially in the remote part of the country.
  • Some municipalities have exceled in service delivery within the short span of time. Improvement is noted in the waste management, agricultural production, health center management, water supply and irrigation and revenue collection. These were possible due to the dynamic leadership of Mayors. One common thread among all successful Mayors are they are well educated and come from excellent financial background. This means they have vision to take forward the municipality and free from greed. In some cases, Mayor has even donated his monthly salary for the education of the poor people .

Blind Spot

  • Limited capacity and capability of elected representative are major reasons for concerns. This leads to poor performance and easily manipulated by those who are educated and capable. This problem is more pronounced in remote part of province 6 and in province 2.
  • Devolution of corruption at local level is another concern. There has been reported case of misuse of contract to user committee. Nepotism and favoritism in hiring and contracting are also prevalent. Since there is no proper accountability in place, activities of municipalities are not monitored. The only hurdle for them is municipal assembly. Since all elected members are also getting some benefits out of it, they hardly raised any issue and concern.
  • Time management of Mayor is one major problem. Majority of Mayor are spending considerable time on ceremonial role, leaving limited time for development activities. Since communities have received elected leaders after long time, there is an expectation from them. From the perspective of Mayor, it is not appropriate for him to disappoint his constituency. So he attends each and every social function. Added to this is time spend on training and workshop. On an average a mayor spend three to five days in a month in training and capacity building activities.
  • One major concern is performance of Deputy Mayor. In the majority of municipality Deputy role is assigned to women. LGOA 2017 has assigned several important functions such as judiciary, monitoring, revenue and planning responsibility to Deputy Mayor. However in reality, there are an ample evidences to conclude that DM are not performing these roles due to limited capacity and lack of support from Mayor. The cooperation and collaboration of Mayor and Deputy Mayor is a matter of concern. Because of non-cooperation of Mayor, DM is almost dysfunctional. Some also argued that blending of judiciary and political role will invite serious problems.

Way forward

  • Based on the learning of federalism so far, several initiatives can be taken for future including specify minimum qualification for contesting local election. This will attract educated people to involve in the political process. There is also need to separate judiciary roles with the political role. There is an urgent need to amend the constitution so that Deputy Mayor is relieved off her judiciary role.
  • Constitution has created the District Coordination Committee but as of now, they are defunct institution. There remain two options. Either they should be scrapped or they need to give more authority. This demands constitutional amendments, which may be time-consuming process.
  • Even in the present circumstances, some municipalities are doing exceedingly well. So there is a need to provide platform to share best practices.

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