Centralism disguised as Federalism

– This article was originally published by Janak Pokhrel in the Himalayan Times on the July 21, 2019.

With the promulgation of the constitution of Nepal in 2015, Nepal adopted the federal system of governance. However, after two years of concluding the elections of three different tiers of government, the KP Oli led federal government does not seem to be following the federalistic idea of governance, after all. Be it with its moves to accumulate more power, or to curtail the power and freedom of other levels of government; time and again, the federal government has demonstrated signs of a centralist government. Let us look at some of the works that hints us this nature of the current federal government.

It all began with the centralization of power by the Prime Minister’s Office incorporating several major government departments such as the Department of Revenue Investigation, the National Investigation Department and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation under its wing. Another example includes the surge in the pork barrel fund from Rs. 40 Million to Rs. 60 million under the Local Infrastrucutre Development Partnership Programme for lawmakers elected under the first-past-the-post electoral system. The need to provide such hefty amount at the disposal of federal parliamentarians in the name of local infrastructure development, which clearly falls under the jurisdiction of subnational governments, does not seem to be in line with the federalistic principles.

Further the recent remark by the Prime Minister himself that the provincial and local governments are not separate entities, but under the federal government, indicates that the federal government wants to retain power. The federal government has repeatedly intervened into the jurisdictions of provincial governments, barring it from formulating rules and regulations and exercising its constitutional rights. A recent case of this nature was seen when the federal government called the advertisement for the new recruitment of employees at the public offices of local levels throughout the nation via the Public Service Commission, a constitutional body involved in selecting candidates for federal government’s civil service posts. While this right has been provided to the state level government and the advertisement itself has been condemned for not upholding the constitutional provision of inclusivity.

All these acts rendered by the federal government are against the constitutional will of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal and have been criticized more often than not. But, the government with its 2/3 majority seems to continue to guide the nation as it deems best, with little or no care towards the constitutional provisions, opposition parties and minorities. Somehow, the current federal government seems to be more inclined towards the centralised idea of power, contrary to the idea of federalism brought by the same government. So, what are the areas that the federal government should work upon to uphold the idea of federalism? There are two areas in particular:

Autonomy to Sub-national Governments
The distribution of state powers has been clearly mentioned in Article 57 of the constitution of Nepal. The state powers have been distributed among the federation, state and the local level governments as per schedule 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. The federal government should understand the delineated autonomous and concurrent powers of the three levels of governent but most importantly, should stop intervening in the exercise of the autonomous power of the other two levels of sub national governments. Article 232 of the constitution of Nepal has clearly stated that the relations between the federation, states and local level shall be based on the principles of cooperation, co-existence and coordination. Thus, the federal government should not consider the sub-national governments as government bodies under its control but rather work through collaborative effort and solve any disputes through constitutionally established entities like Inter State Councils.

Capacity Building and Human Resource Development
The centralist nature of federal government might mainly exists due to the inability of the other sub national governments to understand and utilise their power and rights in the correct manner. Myriad challenges such as lack of proper knowledge and professional capabilities of newly elected representatives on local levels and insufficient bureaucrats to support these local levels has definitely impacted and weakened the implementation of federalism. Perhaps, Nepal certainly did not do proper homework before adopting federalism and the political leaders certainly don’t seem to be working in its favor. Hence, it is imperative that the government focuses on capacity building and human resource development at the sub-national government level particularly at the local government level.

Therefore, rather than trying to uphold the power at the centre and defy the spirit of federalism, the federal government should reflect upon its statements and actions, and try to drive its efforts towards upholding the idea of federalism by allowing power autonomy to other levels of government as bestowed to them by the Constitution of Nepal. Only then the federal government can boast its motto of marching the country towards ‘Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali’.