This article was originally published by Prience Shrestha in the Himalayan Times on November 17, 2019.
The Constitution of Nepal promulgated in 2015 advocates achievement of economic prosperity in Nepal through equitable distribution and nourishment of the prosperity across the country. As such, all tiers of governments established by the provision of the Constitution are devised to play significant role in contributing towards the balanced development of the country through the jurisdictions provided to them by the authority of the constitution.
Having said that, development of regions aloof from the Central administration is commonly believed to have always been overlooked by the centralistic development approach of the prior unitary governance structure. Meanwhile, the approach taken for balanced regional development across the country through the creation of five development regions has undoubtedly failed to deliver intended progress in the remote regions when judged in terms of achievement in economic and human development. After all, the approach taken to practice regionalization of development mostly appeared as the strategy to extend centralization under the camouflage of decentralization in hindsight. Looking back, the practice has only fared as a means to stretch control of central government in regional affairs.
It is a clichéd but relevant observation that balanced regional development of Nepal begins with adequate development of regional Infrastructures that enables access to facilities and amenities essential for advancing standard of living and economic progress in also deprived regions of the country. While the previous structure of governance could not ensure such, much anticipation remains from the current Federal structure of governance that has formulated new tier of semi-autonomous level of governance dubbed as provincial governments functioning specifically to achieve balanced regional progress.
Technically, provincial governments are expected to successfully carry out visible regional development based on multiple researches on Federalism and Decentralization for Infrastructure Development that have recognized regional and local development efforts to be effective when left to the devices of subnational authorities. Researches acknowledge such effectiveness to have appeared as the direct result of Allocative and Productive efficiency achieved specifically through delegated approach of decentralization for regional and local infrastructure development. To put it in simpler way, subnational governments are more likely to plan and execute infrastructure development projects with efficient project management practice that meet the development requirement of a particular region or locality for contributing towards the economic and livelihood progress of the population. And specifically, for development at regional or provincial scale that bridges the development needs of a nation at large with local development needs of localities, the authority of provincial government to plan and initiate such development is understood to be most effective. This recommendation is based on researches that recognize regional development to require regional observation that is too specific for the central government to accurately recognize, while being jurisdictionally large enough beyond the capacity of local administrations lacking sufficient economies of scale and ability to prevent regional externality. It endorses the renowned Principle of Subsidiarity that emphasise the need for delegation of authority from federal government to the level of government that has the most competence in carrying out a particular function.
In the meantime, the vitality of this discussion relating to regional development can be acknowledged by illustratively examining the significance of regional road Infrastructure in contributing towards the progress of the Karnali and Sudoorpaschim Provinces or regions. These provinces constitute economically backward districts of Nepal lying at the North-western edge of the country. And, regional road infrastructure development maintain significant potentiality to accelerate economic and human development progress in these two provinces that currently scores the least in terms of road density and human development index.
Undoubtedly, this argument defends the significance of provincial governments to achieve constitutionally endorsed objective of achieving balanced regional development while this newly introduced tier of governance still faces the question of its existence and purpose by the general population yet unfamiliar to it.
However, the primary purpose of this article is to advocate provincial governments in building firm legislative and executive foundations necessary in fulfilling their role of developing regional Infrastructure as they have been acknowledged as most suitable body of government to undertake such function. In the meantime, provincial governments until now has only made minuscule progress in building directives and strategies to guide their resources towards regional infrastructure development. Having said, provincial governments retains a crucial task to strengthen its legislative foundation and build strategic directions to achieve regional development and justify its worth for existence.