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Necessity or gerrymandering?

Thursday, May 25th, 2017
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Balananda-poudel

From the Nepali press

himalkhabar.com, 23 May

Former government secretary Balananda Paudel headed the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission fears that the government decision to increase the number of village councils in the Tarai is political expediency and says there is a danger that devolution may be sabotaged by forces of centralism.

Himal: The government has added local bodies three weeks before the second phase of local elections. Your take?

Balananda Poudel: According to Section 295 of the Constitution, local level restructuring should be done through a Commission that is the sole authority on the number and demarcation of local levels as per the basis and criteria set by the government.

The Commission decided  on 719 local councils and said that the number can go up to 744, but we had given a certain limit for each district. But the government has added more local councils  to Province 2. There is no provision for this in the Constitution. Parliament can give the government the right to restructure. But no such law has been made till date.

After the recommendation is received, the government has to decide within six months. But all this has to be done at least a year before the elections as defined in Article 5 of the Act. Based on which Act and law did the government take the decision?

What are the implications?

The constitution has separated the work of the three levels of government. The Province was decided by the government but it was not possible to get into the details of local levels, therefore an independent commission was formed. The idea was to structure the local levels in a way that it could fulfill the role and responsibility mentioned in the Constitution. We found that we needed a small number of local bodies. The economy of scale does not allow more than 200 local units, but that wasn’t  possible. Because there was the huge job of setting up the system with local representatives who could run the government and form laws. So we chose a middle path and came up with 565 local levels which in itself was not an ideal number. After we completed 74 districts, the government came up with a different criteria and the numbers increased further.

So the biggest danger here is that the local bodies may not be capable to use their rights because of which the power may be centralised once again. There is a danger we might be backtracking from federalism.

Is federalism at risk then?

There are certain political forces that want the power to be with provinces and then there are others who say we should not go into federalism. There is a danger of devolution of powers being sabotaged by forces of centralism. There is another danger as well: federalism  is the medium for better, effective, responsible and transparent governance. If we lose these, the government and the entire system will fail. Another misunderstanding is that more units are needed for development. The argument is that there should be more local bodies in the Tarai as the population is higher. If more units meant more development, I would support it too but there no proof that supports the statement. It may just result in more ineffective governments.

The most dangerous thing is that the government decided to restructure the boundaries three weeks prior to the elections. This will create confusion among voters.

For political reasons?

I cannot see any legal, constitutional or ideological justification for this decision. Even the procedure is problematic. As per the Constitution, there needs to be collaboration, coexistence and coordination between the three levels. There were no local representatives in the local bodies but they were still local governments. The decision should have been made in coordination and collaboration with these local bodies, respecting their existence.

At a time when newly appointed local representatives are still waiting to take office, adding more number will establish a wrong culture. It goes against the spirit of the constitution.

 

 

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