Dilemma In Provincial Setup
With the election results of the House of Representatives and the 7 provinces out, the next natural step ahead is to move towards the formation of the central parliament and provincial assemblies as envisaged by the constitution. But the formal announcement of the results has been delayed by the Election Commission on the pretext of the political disagreement among the major parties pertaining to the formation of the new parliament and government. While the formation of the House of Representatives has been delayed by the row over the National Assembly ordinance, the formation of the provincial assemblies is also looking very challenging due to technical and administrative hiccups.
On the one hand, the appointment of the Provincial Heads before the establishment of the assemblies is mandatory as per the constitution, whether they should be nominated by the current government or the new government has become a matter of debate and controversy. As per Article 183 of the constitution, the head of the province is entrusted with the task of calling the session of the provincial assembly within 20 days of the final announcement of the poll results which means that the appointment of the head is a pre-condition for calling the first assembly meeting.
Comprising 60 per cent of the members elected under the First Past the Post (FPTP) and remaining 40 per cent under the Proportional Representation (PR), the unicameral provincial assembly consists of 1/3rd of women of the total members. Although the structure and formation of the assembly is technically clearly laid out in the constitution, practical challenges have been growing to materialise the same.
Theoretically speaking, the idea of province based approach to governance aims to promote a balanced regional development thereby improving the sectoral growth of the major social and economic aspects - health, education, industries, road and communication among others. Decentralisation of services is a key responsibility that the provinces are entrusted with while exercising regional autonomy and achieving self-development. It is only during the time of emergency and need that the centre lends its helping hand to the provinces. In ordinary situation, provinces are responsible for policy formulation and implementation and even settling the legal disputes within their own ambit.
Various obstacles confront the establishment process of provinces. Perhaps the most significant is the issue of the declaration of the provincial capitals and the resource management. While some voices of protest and retaliation have already emerged pressurising the state to name a particular city as the province’s capital, this controversy seems to deepen further in the days ahead.
Having said that, the scientific criteria of establishing the provincial capital have barely come into discussion in the Nepalese context. In fact, the issue of capital declaration has become a symbol of pride for our political leaders who have shown their keen interest in naming the area within their constituencies as the province capital to cash in the public sentiment. Neither have they deliberated on the rational yardsticks in this process nor have they indulged in learning lessons from the neighboring India or other countries in this regard.
Some of the major criteria as evidenced by the regional and global practice to be a provincial capital encompass: geographical accessibility, improved infrastructure and investment climate, natural resource potential, industries of comparative and competitive advantages etc. While it is difficult to find all these facilities in a single area, there is always a possibility of discovering an area with a final balance of these components and declare it as a capital.
Nevertheless, global evidences suggest that any place whether village or town can be the provincial capital if the government plans to invest in it’s social and economic development. For example, Gandhinagar which isn’t an economic hub is the capital of Gujarat state. Globally if we observe the judicial and administrative centres have often become scattered but the economic centres have been more concentrated. Similarly, if we look at the case of South Africa, the regions of administrative and economic centres have been split instead of concentrating them in the same place.
No less crucial is the task of resource management. While the Finance Ministry is already engaged in negotiating with the donor community for seeking more foreign aid in the management of the central, provincial and local governments, sustaining the officials in various provinces look pretty tough. On the one hand, the recurrent expenditure is likely to go up. The development expenditure will also be huge that can’t be financed simply by revenues and internal borrowing. With the need of establishing various infrastructures like office buildings for the Head of the Province, quarter for the Chief Ministers, their perks and allowances, parliamentary meeting hall for convening meeting and the reimbursement of the provincial legislators who will be 550 in total from all provinces, heavy burden on nation’s economy is likely to peg back the development initiatives for the public good.
Forging a political consensus to break the deadlock is a must for the formation of a new government as well as setting up the central and provincial legislature. Finding a mutually acceptable solutions to some confusing issues in this regard could be an appropriate strategy. But at present, both the caretaker government and the alliance who commanded majority in the recent election aren’t willing to see eye to eye. Engaging in the old blame game has dashed public hope to see a better Nepal with the core focus on economic prosperity. While it will be too early to predict that the coming government will also deliver little and engage in the power politics, starting indications aren’t so encouraging.