Shift To Poly-Centric Governance



Dev Raj Dahal


The concept of governance has emerged from the incubus of neo-institutionalism following non-performance of formal institutions, lean state defended by neo-liberalism and the surge of new public management. They all treat the lumbering state as a burden and democracy as a means of selecting leaders to govern. Governance is about the exercises of power by a network of actors for the proper disposition of public affairs and rational distribution of normative and material public goods which are institutionally embedded. Nepal’s stable future rests on the concertation of the nation’s diverse actors’ sphere of competence for the creation of a good society. Balancing rival interests and setting the congruence of Nepali state and cross-national dealings of its societal actors underlie their efficiency.

Tension arises when one actor clocks the other’s choice and denies the public access to policymaking flaking leaders’ will to respond to problematic situation and sapping its vital authority to set Nepali aspiration of nation-building and stress of global geopolitics in a balance. Democratic rule can improve framework condition by equal treatment of people and by cutting trade-offs between economic growth and equity, popular aspiration and constitutionalism and political ideals and human condition.

For long, bad governance hanging around the state power in Nepal pushed the nation in the backwater and frozen the public hope of prosperity. Good governance assumed vital importance now for the nation’s recovery from disorder, disruption and illiberal fiddling. A critical factor shaping the performance of Nepali governance rests on its ability to mend the society’s web and steer public and private institutions for the promotion of public welfare. It presumes Nepali leaders to recapture their long-abandoned policy sovereignty and revive parliament’s right and the state’s authority to execute constitution, strengthen local structures and manage social change.

It is equally important to coordinate donors’ multi-purpose and multi- directional governance projects for “policy coherence” and their harmony with national priorities. Both can capacitate local bodies with the ample supply of civil servants, money, technology, infrastructures and co-ordination works. But, as long as partisan distribution of constitutional and other public posts endures, stable balance in provision and production, exchange and distribution, supply and demand, import and export and business profit and human life remains an uphill task. Public interest orientation demands the embeddedness of governance in society while synergy of progress entails renewing civic virtues from the bottom-up.

 Paradigm shift: The associational revolution shifted the power and authority of mono-centric government to poly-centric governance. Three key poles of governance are the state, market and all intermediary institutions, networks and movements lumped as civil society governed by diffused interests. The success of their tasks rests on communication and coordination of diverse choices. A shared rule where each supports the other’s competence averts anarchy. Nepali government as an executive wing of state deals national “politics” and represents its imperatives. The governance is de-territorialised reflecting diverse interests acting across multiple spheres of “policy” including parallel set of international regimes of which the nation is a member. Causes and effects of creed, greed and grievances of regional and global in scope, however, cannot be dealt by the Nepali actors only. Solution entails multi-actor collaboration in the life-world and shared benefits.

The duty-based organic civil society of Nepal, imbued with rich social capital, is desired to offset the utilitarian impulse of politicians and businessmen and fix all interests in the middle path through their optimization.  The reawakening of public sphere can modify individual preference and set new checks on power above Nepali state’s institutional complex- the axis of legislative, executive and judiciary authorities. But the self-ironies of right-based civil society and NGOs have reduced them in the margin of power lacking conduit to influence authorities and turning their misdeeds a high cost venture. Business sector of Nepal, however, possess high leverage as they finance politicians, influence policy, skew economic decision and gain illicit benefits using instrumental criteria of efficiency.

Goals and principles of governance: Governance is an array of goal-oriented policy processes, such as national security for the creation of a relatively safe environment, rule of law, voice of people and their access to justice, civic participation in social and economic life, delivery of public goods and conflict mitigation. Securing the dignity of Nepali people requires cohesive promotion of these goals. Governance can become effective if economic activities are organised around these goals, social, economic and political actors become conscious of their duties, acquire contextual learning and behavioural change. Nepal has accepted civil society, ancillary organs of political parties, local federations, etc. as legitimate actors to bring the voice of public in policy making.

Nepalis’ power to self-organise and converse their interests rests on civic capacity of mediating bodies to supply soft power of ideas, lower the cost of cooperation and enable the leaders to grasp the state’s potentials such as strategic geography, hydropower, youth population, tourism, cultural capital and heritage of tolerance to plan the nation’s long-term future. An effective response to the demands of people and those of outside actors is crucial for the adaptation of all national actors-security, power nexus, regulatory, elite circulating, integrity maintainer, cultural industries and institution of production and circulation enabling them to get along to changing global political economy. Too much party-mindedness of top leaders has, however, battered the efficacy of public institutions in Nepal while impunity stained financial discipline, tax, tariffs and foreign aid aimed at filling saving, investment and foreign exchange gaps. 

Solution of Nepali people’s many problems calls for collaborative efforts at multi-actor levels on the background of the post-conventional ethics of governance whose cardinal principles are: legitimacy, integrity, transparency, accountability, efficiency and equity. Each element presumes the other to complement, not compete and counter. Civil servants, planners and political leaders of Nepal are accountable for their policy choices and the course of actions because they are charged with the tasks of service delivery. People judge whether the power is rightly exercised and legitimate order is attained for the promotion of mutual gains. This can minimize free-riders, corrupts, criminals and conflict actors that flourish in predation, economic monopoly, capital flight, syndicate and patronage depriving the common Nepalis of a chance to rise socially and use their sovereignty. Means of governance are as vital as goals and values. Order can exist without justice but justice cannot be attained in a power vacuum and public order deficit.

 Art of governance: The art of governance assumes: consensus-orientation of actors, information exchange among them, policy coordination, coherence of behaviour, feedback, steering national policies and collective action. As a nation caught in diverse hierarchy, Nepali authorities need multidisciplinary skills to cope with pressures and claims from “insider” groups such as bargaining union of civil servants, elected authorities, several inclusive commissions, national human rights commission and federations to various “outsider” groups such as business chambers, ethnic associations, class organisations, women’s movement to human rights NGOs, which as right-based bodies, demand Nepal’s consistency to universal standards. Beyond constitutional duty of collective identity of citizenship, they converse on global values flouting national roots of enlightenment. Self-organisation of these groups in Nepal has enlarged their capacity for collective action.

A correct disposition of power in Nepal requires coordination of  all  constitutional bodies, private sector and civil society, orient them to constitutional spirit and beef up national integrity system so that costs for deviants are high than compliance to rule. Since Nepal’s discourse on politics, power and policy is gaining attention, learning about the tasks of federal, provincial and local bodies is crucial to ramp up the their capacity to deliver public goods to the people. Nepali think tanks should focus on policy networks instead of being fixed on the structure and powers of state agencies while leaders must pay attention to the demands of people, lobby for their interest, support  governance goals, check the illicit behaviour of those in power and uphold due diligence on corporate power so that they don’t corrupt lawyers, economists and journalists in defence of supply-side economy which sets the social equity subordinate to the control of powerful interest groups and coils the self-correcting device of democratic governance.

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