Coordination, cooperation among three-tier government must for nation’s prosperity: Gurung
Gandaki State Chief Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung is one among them who have been making important contribution to creating a theoretical debate in the country on the positive effects of the federal political system. During the constitution making process, Chief Minister Gurung had played a crucial role even at the grassroots in favour of the federal system with due rights and authority by opposing the then centralised political system. Gurung is giving emphasis on the coordination among the federal, state and local governments for the prosperity of the country. Furthermore, he is not happy with the central government’s behavior towards state governments.
Gurung alleges that the center is dominating the state governments in the areas like power sharing, management of government employee and use of resources. He is firm in his view that the three-tier government must coordinate with each other after dividing and sharing their rights and duties for the prosperity of the country.
We have conducted Gorkhapatra Sambad with Chief Minister Gurung on several such issues.
During the constitution writing process, you were a firm supporter of federalism. What have you experienced of it in the course of time?
When federalism was an issue of debate, rights for provinces were the main focus. Since the previous unitary state was not inclusive, we had advocated for the federal political system with the inclusive representation based on caste, ethnicity, languages, geographical location and religious freedom. The demand of federalism was projected to tie all Nepalis in a single thread of unity on the basis of geographical location, ethnic reality and lingual diversity for the implementation of federalism.
At that time, there were demands that provinces should be carved out on the basis of geography and ethnic settlement in Himalayan and Hill regions while language should be the main base for the demarcation of provinces in Terai. Although ‘One Madhes, One Pradesh’ was a strong demand in Terai-Madhes, Madhes was divided into five states after the political parties and ruling elites became suspicious on the demand of the Madhes-based parties and a true national debate could not be built for finalising the model of federalism.
In the course of implementing federalism, you are dissatisfied with the federal government, blaming that it is reluctant to share rights and authority with states as per the letters and spirit of the constitution. You are believed to be close with your party chairman and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. Are you really raising the issue after consulting with Prime Minister Oli or just expressing your discontent?
I had a number of theoretical debates with party chair Oli within the party in the past. I have such theoretical differences with the party chair even today as I had differences with him on the issue of federalism in the past. I have been putting similar differences before him in the course of implementing federalism. Although we are ideologically different on the issue, what I believe is that the federal government should help implement federalism as per the provisions in the constitution. Since the federal government is implementing the federalism as per its own wish going against the spirit of the federalism, I have been putting my reservations on the issue consistently. So it was necessary for all, even the federal government, to work as per the constitutional provisions and the will of the country.
While you are raising the issues like the constitutional rights of states and the power sharing between the center and state governments, what are the problems being faced by your Gandaki State mostly?
Our state has less internal resources. Its share in the national GDP is also lower which is below than Rs. 300 billion. However, the share of State 3 in the national GDP is Rs. 1400-1500 billion. In this situation, the tax collection in our state is also weak. Therefore, the investment of the central government and private sector is a must for the prosperity of the State. The state government is in no condition to hold talks with foreign investors even when the investors will show interest in investing in our state. So, the central government should offer the state government rights to conduct at least feasibility study for foreign investment. In the absence of such rights, the state government will have to compulsorily take permission from the central government to even hold talks with foreign investors.
Besides, the most serious crisis the state is facing is the adjustment of civil servants. Although chief secretary of a state government is selected from secretaries, the central government has provisioned that state’s secretaries are junior to secretaries working at Singha Durbar. The central government is unwilling to share rights and jurisdictions with the state governments as per the spirit of federalism. Even though it is seen that the country is running under the federal system, the central government is monopolising almost all the works and functioning. Even today, the central government is not supporting the state government in the areas like the adjustment of government staff, land management and investment. As a result, the central government has deployed inexperienced and inefficient staff in all seven states keeping 48,000 staff with itself that is double in number than its requirement.
Why is the State Assembly of Gandaki lacking businesses? Why is the Gandaki government unable to provide businesses to the Assembly?
It is true that we could not offer business to some sessions of the Assembly. The state government could not work properly as it spent most of its time formulating regulations, by-laws and laws as per the laws. Similarly, the government could not function in its normal pace as the public procurement act frequently created roadblocks on the path of implementing budget. Our government’s performances were dillydallying due to the crunch of government employees as well as the lack of sufficient offices under the state. Now all 143 laws essential for the state government are already in place. So, we will not commit the same shortcomings again.
The condition of the budget implementation in the current fiscal year is poor. What are your plans to spend development budget in the days to come?
The state government is, for the first time, doing a lot of works for the budget implementation as well as the increment in the budget expenditure. Now, we are in the phase of implementing the development projects in the state after concluding all procedures essential to the budget increment. It is true that the budget expenditure is poor in terms of preparing detailed project report of 112 bridges and more than 300 roads and other infrastructures. Now, we will spend more than 80 per cent of the budget in the current fiscal year as we have set up offices under the state government and have deployed civil servants.
The state government is being accused of politicising the facilitations and grants offered by it. Is it true?
We have followed the established and reasonable measures while conferring the staffs under state government with awards and prizes. Similarly, we have properly allocated and distributed grants for the modernisation of agriculture and the enhancement of homestays at villages for the development of tourism in the state. We have been distributing grants targeting rural farmers and with an aim to expand the city-centric tourism to villages.
The Gandaki state government has recently said that it will not let the construction of Kali Gandaki Diversion continue. Will it not hamper the development of the country?
The current political system is not like the unitary system of the past. Coordination between the federal government and the state government is a must for the implementation of the federal system. So, the projects like the Kali Gandaki Diversion that falls under the two states should be moved forward only after taking consent from the two states. Our state government is functioning as per its major responsibility of preserving its natural resources like rivers and streams. Since the portion of the Kali Gandaki river from its origin to its bank falls under the jurisdiction of the state government, it will not allow the construction of tunnel without its permission because it will draught some settlements.
Korala border point remains an important part for Gandaki State, though Chinese side is making necessary preparations, why has there not been any preparation from Nepal’s side?
This [Korala] border point is the most important checkpoint of Gandaki state. We carried out the inspection of that area and met with some Chinese officials and during our discussions they said they would first open up Korala border point. However, there has been some delay from our government’s side. The Chinese side has allocated a budget of close to quarter to Rs.2 billion, but the Nepali side has not been able to take its preparations forward.
The Gandaki provincial government’s cabinet has already decided to bring the border point and the checkpoint located in Trivenidham into operation. For this purpose, procedures to acquire necessary lands for the management and infrastructure constructions have been forwarded to the central level.
The issues pertaining to international relations are handled by the central (federal) government. Llately, we have received the information that a team has been formed and has started working on this. The provincial government as well as the Chinese side thinks the Korala checkpoint needs to be operated urgently; however, the central government may think otherwise and this is the reason for some delay.
The country cannot prosper without making the best use of the local means and resources, but resources of rivers like the Kaligandaki River are being exploited. What plans do you have to control this exploitation?
We have remained poor till now, because of not making the best use of our natural resources and means. The constitution has given the responsibility to all three levels of government to utilize the local natural resources. Though it is said that the extraction of stones, gravels and sand would be as per State (provincial) government’s law, lately, the responsibility has been given to the local level and thus there has been a lot of exploitation of river products there.
Even today, illegal exploitation is going on at rivers lying close to settlements, but once the state government receives its right to check on this, we will stop all exploitation of natural resources.
This state is important for hydro electricity generation. How is the electricity development being taken forward?
This state still supplies half of the country’s total electricity power. Though many are interested in producing electricity from several rivers and rivulets, all the processes on this requires permission from the central government and thus there have been some problems. We did propose to grant rights of building projects up to of 5 megawatts to the local level; 50 megawatts to the state level. Any project bigger than that to the central level. However, it hasn’t worked out as proposed, yet.
With growing distance between the central and state government; what sort of programmes have you carried out to make coordination between the state and local governments?
Gandaki state has been making plans to strengthen the local level governments. The state government formed the state coordination committee and has held several meetings of the committee. We have been working in coordination with and recommendation of local bodies. We have also formed a political solutions coordination committee chaired by the Chief Minister, and a planning facilitation committee with the aim of facilitating the making of laws and plans. We have tried to stop those illegal crusher industries which were operating under illegal permission granted by few local levels; despite some opposition by some of those local bodies, we have established good relations with the most local bodies.
Despite confusions due to lack of coordination between the different levels of governments, what are some of the things that the State Government feels proud about?
We have prepared 143 working procedures; and 25 laws; and the budget implementation progress has reached to 30 per cent. Until the end of this fiscal year, we will spend 80 per cent budget. We are getting faster than the central government in preparing and moving ahead with the 5-year, 10-year and 15-year development plans.
Still, 9 per cent of households lack access to drinking water. We have expedited the plans to provide access to drinking water to all the households in a few years. Fourteen per cent of households don’t have electricity in their homes. Within next 2 years we are preparing to have electricity to light all houses. We have moved ahead with plans and prepared DPRs for construction of permanent motorable roads to connect the state capital Pokhara with all the centers of the respective local levels. With eradication of illiteracy, the state government is moving ahead with plans for economic literacy and information technology (IT) literacy courses.
Since Gandaki state still lacks specialty hospitals such as cancer hospitals, kidney transplant and heart disease treatment facilities, we will be coordinating with the central government to build such hospitals here.
-Interview by Chandra Prakash Sharma, Photo by Tara Chapagain Dubey