Making Federalism Work
Hira Bahadur Thapa
The country has entered into a new system of governance for the last few years. The second successful people’s revolution demanded that there should be a federal structure in the nation so that the people at the local level could feel the power of governing. Indeed there has been a call for genuine decentralisation of power. Only then we could realise that Singh Durbar, the nation’s central authority, has reached the village.
Following the promulgation of a democratic republican constitution in 2015 which led to different elections for electing the local bodies, including the rural/municipalities numbering 753, and seven provincial assemblies, the beginning of a federal system of government has taken place.
While implementing the new system of governance it is natural that challenges arise due to various reasons. At the present time we have been seeing such problems that sometimes indicate the tussle between the center (Singh Durbar) and provinces and the rural/municipalities. This situation is not unique to Nepal. Many other countries around the world have had such experiences when they started to implement the federal features of governance.
What has comparatively attracted the attention in this regard is the controversy surrounding the recruitment of personnel to be deployed in different local bodies for which the Public Service Commission (PSC) has published a vacancy announcement and had begun collecting applications. About 9,000 posts have been advertised by the PSC. As reported about 90,000 have applied so far.
The above figures show that the rate of educated unemployment is ever increasing in Nepal. The number of applicants is almost ten times higher than advertised posts. Such alarming scenario is seen even in the South Korean government-initiated Employment Permit System (EPS) under which the hiring country’s industries decide quotas for recruiting Nepali youth every few years. The last Korean language examination scenes speak for itself where almost one hundred thousand examinees queued up although there would be about ten thousand vacancies.
At a time of such growing frustration among the educated youth who would be prepared to undertake any untoward activity, the decision of Parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee led by Ms Sashi Shrestha, a lady legislator, has pushed the PSC job applicants to the corner. Consequently, some have come to the street to protest against this parliamentary committee decision, whose dreams of being employed have been shattered for the time being.
On the other hand, there have been a series of protests from the aspirants of local government jobs and also from the local and provincial bodies demanding that PSC has not done justice in ensuring proper representation for various groups as provided under the constitutional provisions. The problem here is that PSC and the protesting groups have differed in interpreting the provisions related to reservation, which has been made to facilitate the chances of recruitment of women, Madhesis, dalits, indigenous and other oppressed and backward communities in the government jobs.
Actually, the recruitment process of local government employees should have been initiated and handled by the provincial public service commissions. Had the provincial commissions been established already, the present controversy would have been resolved to a greater extent. The central PSC as it has initiated the appointment process, has argued forcefully that its actions on the subject are in full conformity with the constitutional provisions, which is natural on its part being one of the constitutional bodies.
But the discussion on the issue at the Parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee took a U-turn when it finally decided to instruct the PSC to cancel the advertisement which means that no work on appointment of local government employees should go ahead.
This has serious implications on the functioning of federalism. Our local bodies have been stymied by the scarcity of personnel, both technical and administrative. The mayors and chiefs of local bodies have been expressing their displeasure in not being provided the needed employees and in whose absence the municipalities have suffered a lot, let alone spending the allocated development budget fully to bring prosperity to the people.
Despite this reality the stalemate seen in the ongoing discussion at the parliament does not augur well for the country and more so for successful implementation of federal structure.
Both the government as represented by the Minister of General Administration and Federal Affairs, Mr. Lal Babu Pandit and the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the parliament seem to be at loggerheads with each other, the former requesting the committee to rethink about its decision of instructing the PSC to move ahead with recruitment process and the latter deciding to remain stick to its previous decision. The chairperson of the committee has reiterated that they have taken the decision in consultations with the PSC and so there is no need for them to amend the decision.
In this regard a few experts on the subject have contended that as a constitutional body the credibility of the PSC would erode, if it cancels its decision.
Never before has the PSC faced such credibility crisis having to annul its decision, which it takes in accordance with the constitution. Whether it does as instructed by the parliament is uncertain at the moment but constitutional experts opine that parliament is supreme.
The question here is if the PSC annuls its advertisement, it may set a bad precedent for the country as people would start questioning the impartiality. Furthermore, there is an apprehension that annulment would pave the way for recruiting the employees on contract basis, which may be at the cost of merit.
The best way to resolve the issue would be to take a middle course to prevent the erosion of the credibility of the PSC and to find out a way not to impede the fair recruitment process of local body personnel, which deserves priority.
(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He writes on contemporary national and international issues)