A workshop on 'Local Governance in Federalism' was organized by Decentralization Support Society (DESSO) on 25 March, at Bharatpur in Chitawan.
Mr. Krishna Lal Sapkota, the Chairperson of DESSO, chaired the inaugural session.
Speaking at the inaugural session Prof Krishna Khanal, senior national advisor to SPCBN/UNDP, urged political leaders, especially the chief guest, to be committed to peace process and constitution building. Prof. Khanal opined that if Puspakamal Dahal wished constitution writing and peace process would be successfully accomplished. He also added that he found Prachand more resolute and expressed his optimism that the twin processes of constitution writing and concluding the peace process would be concluded successfully this time round.
Speaking on the occasion chief guest Prachanda shared his views on local governance and the unresolved issues relating to peace process and constitution building. He recalled his previous meeting with Prof. Khanal and his team during the armed conflict just before the 12 points agreement was signed and how they had discussed about finding ways to bring the conflict to an end. He went on to add that he still remembered the moment and expressed strong commitment to fulfill the aspirations of Nepalese People by building a new constitution as final product of the peace process.
The chief guest assured that they would settle the issues relating to the peace process, especially the issue regarding the integration of former combatants in the near future. He said that the political parties had already held extensive discussions on constitutional issues and were at the negotiation phase of settling key contentious constitutional issues such as state restructuring, form of government, electoral system, system of Judiciary and the issues pertaining to citizenship. He, however, added that they would not be able to settle those issues without first addressing the issues pertaining to identity. Prachanda also remarked that Nepal's history showed the failure of parliamentary model as no government since 1960 completed the full term even though some of the governments had a clear majority in the House. He opined that the political parties had to think through the issue even while they were engaged in toppling and making new governments. Moreover, he informed that the political parties were about to resolve the issues pertaining to judicial and electoral systems even while they were trying to reach an agreement on (the ratio of) First Past the Post (FTTP) and Proportional Representation (PR). Concluding his address Prachand said that the political parties were committed to strong local government and that they needed to negotiate and compromise on some of the issues. He wound up by saying that Chitawan district would not be delineated in a way to disintegrate it. However, the same could not be said about other districts, he added.
Speaking as a special guest Nepali Congress leader Dr. Ramsaran Mahat emphasized on the need to conclude the peace process while commenting on ethnic federalism. He was not very positive with the ongoing processes. He pointed out the need for three tiers of government and that local government should also include the district(level of government). Another special guest Mr. Kashinath Adhikari, Central Committee member of CPN-UML, said that he agreed with Puspa Kamal Dahal in that the present phase was for seeking compromise rather than discussing on each of the contentious issues. He also informed that CPN-UML was ready for compromise with a directly elected Prime Minister (with regard to the form of government) as the bottom line.
Almost all district-level leaders from different political parties emphasized on 'AKHANDA CHITAWAN'(that the district should not be disintegrated). Most of the participants/commentators wanted district level government to be included in the local government with the constitution guaranteeing a strong local governance system. Most speakers were critical of both the preliminary report of the CA Thematic Committee on Restructuring the State and Distribution of State Power as well as the State Restructuring Commission report. Speaking from the chair presiding chairperson urged political leaders to write the new constitution by making local bodies strong while also including district as a layer of local government.
Prof. Krishna Khanal chaired the second session of the program. Senior legal officer of SPCBN/UNDP Mohan Lal Acharya made a power point presentation which dealt with three major issues i.e. similar provisions in committee and commission reports on local governance; different provisions and gaps or the contentious issues that need serious discussions while finalizing the new constitution. Similarly, Mr. Hemraj Lamichhane presented a working paper jointly prepared by four experts, and shared international practices in local governance, positions of stakeholders and their needs.
Associate Prof (Dr.) Bishnu Shankar Poudel commented and opined on the issues covered in both the presentations. He criticized political leaders for their lack of vision and failing to adopt a buttom-up approach. Moreover, he emphasized on the need for local representation at the center and suggested consultations with local communities while determining the number of and delineating the boundaries for local governments/governance.
Around 12 former representatives of local governments (VDCs, DDCs and Municipalities) from different districts and other agencies shared their views during the floor discussion, and the major points they raised were:
- Nepal has experience in district-level of administration/governance. Thus, village, special area and municipality levels could be managed under district-level governance
- Local-level authorities should have the right to make guidelines rather than drafting new laws
- Residual power should be exercised by the center
- Ethnic Federalism is not suitable to Nepal
- The number of local-level bodies should be determined by the commission rather than dealt by the constitution itself
- There should be uniformity about the form of government in each layers of the government
- Existing district level structures should be capitalized
- Power should be devolved to autonomous areas; local bodies should be left intact
- There should be 5-6 provinces with north-south delineation
- Four provinces will be enough for a country like Nepal; Provinces may also be delineated on the basis of existing five development regions
- Local bodies should be left intact and they should be made strongest among the tiers of the government
- We should be serious about matters pertaining to nationalism
- Residual power should be devolved to the local level
- There should not be any provisions of right to self determination and political preferential rights because they are discriminatory to other communities
- There is a need for holding an election for the transitional period because we cannot expect the new election for another five years (as provided for in the new constitution)
- Too many tiers of government may prove counterproductive. District-level of government may not be necessary for the country because provincial government can manage things if there is a strong local body
Prof. Krishna Khanal concluded the program by referring to the major points raised during the presentation and floor discussion, and wondered whether Nepali citizens would be able to bear with too many layers of the government? He admitted that the role of management of the local government should vest with the province, he, however, emphasized on the need for local bodies to be independent while exercising their power. He wondered whether or not stakeholders of local governance were seeking for a law making body? These are serious matters for future discussions, he added.