Making Federalism Work
Federalism is a system of governance with an immense importance to the political decentralization. It is embodied with characteristics of shared and self governance. With a suitable model to a particular country, federalism is supposed to address the demerits of unitary system of government such as weak attention to the local needs and interests, lack of coordination among the central level institutions and emphasis to the bureaucratic role. Federalism provides better service to the general people with participation in the development with features like inclusion, search and utilization of local level potentials and strong constitutional as well as legal provisions to ensure local self governance.
Federalism is a political system which permits a large measure of regional self rule-presumably gives the rulers and the ruled a school of their citizenship, a preserver of their liberties and a vehicle for flexible response to their problems. In this ground, it is said time and again that we are in the gradual process of shifting Singha Durbar to people’s front yard. It is most important to note that where truly profound regional linguistic, religious, or cultural differences persist, however, federating is by no means a guarantee of national harmony. As we see the history of federalism, we find that it is federalism which holds USA together through its whole history and changing from unitary to federal structure at least protect the national disintegration in many states. These features, broadly construed are said to reduce conflict between diverse communities which is hindering the overall socioeconomic process. Sometimes, even as a federated polity affords inter-jurisdictional competition that encourages innovations in the changing scenario.
Federal system encompasses more than one layer of government. Nepal’s federal structure has 3 tiers of government as in South Africa, Switzerland and Brazil. USA, Australia, and India have two layers of government. Three layers of Nepal’s federal system of governance are as given in the figure 1 shown below.
There are two major types of federalism in use. First is dual federalism which is also termed as competitive federalism and second is co-operative federalism. Nepal’s model as we can conclude from constitutional provision is very near to co-operative federalism which is supposed to be functional only when actors acknowledge the task of others and supplement to them for the result.
A federal system is supposed to offer government a division of labor. Decentralized regime of a country enables its national government to focus on primary public obligations and letting lower level of administration to manage society’s several secondary affairs in day by day basis. In principle, empowering citizens to manage their community level affairs is supposed to enhance civic engagement in a democracy. As John Stuart Mill mentioned “the peculiar training of a citizen, the practical part of the political education of a free people” is possible in federal system.
Objectives behind applying federal system of governance is basically attributed to diversity management, decentralization, enhancing participation, creating ownership, tackling discrimination and fostering inclusion and most importantly making use of local potentials. In this endeavor, elected representatives of local level has great role to fulfill for the sake of local development.
Implementation of federal system is not free of risks. There are bunch of risks like risk of resistance from existing stakeholders, risk of reversal and at least risk of delay, reverse effect in productivity and increased cost of running the public entities. Therefore, reducing those risks and making economic development a primary agenda and building trust of general people in government is the real challenge what we are facing now.
For the federalism to be successful, development of sub-spheres is precondition and for this infrastructural power is important to have. Federalism expert Julius Nerere opined that federalism is all about “decentering the centre into many centers”. In this context, we have to examine that to what extent are we have been able to develop several centers out of Kathmandu so that our federal system work for our prosperity.
Local level government is taken to mean the level of government where some degree of everyday interaction between citizen/beneficiaries and government is possible. And this is where we have to create changes and manage them as the organs of government come into place after long awaited elections and preparation of legal framework.
Four fundamental functions that local level organizations must be able to accomplish as suggested by Uphoff are decision making, which includes planning and evaluation, resource mobilization and management, communication and coordination and conflict resolution. As mentioned earlier, practice of federal structure is helpful in doing these four works effectively. Provision of basic services with their planning, implementing and sustaining is important. Basic services include analyzing and solving local problems, determining community needs, organizing local and national political support for programs, mobilizing national resources for development activities, raising tax revenues or collecting user fees, writing specifications for the technical elements of programs, maintaining and sustaining the service, evaluating the impact of the program on the local environment providing for those affected adversely by the program, contracting for services and buying equipment and putting safety valve through disaster preparedness and crisis management.
Deliberative and pragmatic respect of both will of the majority and the rights of minorities is fundamental democratic values which is important aspects to be inculcated during the implementation of federal provisions enshrined in the constitution. We have started our most important function of federation which is general election of all levels. More than 70 percent voters have casted their votes in the local election held already and supposed to be overwhelming in case of province number 2 too. This is a success in the sense that average municipal election in the United States engages less than a third of the local electorate.
Moreover, lower levels of the federal system are also regarded as the laboratory of democracy. Many politicians get practical training at the lower level and get entered to the central level politics. America’s last 4/5 presidents have been governors before they are elected. This indicates that with the application of federal system means letting the local leaders to grow and achieve well informed central level leadership in Nepalese context too.
Supplying thousands of state and local elective offices, a federal system like creates a big market for professional politicians not only in America and other federalist countries but also in Nepal once the election of all 3 tiers is over. Also the sub-national level of governance are taken as centre of policy innovations. For example many policies of USA started from state level for example: regulation of air quality (California), school performance (Texas), income tax and safety net (Wisconsin). Similarly, our Pradesh number 2 can lead for industrial cluster development policy, Pradesh number 6 can initiate to draft the policy of medicinal herbs and similarly Pradesh number 4 can play lead role for tourism reform initiatives.
Various line ministries and training institutions should run series of demand driven capacity building programs targeting to the newly elected local representatives so that our local government level can pursue informed decision making for the sake of countries development. Besides, enhancing local participation, accountability and transparency is the most for achieving good governance at all levels at least in the governance level nearest to the citizens. In sum, making federalism work in our home country Nepal should be present primary agenda of political as well as administrative domain of our country. Achieving prosperity at individual, community as well as national level is linked to the success of federalism which can be symbolized diagrammatically as shown in the figure 2 below.
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