Addressing Governance Conflicts to Strengthen Federalism in Nepal

Administrative Map of Nepal. (Source: Survey Department, Government of Nepal)

Author : Prakash Bhattarai, PhD; Shradha Khadka

With adoption of the new constitution in 2015, and two successions of local, provincial and federal elections in 2017 and 2022, Nepal is moving forward with implementation of federal governance system. However, its strength and effectiveness to make the federal processes administratively and economically viable for the country, has received numerous criticisms.

Nonetheless, the newly adopted federal governance framework is an opportunity for the country to enhance development and administrative service delivery processes and develop an inclusive and justifiable power sharing arrangement that accommodates the longstanding socio-economic and political differences. However, not paying adequate attention to its lack can turn out as a source of conflict and violence not only among the three tires of government, but also among the different socio-cultural and political groups existent in the country. In this regard, Nepal must gain a better understanding of the existing as well as potential governance conflicts and find constructive ways to timely transform those conflicts. This blog is hence an attempt to provide an overview of governance related conflicts and some practical solutions to direct federalism towards positive direction.

“Existence of ambiguous laws, policies and institutions are observed to be ineffective in addressing the actual needs of people or handling their grievances. The unclear, uncoordinated  and often overlapping responsibilities and jurisdictions between power holding authorities within the same or different layers of governments are creating hinderances in achieving effective governance in Nepal.”

Why do governance conflicts occur?

Addressing the issues burrowed within the federal governance system of Nepal, CSC’s ongoing initiatives have been invested in learning about the root conditions/ factors that are majorly responsible for the occurrence of governance conflicts in Nepal. These measures exert that identifying the roots of these conflicts will be able to impart opportunities for resolutions too.

For instance, existence of ambiguous laws, policies and institutions are observed to be ineffective in addressing the actual needs of people or handling their grievances. The unclear, uncoordinated  and often overlapping responsibilities and jurisdictions between power holding authorities within the same or different layers of governments are creating hinderances in achieving effective governance in Nepal. Additionally, ideological differences between powerholders in the federal structures is forming and also fostering harmful federal practices that are dissociated from the laws and policies formulated in the country.

Among many such factors, a central aspect responsible for governance related conflicts is the lack of proactive civic engagement in the governance processes. This gap has the potential to disrupt cohesion in state-society relationship where the voices of citizens are ignored in government’s decision-making processes as well as the implementation of public service deliveries.

“The existing governance conflicts have created a wide gap between the demands of the people and the resources, creating a detachment between the actual need of the people and government’s ability and even eagerness to meet those needs.”

Why do governance conflicts need to be addressed ?

Through the evidences gathered from CSC’s ongoing research initiatives, it is  understood that cohesive state-society ties aid effective governance processes and public delivery systems and its lack can result in conflicts that hinder peacebuilding efforts and good governance. Therefore, addressing these conflicts and associated elements can extract avenues for resolution that can help make laws, policies  and institutions more inclusive, precise and functional. These amendments can also benefit the broader segment of the society by providing better public services and help to develop interventions that are in the best interest of people.

The existing governance conflicts have created a wide gap between the demands of the people and the resources, creating a detachment between the actual need of the people and government’s ability and even eagerness to meet those needs. In the present context, multiple conflicts are caused due to high demand of public services in various sectors, whereas the government at the three tiers are incapable of fulfilling those demands. Some of the rationales for this inefficiency are resource constrains, high corruption and ineffective, discriminatory and power-dominated service distribution processes. Hence understanding such grounds are significant to bridge the gap between people’s demand and the existing resources and establish a fact that the existing governance provisions in itself is credible means to resolve broader range of problems faced by the Nepalese society.

“Governance conflicts can be potentially addressed by taking initiatives to formulate laws and policies that clearly define and implement the roles of the three tier of government bodies as defined by the constitution.”

How can governance conflicts be resolved?

Multiple interactions with multilayered stakeholders through CSC’s initiatives have repeatedly  shown that governance conflicts can be potentially addressed by taking initiatives to formulate laws and policies that clearly define and implement the roles of the three tier of government bodies as defined by the constitution. Also, precise definition and demarcation of the roles of elected representatives and bureaucrats holding different positions in each layer of the government needs to be declared to avoid overlapping or obliviousness of their responsibilities. However, mere declaration of roles and responsibilities may not be sufficient to achieve efficient governance, capacities of each actor needs to be ensured and enhanced to be able to proficiently execute their designated functions.

Asserting such guidelines is one thing, but effectively implementing them is another challenge. Hence, citizens’ participation in such policymaking and decision making process and integrating vigilance capacity of public sector to encourage transparency and to hold power holders accountable should be a continuous practice.

To achieve these avenues, substantial dialogue and discussions are necessary among policymakers, government authorities in each layer of government and other relevant state as well as nonstate actors. These dialogues and discussions need to assemble the challenges and learnings gathered from the five years of federalism practices and power exercises by different actors. Additionally, expectations and feedbacks from the citizens must also be integrated in such interventions to create strengthened and sustainable future avenues for good governance and peacebuilding. 

The graphics, views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

Prakash Bhattarai, PhD currently serves as the Executive Director of Centre for Social Change. He has almost 20 years of professional/ academic experience on issues surrounding governance, peace-building, development, migration, and more.
Shradha Khadka is currently working as Research Coordinator on multiple projects at Centre for Social Change. She has a varied mix of research experiences and topics of interest, including natural resource management, conservation, gender, climate, urban planning, governance, and education.

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