Kamala Sarup: Democracy And Development In Nepal

Published: Wed 1 Dec 2004 10:06 AM
Kamala Sarup: Democracy And Development In Nepal
By Kamala Sarup
The Peace Media Board Advisor Dr. Alok K. Bohara, already argued:
"Whoever we may blame for the crisis of democracy in Nepal, we have to agree that all Nepalis are in this together. The other point most would accept, one that is the source of many of Nepal's current problems, is that political and economic power is concentrated in the capital. A federal system of government to devolve power across Nepal would be an essential first step in resolving the present crisis. Kathmandu's over-importance, its pampered class and its unconcern are resented by many millions of Nepalis outside the Valley, and the Maoists have succeeded in taking advantage of that sentiment. The government, instead of only pursuing a military solution, must start thinking of a three-pronged strategy that includes security, economic development, and political change.
"On the political front, a federal mechanism would preserve the constitutional monarchy and strengthen multiparty democracy, and it would not require any changes in our administratively-defined geographic units such as village councils, district units and development regions. The current constitutional provisions dealing with the monarchy, and legislative, executive and judicial power and responsibility would remain intact".
Prof. Bohara further argued:
" Other changes would be required in the constitution, including:
- Introduce five regional assemblies. Two or three directly elected representatives from each district within the region would determine the size of the assemblies. The members of the village assemblies would elect the governor, avoiding a conflict of interest between the governor and the assembly members.
- The governor appoints a district officer or commissioner—a career civil servant—for each district to coordinate development efforts, but the district-level entity will not have the authority to levy taxes.
- Reduce the size of VDCs and the number of ward representatives.
- The governors pick experts who are not members of the assembly to form the cabinet. This ensures that there is no conflict of interest between the lawmakers and the members of the executive branch (the cabinet).
- Taxing power and responsibilities should be based on the size and scope of each level of government. The Planning Commission and the Monitoring Body can help in this regard. Any disputes among the three layers of governments about power and responsibilities can be settled by the Supreme Court.
- Give the central authority (eg, the Lower and Upper Houses based on two-thirds majority) the complete power to take over regional and local governments in case of a grave emergency situation, such as local and/or regional insurgency that threatens national security.
- The regional government should not be allowed to raise armed forces. It may be delegated some policing role.
- The regional legislative body should not pass laws that contradict national laws. Any disputes must be settled in the Supreme Court.
A parallel judiciary system, which is not discussed here, needs to be worked on eventually to fit the proposed institutional mechanism. A constitutional provision is needed to devolve power to the regional government and reduce the functionality of the district-level entity in order to avoid and reduce duplication, conflicts, and the expenses of coordination". He said.
Democracy is a system, which functions in accordance with the set of morals and values. It grows and flourishes only when political activities are initiated by abiding to the norms and values enshrined in a democratic set up.
In Great Britain, Japan, Italy and even in India, the bureaucracy is capable of addressing the challenges arising out of political instability. In Japan and America, the bureaucracy is powerful and the political confusion and uncertainties do not impede development and policy-making exercises.
Ideally, every political party agrees to the notion that government machinery and academic sphere should be exonerated from political influence, however, in practice, they treat these places as a recruiting center for their cadres. The crisis of confidence in the system and the distrust on political leaders have come about mainly due to the blatant abuse of power, lack of political and ethical values among our leaders. The tragedy with our democracy is that the entire bureaucratic and academic plus other institutions are brought under strong influence of politics. The government machinery is intimidated, undermined and weakened due to excessive political interference. The situation even after 12 years of democracy has not improved.
An article published in Nepali Times, Dr. Alok Bohara further added: Unlike the republic demanded by the Maoists, the proposed decentralised political system encourages electoral participation and promotes accountability. And, under this system, the constitutional monarchy is actually strengthened. Strong regional governments would reduce the impact of national-level crises on ongoing development efforts outside the Valley much the same way as impeachment hearings in the United States did not impede the business of state level governments. Similarly, the national crises in New Delhi engross national legislators, but state governments move on with their economic growth and development plans.
The regional jurisdiction is much better equipped to fight for the rights and responsibilities of the fifteen or so districts within each district/ regional assembly. Under the current system, political bosses tend to take projects to their constituencies, often in eastern Nepal, and many weak districts in western Nepal get left out.
The central government will also be more efficient in dealing with five regional governments rather than a host of highly heterogeneous and fragmented district units. In addition, the provision of a direct voting mechanism ensures accountability, and puts into place checks and balances. Five regional governments in a geographically challenged country like Nepal will work, especially in the context of growing regional sentiments vis-Ã -vis the centre of power, Kathmandu.
Dr. Alok K. Bohara, currently a tenured full professor of economics, Department of Economics, University of New Mexico since 1987 further added;
Voters may vote for a party and its candidates at the national level on the basis of issues of national importance such as SAARC and SAFTA, immigration policy, trade with India, water resources, national security, discrimination against dalits and women, child labour, girl trafficking, information technology, income tax, and environmental damages and policies. At the same time, they may choose to be totally apolitical in the selection of their local, village-level leaders, and consider only their ability to look after local needs and issues such as law and order, sanitation, property taxes, health.
Similarly, regional level voting preferences may be based on completely different issues, such as the nature of the regional universities, exploitation of water resources, small hydro power, tourism, sales tax, property tax, business tax, emission standards, public school systems, or healthcare. Federalism and political decentralisation would also help achieve equity across different regions within a country".
Conflicts and dissension in democratic Nepal have mostly emanated from economic deprivation, regional disparities, and a sense of powerlessness. A well-articulated democratic regional structure of self-reliance will move the country towards a true form of political decentralisation process and may preempt any ethnically motivated dissent that may arise in the future.
Dr. Bohara received his MA and PhD from the University of Colorado in 1986. Dr. Bohara is the founder of the Nepal Study Center argued:
The north-south regional structure as envisioned by the late King Birendra will perfectly map into the proposed plans. Paharis and madhesis from various districts of the region will have to work together for a common cause to develop their regions in areas of common interests such as feeder roads, schools, university, hospitals, taxes, agriculture stations, technical education, electricity, irrigation, and water resources.
People of the tarai will benefit from water resources coming down from the north, and will also enjoy tourism opportunities. At the same time, the hill people will be linked to industrial activities that are likely to take place in the plains. The bottom line is to empower the people so that they can chart their own destiny". Dr. Bohara said.
Our leaders should understand, Since the mid-20th cent. most political systems have described themselves as democracies, but many of them have not encouraged competing political parties and have not stressed individual rights and other elements typical of classic Western democracy.
With the collapse of one-party Communist rule in Eastern Europe, the fall of authoritarian dictatorships in Latin America, and the end of some one-party states in sub-Saharan Africa, however, the number of true multiparty democracies has increased. Despite the increase in the number of countries holding multiparty elections, however, the United Nations issued a study in 2002 that stated that in more than half the world's nations the rights and freedoms of citizens are limited. It is true, communist governments to create classless societies, resulted in merely replacing the capitalist classes with bureaucratic classes, the general population remaining as poor as ever. This was certainly true of of the U.S.S.R., China, and all eastern european countries under the hegemony of the U.S.S.R. All the richer countries have capitalist economies and most are democratic In these countrieswhen inequalities generated by capitalism became too great, the exploited pressured their government representatives to pass laws that relieved the poorer segments of the population. Returning to new, revolutionary leftist governments, in the modern world, where would such a government obtain capital and trade to improve the living standards of its people? Inexorably, the lack of incentives under socialism, communism, maoism, or any other leftist brand will lead to to malaise and poverty, as it did in Russia, eastern Europe, China and Cuba. There are ample lessons in the 75 years of wars to reach the simple conclusion that democratic capitalist nations are successful, and totalitarian socialist nations are not.
We should not forget, the western development strategy is not ideal Nepal. Development is a process by which people increase their capacity to produce essential goods and services and meet their demands. In our country, development should benefit all the people equally. It should be environmentally and economically sustainable in all sectors of the community. The government's policies, have to work towards this model of development and they have not put their claims into practice.
(Kamala Sarup is editor to Peace Media

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