No alternative to making federalism a success: CM Pokharel
Youth leader Shankar Pokharel happened to contest the elections to the provincial parliament of Province-5 last year. His decision generated national discussions. People wondered how a competent ideological personality from the new generation of Nepal’s leftist politics could have given up the prospects of assuming the federal leadership to become a candidate in the state elections. He was elected and chosen to be the Chief Minister of Province-5.
What is Chief Minister Pokharel doing in Province-5? What model is he preparing for the development of the province? How is he addressing the citizens’ aspirations and development challenges? Pokharel, who is also a CPN standing committee member, is known as an ideological leader within the party. Chief Minister Pokharel was in Kathmandu to attend the party’s standing committee meeting when he spoke in weighted words with Executive Chairman Krishna Murari Bhandari of the Gorkhapatra Corporation.
Your remarks, that thousands and thousands of K.P. Oli were needed in the country to campaign for ‘Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali’ and that dreamer K.P. Oli should be born in all sectors, are now becoming viral in social media networks. What are you trying to say?
In our society, there is still a tendency for people to bask in the status quo. Even those who talk about changes do not want to go beyond the limits of what prevails. They see risks in trying a new and different path forward.
There is a prevalent tendency to term those who really plan and push for a change as bogus and misadventurous. But dreaming and turning the dream into a plan are essential to change the society. It is my belief that dreamers and those helping people dream should come forward in industry and business as K.P. Oli has come forward in politics.
The CPN standing committee meeting, in which you participated, is over. You have been depicted as an ideological youth leader for a long time. How do you review this meeting overall?
The historical unity of the two major parties, the UML and the Maoists, had necessitated the discussion about the work of the party and the government. After the unity declaration, it was necessary to resolve problems arising in the way to the organisational unity of the party. Due to the delay in organising the standing committee meeting, there was a state of unrest.
Due to problems of decision-making in the core leadership team, there were hitches in pushing the unity process ahead. Both comrade chairmen were present in the meeting with the belief that the differences could be bridged into a consensus. They were mentally prepared to listen to everyone. That was the reason this meeting has been a little longer.
Grievances were becoming public because party unity took longer and standing committee meeting was delayed. Problems also appeared in the understanding and analysis of the post-unity situation. There was also a problem in the thinking of several comrades about using unity as a means of gaining some leeway. Speculations were being created in want of facts and correct information regarding the work and adversities of the party and government.
The party line was also affected by organised attacks on it from outside. It is natural for people to show interest in such a situation. But no discussion in the meeting was taking place the way it was presented in rumour mills outside. Generally, the meeting was moving forward in an extremely cordial manner.
But what about the things coming out ...
Of course, in some comrades’ expressions, there were aspects of impulse and aggression. The words used by some were apolitical and would damage the movement. The whole meeting realised the situation.
More than the discussion in the meeting, what was made public in association with the meeting also worried the party ranks and files. However, overall, the standing committee meeting was fruitful. So much so that the comrades, who showed impulses and excitements, were also impressed by the presentation of the other comrades.
After the meeting, I have found that the leaders were extremely serious and optimistic. The party has been unanimous to a great extent in shouldering the new challenge and responsibility. The meeting has inspired all to abandon the old, worn-out, contexts, and move ahead in a new way.
You are the Chief Minister of a provincial government. As a change leader, how are you looking at the federal government’s work, action and behavior?
At this time, we are not in a transition from one to the other government. We are not in a transition after a simple political change, either. We are going through four types of serious transition.
The first is the transition brought about by a political change regarded to be epochal. The communist parties played a main role in the peace process, mass movement and achievement of a republican nation of Nepal.
Second, the transition was created by the new constitutional system. We have adopted a three-tier system of governance and made provisions for fundamental rights, full of civil rights, mainly under an inclusive federal system.
The third is the transition from the new dimension of foreign policy as drawn by comrade KP Sharma Oli as the prime minister. It has brought about turmoil in Nepal’s geopolitical situation.
The fourth is the transition due to the change in the global affairs, that is, the transition caused by the emerging strategic significance of Nepal.
After the meeting of the standing committee, there is a kind of clarity on all these issues. The party and the government have found a strong base to move ahead with a plan and in an integrated manner. The general direction of the federal government is correct and its initiatives and efforts are positive.
However, the government’s strategic plans will take some time to yield results. For the results of the first phase, it should take six more months. Economic indicators have been gradually favourable.
There are comments that the federal government would fail because it is trying to run a centralised governance system, and the country would not be able to economically sustain the highly expensive federalism. What does your one-year experience as the Chief Minister say?
Such comments are natural at a time of entering into federalism from a long practice of unitary state arrangements. There is a certain truth that federalism adds expenses. But it should also be understood that the expenses go to expand the service and convenience of the people.
From the viewpoint of human resource management, the administrative expenditure will increase by about 15 per cent. But there will be a huge saving of the expenses the people had to make in the past for receiving services, because a situation is being created for the services that were available at the headquarters in the past to be delivered from the municipal level and for the services available at the centre in the past to be delivered from the provincial level.
On the other hand, federalism also has the potential to enhance the people’s surveillance and monitoring of development projects and increase their sustainability and economic transparency, helping also improve the public expenditure flow. From the development viewpoint, federalism can be more effective in this respect.
With the promulgation of a constitution based on federalism and its resulting positive impact on political stability, the GDP growth rate has doubled. In the past, the growth rate of GDP was 3 per cent, it has not only increased to 6 per cent, but this year it is rising above 7 per cent. But, the tendency we have here is not to look into the facts while criticising and indulging in the farming of disappointment.
What opportunities do you see for the successful implementation of Nepali model of federalism? Is there a more effective model in your thinking to make federalism a success? There are no fewer people saying that building legislative acts is challenging. After assuming the Chief Minister’s responsibility, what have been your primary tasks to do for the implementation of federalism? Are there only challenges or opportunities as well? Can you clarify these point-wise?
Of course, the implementation of federalism is a complex and challenging task. But it helps to promote the middle class. In the context of Nepal we have brought forth a federalism of our original character. In the three types of government, three types of governmental structures have been set up.
While adopting the new system, there are not only opportunities but also challenges. We have built federalism on our dissatisfaction over the practice of unitary governance. Therefore, there is no alternative to making federalism a success. Regarding the successful implementation of federalism, the federation will have to be more responsible for policy guidance, national security, good governance and strategic development. The role of the provincial government should be made important in relation to the economic and social development and security of the citizen. On the question of service flow and daily public concern, local level should be made more responsible and accountable. This is the main character of the federation we have adopted.
If we have to advance balanced development of the entire region by means of federalism, we should emphasise the implementation of the constitution. If we need to improve the system, it will be appropriate for us to move ahead with gradual reforms based on experience.
The federal criteria of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’ campaign have been applied clearly in our context of the campaign, ‘Prosperous Province, Happy People’ of Province-5. How can we measure prosperity of our province and happiness of the people?
There is no need to find a difference. When talking about prosperity, there has been a debate from early on whether to emphasise the physical aspects or the human and social aspects. We have tried to connect physical development with the human and social development as a matter of our discussion about the happy people. This is also a matter that should be linked with the living standards of the common people.
We can achieve prosperity of the people in the province through planned development. This year, the goal is to create structural harmony, build necessary laws for the province and make province-wise periodic plans on the basis of necessary laws and state-of-the-art status mapping. We are waiting for some legal criteria and laws from the federal level based on the shared list of laws. As soon as we get them, our work will pick speed.
After your election as the Chief Minister of Province-5, your views of the state of the province being average have been made public. Overall, what is the state of the province that you are leading?
Our province is in the fourth place not only from the population viewpoint, rather, from every angle, our province is in the third or fourth place. The Human Development Index is below the national standard. The total contribution of agriculture in the total gross domestic production is 45 percent. In view of human development, we have three districts, Palpa, Nawalparasi and Rupandehi, above the national average. The situation of other districts is below the national average.
The province is also in the third and fourth places in view of literacy, average age and child mortality rate. We also have been in the fourth place in terms of industries. The situation in Rolpa, Rukum and Pyuthan districts is at par with that of Karnali. The situation in Banke and Kapilvastu of Tarai is at par with the backward districts of Province-2.
Although tourism spots like Lumbini, Bardiya National Park and Swargadwari are there in the province, the tourism industry has not made much out of these attractions. Although the hotel business in Nepalgunj has expanded of late as part of being a transit point to Mansarowar, its sustainable basis is still not ready. There is no possibility of development of internal tourism due to the insecure roads in the historic city of Palpa. Despite the possibility of mountain tourism in Rukum, a Himalayan district, the infrastructure has not been developed. But as we plan to develop the province, for the first time, we have the basis to do so. In agriculture, we are very likely to introduce ourselves as a food exporting province. The potential of our province is very good for cement production. With the coming of the Gautambuddha International Airport into operation, the region’s tourism industry is likely to develop.
In the field of education and health, we are in a position to make our progress faster. To say we are on the average place is to illustrate our being in the fourth place, which is just below the national average. But we can quickly reach the national average, and in some areas, we can rise to lead the country.
What is your dream to make of your province? Can we draw a picture of your dream province in words that our readers understand?
We want to make Province-5 a prosperous province of happy people. For that reason, we have laid our main emphasis on the modernisation of agriculture, its mechanisation and marketing and participation of the masses as the bases. We have arranged grants for agricultural labourers without land to be able to hold land on lease. Smart farm programmes have been forwarded for the commercialisation of agriculture.
We have tried to develop cooperatives as partners for agricultural development. For the storage of agriculture products, we have put forward the idea of developing a cold storage and warehouse. Emphasis has been placed in the development of agriculture markets. We have arranged grants for agricultural tools. With that, we have taken the policy to emphasise industrial development. We have a policy of developing industrial corridors and sectors. Our plan to develop the industrial sector is based on the strategic points. As the basis for prosperity in the future, we have taken the development of tourism sector as crucial. We want to emphasise the development of ancient landscape, historical and heritage sites as well. For the development of tourism, we have emphasised studying the potential of educational park and hill stations.
This year, we have presented a programme to develop full literacy in the province for human and social development. Chief Minister’s Rural Development Program is also there.
Our thinking is to discourage the draining out of students from the province to go elsewhere for higher studies after secondary education. We aim to provide specialist services at the zonal hospitals of the province. We are looking forward to planning physical development. We disagree with the approach to scattering budget on different heads. We are in favour of result-oriented and sustainable development.
What are you doing to achieve the plans for Province-5? Can these plans be fulfilled by the present working style and culture? If they cannot be achieved, what difference in strategy are you making? What are your commitments?
We are familiar with the fact that Nepal has some limitations and weaknesses regarding the implementation of plans. We are aware of how we can check the past weaknesses. The leadership should be responsible and accountable for good governance.
Complaints about the lack of staff are heard in all the provinces. What is your opinion about the ‘reform’ of bureaucracy in the context of the current criticism about civil administration not having a work culture and attitude in keeping with federalism and its spirit? How can employees be made friendly to people and development as well as diligent? Do you have plans for bureaucratic reforms?
Certainly it is not just the absence of staff, but the lack of some structures that have yet to be created. After adjusting the employees, some improvement will definitely happen. Then we will plan to re-adjust the manpower on the basis of the needs of our province. We will not allow a situation for employees, coming to work in our province, to have less work or fewer facilities than found elsewhere. As a matter of structural improvement, work has started. New base will be provided for the Provincial Public Service Commission to fulfill the human resource needs of the province and local level.
You call your province ‘Mini Nepal’. If it gets more prosperous, you say, it will guarantee the prosperity of the nation. How is this province a ‘Mini Nepal’?
Province-5 has been called Mini Nepal not for its size, but from the point of view of economic, social and psychological conditions. In this province, there are also some features of Province-2. Karnali, known as the most widespread and backward region of Nepal, is not just a province but it also has relative characteristics of a well-developed society.
You say the road alone does not bring prosperity, whereas the budget of the local body, parliament development fund, the contractors and people’s representatives make a business of focusing on the road. How is your model of provincial development? How will you manage the dozer culture?
I think the road or infrastructure alone does not automatically help the local people prosper. Chepang and Tamang communities living near the highway are not found to have prospered. The social consciousness that is needed to tap the opportunity has not developed in those communities. That is why the focus is on developing the capacity of the people to use the infrastructure for development.
If a road is built, but not used, it will have more pitfalls than possibilities. Problems of flood and landslide may arise. Rather than finding a home and planning for its infrastructure later, we should build homes where the infrastructure is developed.
The weaknesses in the provisions of public procurement law and rule have compounded the construction problems. Reform efforts are underway in this area. It is necessary to bring uniformity in the construction work in the nation, overall.
How can the executive and legislative branches of the province be ‘engaged’ with the issue of development? Not only in your province, in all seven provinces, lack of such engagement of the people’s representatives has been a major challenge. Half their term is about to be over without knowing in which direction to go!
This is because the provinces are new. It is not a minor thing to organise three conventions in the period of 10 months. In this regard, we have had two budget sessions. We have just started the winter session of parliament, which is also regarded as the bill session. Almost one and a half dozen laws have been tabled in the Provincial Assembly. A dozen more laws have reached the process of discussion. In that sense, there is not much confusion in what we need to do. The lack of experience and lack of manpower are posing a problem. Gradually, they will be overcome.
The constitution has given a three-level government template. What should be the role of the provincial government in the coordination and functioning of the district level offices and structures in the judicial and security structures?
Our constitution does not consider the structure of the district level. However, some offices are being established in the districts and they are essential. But the district level offices are only the program implementing units. They are not the founding units of governance.
Nepal is in the new age. But citizens do not seem to have realised this. Who is going to raise this issue at the civic level and to make the people active and energetic?
The current government is planning development ahead. It does not need to be in a hurry like in a ‘hung parliament’. Some problems have surfaced in the pace of government’s work. But the destination of the government is correct. This year the basic foundation of the federation will be ready. There is no doubt about economic growth to happen in Nepal.
The representatives of the International Monetary Fund are said to have given up emphasising economic growth. This also shows Nepal has entered into a new era of economic development.
Business investment is growing in the agriculture sector. This year, tourism sector is showing increase in the number of visitors to about 12 hundred thousand. Preparations for the tourism year in 2020 are on and the aim is to bring 20 million tourists. Investment in the industrial sector is rising. Cement industry has been developing in the province. Investment in private sector has risen significantly. Only this year, the electricity purchase agreement has been signed with the integration plan and in the same phase. Big and strategic development projects are in pipeline. Airports in Pokhara and Nijgarh and the work on the railway and strategic road construction work are certain to drive development. Therefore, the impact of our development efforts should be seen.