The government has decided to tax us more to support the federal set up and it seems to have given local governments powers to impose tax on everything from crossing the river to chicken and eggs. Various studies suggest we need to spend around $8-$11 billion in the next three to five years to implement federalism. That’s a lot of money for a poor country like ours.
No matter what the proponents of federalism argue, Nepal does not seem to benefit at all from it. Further, one important point is deliberately omitted from any debate on federalism in Nepal, i.e., the political parties, especially the former CPN-UML and Nepali Congress. Instead of doing away with the Maoist agendas that were defeated in the second Constituent assembly elections in 2013, these two parties came to carry these agendas themselves, resulting in a perpetual political and economic mess. They had half-heartedly raised the issue and their success in the second CA was not because they too advocated federalism, but the people were less fearful of the former guerillas and actually didn’t care about federalism. NC and UML could have reversed their position on federalism and saved the country a fortune.
During the insurgency the Maoists had promised the people ethnicity-based federalism. The party won the first CA election in 2008 using all means possible, but the first CA failed. It contested the second CA on the same premise but then it was relegated to third position, which in a functioning democracy would be interpreted as people’s rejection of the Maoist agenda including the ethnicity-based or whatever-based federalism. If UML and Congress had taken a firm and united stand against it, today we wouldn’t be paying more taxes to support another political experiment that’s doomed to fail. But what then led the parties that emerged first and second in the CA election to adopt federalism—ignorance, foreign pressure, their disregard of public opinion or a combination of it all? We would probably never know.
But what we know is that we have embarked on a costly experiment that makes no sense.
Instead, we could have spent $3-$5 billion over five years on infrastructure with the help of our taxes, foreign loans and grants. That would have created jobs and boosted industrialization and led to more foreign direct investment as well. We could have spent money on agriculture/agricultural modernization to become self-sufficient in food and to reduce our heavy dependence on remittance. Think about it. We could have spent the money doing so many things to develop our economy and enhance our international standing.
If that were the case, we would have no problem paying more taxes. But when you find that your tax money is spent on expensive vehicles and laptops for the leaders, and on hefty salaries for provincial ministers and legislature members, you have reasons to be angry. And yes, we are angry. We are paying more than what we were paying before, and yet the government is cash-strapped. It’s so short of money that a Chinese company had to sponsor the uniforms/wears for our athletes attending the Asian Games in Indonesia.
Chinese government is rebuilding Nepal’s first public school, the Durbar high school. Other countries are handing out an ambulance or two to our military and police. Almost all infrastructure projects are being built by foreigners. Yet we are being made to pay more taxes.
You can argue that it is for the betterment of the country and when federalism is institutionalized everything will be great. Or you can be philosophical and argue that for the country’s prosperity, one generation has to sacrifice and that generation is ours. But why should we be the ones to sacrifice and pay for silly experimentation? For the past 68 years, we have been sacrificing for revolutions and democracy but we are yet to see any results. Admit it, as always, this time too we have put the cart before the horse.