The constitution, the main law of this country, sets out rules and standards to run our government. Any law or decision that contradicts the constitution should technically be immediately rejected. In democracies, broadly speaking, we are taught that no one is above the constitution. Depending on public demand and sentiments, the constitution may be amended but any government which tries to undermine the constitutional spirit without amendment raises serious questions. If we minutely examine the working style of Oli government, the constitution is seemingly being undermined time and again. However, this government has been enjoying public confidence and will continue to do so for at least a few more months, in the hope that it will begin to rectify its mistakes and reaffirm its commitment to our constitutional values and spirit.
We are in a crucial phase of constitution implementation and it is now or never insofar as implementation of the core tenets of the constitution are concerned. Federalism is one of the major achievements of this constitution. The mechanism to distribute resources is the backbone of federalism, determining the rise or fall of our federal structure. No doubt, in tune with the aspirations of KP Sharma Oli and his government, we want to see a prosperous Nepal. We want to ensure the success of federalism. But, ironically, the Oli government is already breaching the constitution in running the government.
For instance, the government’s budget and policies and programs for the fiscal year 2018/19 completely undermine the potential role of the National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission (NNRFC, Part 26, and The Constitution of Nepal), a constitutional body that is central to shaping the budget, policies and programs. Without giving the commission full shape, the government does not have the constitutional mandate to announce the federal government’s budget, policies and programs. The government sneakily took a short cut by declaring the formation of the commission, but without full membership, importantly without apolitical appointed expert members.
A government which is apparently determined to transform the country’s destiny must first learn to abide by the constitution and set higher standards for its own working style. We see two faces of this government. On the one hand, this government is not respectful of the constitution, and on the other, it’s engaged in an aggressive campaign to prove it’s the only government we have had working for prosperity and equity. It’s unclear which facet of the administration represents its true color.
The issue of the fiscal commission may seem trivial but let’s examine what the commission actually is and the implications of not having a fully functional one before the budget. In the absence of the House of Representatives Regulations, the government made excuses for not forming the commission. In fact, the regulations were endorsed after the budget was announced, which is also not in line with the constitution.
Now, with the endorsement of the regulations for both the National Assembly and the House of Representatives, the first moral task of this government is to form the fiscal commission and start rectifying the mistake it made by first announcing the budget.
The fiscal commission is instrumental in shaping the future of federalism. While appointing its chairperson and members, the government must rise above party interests. Otherwise, we can already predict the failure of federalism due to fiscal imbalances.
In fact, the majority of fiscal tasks in the federal set up are guided by the commission and we know well that the success—or failure—of federalism lies in how resources are allocated. The work of the commission includes important roles such as determining the detailed basis and modality for the distribution of revenues between federal, state and local governments from the federal consolidated fund; making recommendations about equalization grants to the state and local governments out of the federal consolidated fund; determining a detailed basis and modality for the distribution of revenues between the state and the local governments; recommending measures to meet expenditures of the federal, state and local governments; reforming revenue collection; and more (For detailed work list, please see Part 26 of the Constitution).
It’s strange why such an important commission is still in the shadows. Even opposition parties did not bother to raise this issue in parliament and sat quietly and obediently as the budget was passed. Even if it is water under the bridge, the formation of this commission must be this government’s priority in line with its constitutional, procedural and moral obligations.