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Book Review:

On Governing Well

Three authors approach good governance and decentralization from a new perspective

Good Governance and Decentralization In Nepal

By Dev Raj Dahal, Hari Uprety and Phanindra Subba

Published by the Center for Governance and Development Studies in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

First Edition - 2002.

Price: Rs.200

ISBN - 99933-398-0-6


Good governance and decentralization are one of the most passionately debated issues in contemporary Nepalese society. In many ways, they seem to have acquired the status of mantras for development. At a time when the country is in the midst of an extensive debate on how to effectively manage its resources and run local institutions in accordance with the aspirations of the people, a new book discusses various facets of the concept of decentralization and good governance.

"Rational allocation of decision-making is central not only to the efficient operation of a democratic polity but also to prevent an overburden of the decision-making load on a particular level of governance to its breakpoint and disintegration," Dev Raj Dahal, Hari Uprety and Phanindra Subba write in "Good Governance and Decentralization In Nepal".

The book, which is divided in two parts - good governance and decentralization - discusses the concept of good governance, role of state, market, resource allocation, civil society and public space, building national integrity system and good governance and decentralization inter linkages. In the decentralization segment, the book attempts to discuss globalization versus localization, local-central government relationship, decentralization, Nepalese political economy, donors' cooperation in decentralization and good governance, among other things.

Although many books have been published in the area of good governance and decentralization in recent years, this is the first time three scholars have made an intensive effort to highlight their development and democratic dimensions.

One of the objectives of the publication is to underscore the links between democracy and decentralization and argue for vigorous decentralization measures from the government's side and, at the same time, local initiatives to sustain them.

Besides dealing with the theoretical perspectives on decentralization, the authors also attempt to analyze the historical context of decentralization in Nepal and its implementation in the grass-roots level. As the country's policy-makers are so concerned about the centralization of authority, Nepal has not faced any genuine effort toward decentralization.

Dahal, Uprety and Subba argue how decentralization and good governance are linked with each other in terms of community building, leadership development, social mobilization, conflict resolution and economic, political and social development.

"After the restoration of multiparty democracy, people have been demanding more information control, greater accountability, responsiveness and ownership in the governance and development processes. The weaknesses and inefficiency of the centralized political and administrative superstructure that have come in the way of improving the quality of life of the majority of people are indeed a barrier of effective democracy," the authors say.

They attempt to compare the provisions of the existing constitution and stress the need for greater participation of the people in the political process. They also discuss the existing acts on local self-government and other issues and talk about the challenges and problems in the implementation of decentralization policies and their implications.

Openness, fairness and predictability in the decision making are important process of good governance and decentralization, but there is a lack of fairness and openness in the implementation and execution of the policy.

From conflict management to fulfilling the aspirations of the people at the grass roots, decentralization is vital in a country like Nepal. Smaller the government, better the management. In this context, decentralization and good governance are very much interlinked.

Dahal, Uprety and Subba highlight various aspects of good governance in the context of decentralization. The basic concepts and theme discussed in the book are highly academic and in-depth. The book, among others, discusses the present structures of Village Development Committees, District Development Committees and their capability to exercise their limited power.

Source: Spotlight

Paradox Prevails In Nepal's Governance And Decentralization


THEORETICALLY good governance and decentralization have always been major issues in Nepal's development process for the last 4-5 decades. With the beginning of the planned economy since 1956, decentralization and governance seem to have occupied a big area in the economy. Substantial efforts were made to gear up sustainable economic growth through decentralization of authority to the local bodies. To some extent, certain mechanisms were developed to empower the local bodies, but lack of accountability failed to yield a desired result. Besides, the administrative mechanism and political will also failed to trigger the urgency of governance. The domino effect of poor decentralization and ineffective governance was quite frustrating that became more prominent even after the establishment of multi-party system in 1990. Despite the claims of the 'so-called democratic movements after 1990, decentralization and good governance have become just rhetoric.

After all, why have decentralization and good governance failed to operation Nepal?

Many development experts. sociologists are puzzled as to why governance and decentralization have become more inefficient after 1990. Is it due to lack of political commitment or because of corrupt bureaucracy or poor social attitude?

The dynamics of governance and decentralization in Nepal has been a complex phenomenon. Social scientists like Dev Raj Dahal, Hari Uprety and Phanindra Subba have analyzed various aspects of good governance and decentralization in Nepal .

'Good Governance and Decentralization in Nepal' is focused on various issues related to good governance. The book says, "Good governance is a process of executing coherent governing plan for the nation based on the interests and priorities of the people. It purports to create a just society based on the principles of inclusiveness, liberty, equality and cooperation."

According to Dev Raj Dahal, this is way sovereign citizens can make the governing power transparent and accountable good governance equally needs self- discipline and integrity of those in power, the corporate sector and civil society.
Under the topic " Good Governance, Vision and Reality" the authors have mentioned

"Looking at current political trends, one can speculate that the new century will be a very memorable one for Nepal, as political contestation will pirouette between the citizens who desire more democracy and those who fear its consequences. As people reclaim their sovereignty, they reclaim their rights to local self-governance, asserting greater autonomy, social justice and universal rights."

Good governance requires the establishment of a rule-governed system to guarantee the equitable, just and rational distribution of the advantages among all interest groups. Under the topic "The State As A Guardian" - the authors have questioned, "Whether the Nepalese state articulates the public life of society and solve a variety of collective action problems? Or is it separated from the society at large thereby constituting what Gunnar Myrdal calls the "soft-state' syndrome where powerful persons have tendency to disobey the laws of the land?"

It is said that responsible governance will require a new ethics of responsibility to the natural world and the future generation, an ethics that goes with human rights and democracy.

The authors have mentioned various dynamics of good governance and say, "Governance should therefore be institutionally and normatively redesigned to serve the needs of the diversified and articulate citizens as well as to legislate an equity between the generations.

In fact the concept of good governance has drawn a tremendous attention in many developing countries due to both changes in the nature and core functions of government. The authors have drawn inter-linkages between good governance and decentralization. They say " the establishment of a decentralized society is the leitmotif of good governance because a centralized policy limits the choices for the people in key areas that affect that their life, liberty and property and undermines the principles of subsidiary embedded in the Constitution that legitimates that sovereignty of people."

The second part of the book that is related to "Decentralization" is related to various aspects of distribution of authority to the local bodies in the context of Nepal. The authors say that the need for decentralization is not just an option for countries as a way of good governance. It is increasingly being necessitated by circumstances, both national and international.

The authors have described about the paradox of decentralization in Nepal. "Without a strong central government backed by visionary leadership, devolution of power is not possible. But a strong government with weak democratic credentials will of necessity, centralized power, resources and authority. Nepal's case is additionally problematic as its states, market and civil society institutions are heavily dependent on externals resources for their survival and development."
The book in totality covers most of the issues related to the good governance and decentralization in Nepal. Though the book is informative and analytical, the authors should have elaborated some more issues relating to the Local Self Governance Act. The real issues about the governance and decentralization in Nepal still demand more clarifications from authors. The book would have been more analytical if authors had tried to delve into the realities that local bodies in Nepal are facing. Still the book is very informative.

Source: The Rising Nepal (September 27, 2002)

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