Whose authority is it anyway?: Security and disaster management in federal Nepal

Nov 26, 2017

Former Home Secretary Bal Krishna Prasai. Photo: PREPARE

A UNDP-supported panel has offered expert recommendations on how to reorganize two crucial functions—law and order, and disaster management—across the three tiers of government

With Nepal adopting a federal structure under the new Constitution, the functions of law and order, and disaster management, have now come under the shared authority of all three tiers of government: the federal, provincial and local.

Schedules 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the Constitution have broadly defined the roles of the different levels of administration, where the maintenance of peace and security, and management of disasters, have been classified as part of the explicit and concurrent responsibility of all three. And now, in order to ensure a clear devolution of authority, a number of acts and policies need to be formulated to lay bare the specifics of the jurisdiction of each tier.

It was in this vein that a panel of experts constituted under the UNDP-supported Project to Prepare the Public Administration for State Reforms (PREPARE), and led by former Home Secretary Bal Krishna Prasai, recently submitted a report on the “Delegation of State Authority to Different Levels: Security and Disaster Management” to the Government to guide it in its bid to draft relevant legislation on the matter. The panel, referring to Article 279 (2) and the annexes of the Constitution—as well as evaluating numerous international practices—has compiled a list of recommendations pertaining to the delegation of authority among its different components related to security and disaster management.

The report clearly defines, for instance, the functions of four security agencies—the Nepal Army, the Armed Police Force, the Nepal Police and the National Intelligence Department—in the new federal set-up. It states that safeguarding national sovereignty and national interest comes under the explicit jurisdiction of the federal government—such matters as defense, warfare, and maintenance of unity and border security cannot but be the responsibility of the central government. This means that the center exerts control over all national defense forces, including the Army and the Armed Police Force (APF).

But as far as general law and order is concerned, that will come under the collective purview of both the federal and provincial governments, according to the report. The provincial governments will have their own police forces to oversee security within their boundaries, and will be responsible for such tasks as investigating crimes, collecting intelligence reports and executing the state authority.

“The central government will have no command over the provincial police forces,” Prasai explains, adding that since the new statute envisions setting up Public Service Commissions in each of the provinces, the panel has also advised that designated police training institutes be established in the same manner across states, with the National Police Academy serving as a higher-level training body at the center.

Recommendations also included installing an Inspector General to command the police force in each of the provinces. The Director General, meanwhile, would assume the role of the chief of the federal police force, which is mandated to step in to take over any cases that the provincial police might fail to tackle, as well as maintaining links with police forces from different countries. Presently, the government is preparing to deploy Additional Inspector Generals in the provinces. According to Prasai, the panel has concluded that the province-level commanders of the security forces will not be subject to orders from the center, but rather to the Home Ministries to be established in respective provinces.

As for the Army and the APF, though they will be controlled by the center, they can be mobilized by provincial authorities with permission from the federal government. For now, in case of emergencies at the local level, it is the Chief District Officer under whom these forces are mobilized. “It’s all about striking a balance and creating a harmonious working relationship between the provincial and central governments,” Prasai says.

That balance and harmony also comprises a key principle when it comes to disaster management in the federal set-up, in which all three tiers of authority have been allotted specific roles. Since it is the local government that is closest to the people on the ground, the onus is firstly on these bodies to respond in times of crisis. The local-level disaster management committee, led by the chief of the municipality/rural municipality is expected to develop preparedness plans and execute them, and should a disaster occur, spring immediately into action.

If the disaster in question happens to be of considerable magnitude, such as the recent floods in the Terai, the intervention will be escalated to the provincial or even the central level. The federal government is in charge of putting in place national preparedness plans, while provincial governments do the same for areas within their jurisdiction. In this way, the three tiers will work together to mitigate and respond to disasters, building on the efforts level by level, as per their capacity.

“We’re entering a whole new administrative reality, and it’s to be expected that institutionalization will take a bit of time,” says Prasai. “But the basic idea is to ensure that the federal government does not curtail the rights of provinces, and provincial governments do not curtail the rights of the local-governments, so that power can be effectively devolved.”

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