Making Local Leaders Capable
Nepal is undergoing a significant social and political transformation following the promulgation of the constitution of Nepal 2015 through the Constituent Assembly. It has admitted Nepal into the league of the federal republic nation. The constitution has created three spheres of the government - federal, provincial and local - with significant devolution of the state authority to the local level governments.
The constitution has transformative potential and promises. It is more or less directed towards bringing about inclusive changes in social and political power structures, process and dynamics in the country. But in order to ensure that the constitution’s transformative potential is translated into action, the challenge of course lies in implementing democratic, social justice and inclusion related provision envisaged in the basic law of the land.
The implementation of these constitutional provisions will not only institutionalise and strengthen inclusive democratic institutions but also deliver to realise the fundamental rights and entitlements of the people. There is no denying the fact that some important initiatives had been undertaken in building politically inclusive institutions and implementing programmatically targeted activities that aim at benefiting the marginalised groups and empower the women to some extent. Mention in this context can be made of the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) strategies, among others, that tend to ensure that development programmes benefit women, Dalits, marginalised and the excluded groups in an inclusive and non-discriminatory manner.
The ongoing state restructuring process is an important strategy to make the governance process and mechanism more equitable and judicious. The local level government elections held after an interregnum of more than one and half decade has introduced a significant change, particularly at the arena of democratic governance in the country. Representation of women in public spheres both at the national legislatures and local level government has increased through affirmative action in line with the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), to a positive trend in women’s political participation with the election of 13,565 women as Mayors, Deputy Mayors and Ward level representatives at the local level governments.
The constitutional arrangement for political empowerment of women endorses and opens up windows of opportunities not only for political participation but also establishes their agency and stake in power structures, governing processes and mechanisms of the country. The formulation of the Judicial Committee at Municipality (Nagarpalika) and Rural Municipality (Gaonpalika) levels according to Article 217 of the constitution is definitely expected to ensure access to the state services and justice to the local people. The Judicial Committees are mandated to be led by the Deputy Mayor – and comprising mainly of women (95 per cent) going by current results. This heralds a historical opportunity to leverage the interface between formal and informal justice mechanisms. Moreover, it provides an avenue to establish linkages between conflict negotiation consensual informal mechanisms which can bring about important changes in enhancing women’s access to justice.
This constitutional recognition and devolution of powers to local government is expected to promote democracy and good governance at the local level. It provides an institutional framework to bring decision making closer to the people and building partnerships with communities. This also helps in the development of democratic values, and allows for greater representation of various political, social and cultural groups, women and minorities. Furthermore, transfer of authority and resources to local level governments- Gaopalika and Nagarpalika- to design and implement policies and programmes provides opportunities to the underrepresented and marginalised groups- women, Dalits and disadvantaged ethnic minorities -to actively participate in the process of decision making.
However, constitutionally empowered local level governments that are purported to be established as inclusive and participatory institutions are at their very incipient stage since they not only lack institutional mechanism but also administrative apparatus. The elected local government leaders on top of that the elected women representatives are yet to understand and grasp the multi-pronged and multidimensional roles and functions they have to undertake according to the constitutional promise and expectations.
Moreover, the local level governments are required to perform executive, legislative and judicial functions similar to the provincial and federal governments. These functions and roles have to be clearly understood and the scope of functions enshrined in the constitutions and statutes concretely grasped by the elected leadership at the local level to provide stewardship to their execution and application with a view to delivering services to the people in an effective and inclusive manner. However, there have been no such concrete and well-planned strategies in place.
The constitution has specifically allocated twenty two substantive functions to the local level governments – Gaupalika and Nagarpalika - in its schedule 8. These functions have been further subdivided into over two hundred twenty-two activities to come under the ambit of the local level governments. Moreover, the constitution lists fifteen shared functions which have to be exercised in concurrence with federal and provincial government. These functions have been detailed out into over hundred functions.
All these have entrusted onerous responsibilities to the local government leaders, of which around forty per cent of which are women both as local executives and legislators (assembly members). Health, education and agriculture are some of the key and critical sectors which are devolved upon the local level governments. For example, education up to higher secondary level has to be managed and governed by the local level governments.
An apparatus similar to the ministry at the provincial and federal level needs to be created which can be led and overseen by the elected women representatives. This underlines the need for capacity building of the elected leaders in general and elected women representatives in particular whose role should be effective to demonstrate that they can work at par with their male counterpart on the one hand and enhance and mainstream gender inclusion and social equality at the local level.