Local Government In Limbo

Kushal Pokharel

Defending his three months of tenure as Mayor of Kathmandu metropolis, Bidhya Sundar Shakya alleged the central government for providing inadequate human resource support and conflicting orders in terms of rules and regulations . While Shakya is already under a great deal of criticism for his tall promises (never to be translated into action) of making Kathmandu a liveable and vibrant city in 101 days, his view pertaining to the larger apathy of the state and the need of a clear mandate for the effective functioning of the local units is a matter of further exploration.
No visible signs
Three months after the two rounds of local elections have shown no visible signs of a functioning local democracy. With the fulfilment of the local government vacuum after two decades of political stagnation, citizens’ had high hopes for a responsive and accountable local government that could cater their expectations for local prosperity. However, citizens’ aspirations appear to have been dashed amid confusions about the operating procedures and personnel management of the recently formed local level units. The problem has been further aggravated by the lack of local government operation Act (parliament is finally on the verge of endorsement ) which is supposed to provide executive, legislative as well as judicial powers to the local government.
While no single reason can be attributed to this situation, multitude of factors have affected the governance system. First, there seems to be a general confusion among the newly elected local leaders (Mayors, Deputy Mayors) about the local level planning process. According to one of the leading scholar, who writes regularly on local governance issues in the national dailies, majority of newly elected local leaders have limited knowledge and expertise in the planning and resource mobilisation process, let alone the auditing and financial mechanisms for effective public service delivery. Moreover, some of them are still ignorant of the constitutionally granted rights of the local government. Having said that, the local representatives also lack clear policy guidelines at present to execute their functions. They have often been confused to implement their actions plans in the absence of financial and human resources.
Second, the central authorities, including the political leaders and administrators are in constant debate on the role of the local government in the federal Nepal. General consensus among the authorities is building towards concentrating more power and resource at the centre against the notion of the devolution of power. Nevertheless, conflicting circulars have been issued to the local bodies signaling the direct curtailment of the constitutionally granted rights. Despite the fact that constitution has accorded rights pertaining to education, agriculture, roads, electricity, drinking water, among others to the local units, including the rights of revenue mobilization and fiscal management, challenges have already surfaced in its implementation. For instance, the Ministry of Local Development recently, issuing a circular to the local infrastructure and agriculture road department, have made it clear that the construction of the infrastructures like road, bridge, irrigation, etc. will be under the jurisdiction of the district technical committee thereby, infringing upon the rights of the village assemblies and municipalities to conduct such development activities.
Emerging as a hindrance in the functioning of the local units is the issue of personnel management. News reports of the government employees reluctance to work under the local government have become rife. While there is a demand of about 100,000 civil servants in the local units, only 1000 vacancies have been fulfiled so far. Citing reasons of inferiority, many high ranking public (undersecretary and joint secretary level) officials have denied working under the chairperson of the village assembly and municipality. To make the civil servants responsible in their work, the Ministry of General Administration, the central personnel agency of the Government of Nepal is mulling over curtailing the salary and other benefits of those employees who disobeys the administrative order.
Growing mistrust over the capability and service delivery skill of the local units is a matter of grave concern. Instead of thinking about imparting the necessary attitude, skills and trainings to strengthen the local level units, the central government wishes to concentrate more power and resource at the centre. Even though the new constitution envisions local government as the third important tier of governance next to the federal and provincial government, the colonial and extractive mindset of policymakers and bureaucrats haven’t duly acknowledged this reality fearing the loss of the traditional authority and resource capture.
Hence, it is significant to empower the local authorities with the extensive rights in the larger spirit of the constitution through a strong act. Making them accountable to the local people instead of central and provincial authority requires the creation of a robust organisational structure with less hierarchy, ensuring the meaningful participation of the local people. Fostering grassroot democracy by promoting local governance can be a stepping stone for the socio-economic welfare of the local people.

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