Strengthening The Local Level Bodies
Hira Bahadur Thapa
After the election of local bodies, people’s expectations are high in terms of service delivery. For almost two decades, people did not have the chance to receive services locally in an efficient manner. The reason is that they could not elect representatives of their own choice. Local elections were not held in time due to long political transition. The country was embroiled in a decade-old conflict that denied the people an opportunity to exercise their fundamental rights in an environment of fearlessness. Local elections could not be organised. A decade-long conflict ended following the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006. This was the beginning of the era of peace in the country.
With the end of conflict, the focus of the country was directed towards the promulgation of a new constitution for which a Constituent Assembly had to be elected. The demand for such Constituent Assembly had been an overdue since 1950 when the country had gotten rid of an autocratic regime perpetuated by Rana family. The first two years after the beginning of peace process were occupied in the preparations leading to the election of a CA. The country got its first CA elected in 2008. This body was entrusted with the task of drafting a new constitution. It was indeed a challenging endeavour. The basic law of the land had to be drafted to ensure the smooth functioning of a republican system.
The first CA faced a lot of hurdles in garnering required consensus on different clauses of the proposed constitution. As the composition of the CA did not authorise a single political party to form the government, it also impacted negatively on agreement to be reached on the new constitution. The successful drafting of the constitution was affected by the need to accommodate the aspirations of the people. In the wake of the second Jan Aandolan (2006), people had expectations. They wanted to have their legitimate grievances related to their ethnic groups addressed constitutionally In order to meet such ambitious goals, the first Constituent Assembly failed to fulfill its promises of a constitution that would be acceptable to the majority. As a result of this, the time limit of four years expired without any achievement at hand.
There was no alternative to elect a second Constituent Assembly for the purpose of writing a new constitution. Therefore, the country went to the polls four years ago to elect another Constituent Assembly. This Constituent Assembly finally produced a new constitution that formalised the republican system of government in Nepal.
Promulgation of a new constitution was not an easy affair though years of deliberations in the Constituent Assembly had led the people’s representatives to agree on the same. Not surprisingly there was a section of the society that has resented it. Disapprovingly, the promulgation of country’s new constitution in 2015 had invited our southern neighbour’s wrath.
But the Indian behaviour has now changed with Nepal’s consistent stand on our nationalism very much advocated by the present government. Overcoming hurdles Nepal has successfully organised three layers of election within a year, which is the mark of the institutionalisation of a republican system in the country.
The holding of local election has naturally raised hopes among people that they have better opportunities to participate in the development of their concerned municipalities. The people have now more authority to take decisions that affect their daily lives. Besides having say in choosing the development projects for their communities, they have been empowered to handle some judicial matters that are not related to crimes. In this connection the new constitution has provided for certain rights exclusively for the women considering the country’s need for female empowerment. The basic law of the land itself requires that the deputy mayoral candidate must be a woman. This has been arranged to guarantee the proper representation of women in the local bodies. Such provision has ensured a good representation of women folk in municipalities.
Moreover, the deputy mayors, who are essentially women, have been authorised to give verdict on cases that comes before the municipalities. This has further empowered Nepali women, who are still lagging behind the men in many respects. Under this arrangement women deputy mayors have now been playing the roles of judges for certain cases. In view of additional responsibilities, the local representatives have felt the need for better training and orientation to help them perform their duties efficiently. Not all representatives have the same level of education, experience and other skills. Programmes have to be conducted from time to time so that they are updated to enhance their capabilities.
The municipalities and the rural municipalities are authorised to levy local taxes. These taxes also form one of the revenues they get to run their operations daily. Collection of such taxes also requires upon the local bodies to be well acquainted on taxation law. The local bodies have started functioning under the new setup for more than a year. Based on their experience of this period, they have felt the scarcity of trained personnel to manage the activities of municipalities and rural municipalities.
Recent interaction being held between the representatives of local bodies, including those from state assemblies and the federal units have highlighted the growing need for orientation, training and budgetary resources. Even this scribe had a bitter experience a few months back when he had to obtain some documents regarding birth certification from his ward office of Falewash municipality. Despite equipped with some facilities like computers and printers, the concerned ward office could not provide the clients printed documents. They were able to provide the documents in the hand-written form.
This is just an example to show how ill-trained are the staff members manning the offices of the local bodies. Our expectations of efficient delivery of services will remain unmet until we get the local representatives trained and exposed. No less is the need for experienced employees to assist them along with the provision of necessary equipment and resources. Strengthening of the local bodies is a must for making federal system work better to serve the people.