Credentials Of Local Governments At Stake?

Uttam Maharjan

It has been a year since the local governments ‘swung into action’ after the historic elections to the local bodies that were left vacant for fifteen years. The local bodies were in existence till 2059 BS during the pre-republican times. The successive governments dithered in holding the elections to the local bodies for a decade and a half under one pretext or the other. Instead, they deployed bureaucrats to the local bodies. Initially, an all-party mechanism used to supervise the local bodies but later it was scrapped alleging that it was involved in irregularities.

Confusion
The need to man the local bodies with people’s representatives was acutely felt during the earthquake of 2015 when the local bodies were in confusion regarding providing immediate relief for the earthquake victims. At the time, the people felt that had there been people’s representatives, the earthquake victims would have got much relief immediately due to their knowledge of local conditions.
Now there are 753 local units across the country. All the local units are manned by people’s representatives. There are also seven provinces, each governed by a chief minister. The question is: has there been any change to the living conditions of the local people as well as the amenities they are entitled to with the local bodies supervised by people’s representatives? The answer will be a big nope. The local people are not satisfied with the performance of their representatives. Even the Prime Minister is not satisfied with the way the local governments are running across the country.
The constitution has given the provincial assemblies and local bodies authority to manage their affairs by mobilising internal resources. On the strength of this authority, the local bodies have resorted to an easy way of mobilising resources. In consequence, they have levied taxes haphazardly. The people have grown scary that it will be difficult for them to live under the federal system. In fact, a kind of tax menace has spread like wildfire all over the country. The issue has also been raised in Parliament. Further, irresponsible remarks by the government have added insult to injury. Sometimes it says that only those who have financial capacity to pay taxes should pay taxes and at other times it says that the rates of taxes in the country are the lowest in the world.
With protests over heavy taxes all over the country, some local bodies have reduced the rates of taxes, which goes on to prove that the taxes imposed by the local bodies are not scientific. In fact, it is wrong to levy taxes at the caprice of the local bodies. The local bodies have to mobilise resources to manage their affairs. But it is not prudent for them to think that they can mobilise resources by levying taxes indiscriminately. They have to look for other ways and means to generate income by embarking on development projects like agriculture, hydropower, trade, commerce and industry in their areas. The government has adopted the motto ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. To materialise this motto, development must be accentuated on an unprecedented scale.
The country is import-minded. The country thinks that it can run on the strength of taxes and remittances. That is why the country has failed to fare well even on the agricultural front although over 65 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture and allied activities. In the past, the country was known as an agrarian country with over 90 per cent of the population engaged in agriculture. The products, including rice and other agricultural products, that the country used to export in the past have to be imported now. Although the successive governments have talked about boosting exports and prioritising import substitution, such talk has been confined to paper only. If anything, the government seems to be happy with the import duties it can earn as if it were getting on the gravy train. The taxes on vehicles up to a staggering 240 per cent, for example, are a good source of revenue for the government.
The country is in the process of implementing the federal model. But the tax menace has disappointed the people to the extent that some people are of the view that the country cannot afford to keep federalism going and others have expressed their extreme view that federalism should be done away with. In fact, the federal system is costly due to three layers of government, the federal, provincial and local governments. There are seven provinces, each province having a chief minister and several other ministers. Likewise, there are 753 local units, each unit manned by several people’s representatives.

Performance
Judging by the performance of the local bodies with people’s representatives at the centre, their performance looks dismal. Before electing the people’s representatives, the people thought that as they were conversant with the local people and local conditions, they would work well for their benefit. But nothing of this sort has come about yet. The local people have not had a chance to enjoy the facilities and amenities the citizens are expected to enjoy. If anything, their problems are as they were during the times when the government employees were manning the local bodies.
If the local bodies do not pay heed to the problems and woes of the people, their credentials may be at stake. So it is high time they mended their ways and worked vigorously in the interests of their communities. The people should be allowed to feel a difference and perceive the presence of people’s representatives. This is what the local bodies are all about.

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