The Participatory Governance
Nepal has come along an important and far-reaching process of political development and transformation over the last few years. It has undergone change from a centralised unitary state structures to federal democratic republic to redeem pledge to deliver justice, prosperity and welfare to citizens. The Constitution enacted by the popularly elected Constituent Assembly in 2015 has restructured Nepal into three tiers of government - federal, province and local. And these governments have been assigned with important functional competencies and mandates.
In the federal architecture of functional assignment, the local governments - rural and urban municipalities - are entrusted with important roles and functions that are mainly related with local policy making, development planning and implementation, school education and health service delivery and local dispute resolution and management. The Local Government Operation Act, 2017 elaborates the functional responsibilities of the local government that range from governing, regulating to management of local development planning and service delivery functions at the local level. At the core of these functional allocations among the three-tier of the government lies the imperatives of the representation and participation of citizens in the government decision making process. This aspect is very much spelt out in the preamble, directive principles of state policy, fundamental rights chapter of the constitution, acts and guidelines issued by the government time and again.
Moreover, the Local Government Operation Act 2017 intends to promote collaborative governance through citizen participation at the local level while the Good Governance Guidelines 2018 issued for enhancing transparency practices at local government posits citizens and CSOs as the key actors to engage with local governments to strengthen social accountability process and practices.
Needless to repeat, citizen participation is indeed a key ingredient in the recipe for democratisation and development. It contributes to increase transparency and ownership of citizens in decision making process. If citizens are involved in the policy development, they will be able to make government officials more accountable and responsive for their actions and decisions. In fact, local and participatory democracy can be institutionalised properly only when a constructive collaboration and engagement between local government institutions and citizens is duly facilitated, fostered and strengthened. It is also the duty of citizen to participate in decision making process at local level because, in one way or another, he or she will be influenced by the policies implemented by the government.
Moreover, citizen participation should not be undertaken under any special circumstances, but should be a part of the everyday life of citizens. It is not a seasonal or occasional event. It is each citizen’s right and responsibility to participate not only during the election period but also in times between elections. Citizens need time to learn about an issue and also know how they can influence the decision making process. The government should inform the citizens about policy development as well as their roles. Media plays an important role in citizen participation. Information can be disseminated to the population at large in a very easy and efficient matter through use of the media. Citizen participation in local government decision making process not only enhances legitimacy of local government but also promotes and institutionalises practices on accountability and transparency.
It is also realistic and less transactional for citizens to oversee and monitor the governing and local development planning and implementation practices at the local level. This can help ensure that local resources are properly utilised consistent to local needs and preferences. In addition to it, citizen stakeholders can participate and feed their inputs into local policy formulation which can ensure local authorship and ownership of local laws and bylaws. Though enabling policy and legal framework exist for citizen participation at the local level as enshrined in the constitution of Nepal, and local government law, the proposed national integrity policy and directives issued by the Home Ministry to rein in on the activities of the INGOs and NGOs have, however, given rise to concerns and apprehensions on the intent of the new government in dealing with civil society. Moreover, concerns have been raised in the media regarding the partisan orientation of the civil society from local to the national level that has allegedly diminished their independent role and objectivity.
Moreover, restructuring of local government, carried out prior to local elections in accordance with the recommendations of the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) held in 2016, has slashed the number of municipalities from around 3,500 to 753 which has increased size of the local governments both in terms of territory and demography. It has also impacted the political density with significant variation in population – representative ratio. Moreover, the local government offices have gone removed from the walking distance of local communities presenting difficulties in contacting the representatives and officials apart from accessing services.
Since the local level elections held last for the rural municipalities (Gaupalikas) and Municipalities (Nagarpalikas), the elected representatives have formulated policies, plans, programmes and projects for the last fiscal year and this year in succession. It is generally found that the local projects are selected and formulated without consultation with the local citizens which can be labelled as pork barrel projects. The projects are generally found being allocated based on the partisan consideration not on the basis of the local needs. Moreover, local tax rates and service fees/tariffs have been revised allegedly without consultation with local community and concerned stakeholders. It is time multi-tiered governments especially the local government should interact with citizens on every issue that impact them in their day to day life. This can give a sense of ownership and motivate citizens to cooperate and collaborate with the activities of the government institutions.