The Local Government Operation Act 2017 elaborates the functional responsibilities of the local government that range from legislating, regulating to management of local development planning and service delivery 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 and implementation process.
This multidimensional aspect of citizen participation is very much spelt out in the preamble, directive principles of state policy, fundamental rights chapter of the federal 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. Similarly, the Good Governance Guidelines 2018 has been formulated with a view towards enhancing transparency and social accountability practices at local government. The Guidelines posits citizens and civil society organisations as the key actors of democratic governance. It seeks to promote and enhance civic engagement with local governments to institutionalie social accountability mechanism, process and practices.
In fact, citizen participation has been a key ingredient in the recipe for democratiation and development of the nation. It contributes to increase transparency and promote ownership of citizens in decision making process. If citizens are involved in the policy decision and development, they will be able to make government officials more accountable and responsive for their actions and needs.
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 lend meaningful participation in decision making process at local level, because, in one way or another, he or she will be influenced by the policies and programs implemented by the government authorities. Moreover, citizen participation is not and should not be an optional function. It must be undertaken under any special circumstances. In a democratic governance system, citizen participation should be a part of the everyday life of citizens. It should not be a seasonal or occasional event. It is each citizen’s right and obligation to participate not only during the election period but also in times between elections.
In fact, citizens need education and orientation to learn about an issue of democratic relevance and importance. They should also be educated about how they can influence the decision making process. The government should inform the citizens about new policies and programs and the role expected from them. Media plays an important role in educating citizen about the importance of their participation and vigilance in ensuring good governance. Information can be disseminated to the population at large in an effective 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 institutionalises practices on accountability and transparency. It is also realistic and less transactional for citizens to oversee and monitor the regulatory practices at the local level apart from local development planning and implementation. 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. Enabling policy and legal framework exist for citizen participation at the local level in the country.
The proposed law governing civil society organisations, media council and several directives issued by the Home Ministry are alleged to rein in on the activities of the civil society organisations. It has given rise to concerns and apprehensions on the intent of the new government in dealing with civil society and media organisations. The government moves are under sharper scrutiny and also criticised severely.
Moreover, restructuring of local government carried out prior to local elections in accordance with the recommendations of the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) has slashed and reduced the number of municipalities from around 3500 to 753. This has has increased territorial size of the local governments both in terms of space and demography. It has also impacted on political density with significant variation in population –representative ratio. The proximity of the political representatives to their constituents has been curtailed.
Moreover, 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, programs 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. 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 have been revised allegedly without consultation with local community and concerned stakeholders. It is time multi-level governments especially the local government should interact with citizens on every issues 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. Citizens should keep vigil on the activities of the government and participate meaningfully to feed civic inputs into the governance process of the country.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues)