Local Governance In Nepal Some Landmark Events : Mukti Rijal
The real and effective history of decentralised governance commenced in Nepal with the formation of the High-Level Decentralisation Co-ordination Committee (HLDCC) in 1995. It was headed by the prime minister of that time. The committee was formed to suggest important changes and reforms in the local government befitting the multi-party democratic order in Nepal.
Based on the recommendations of this committee, the Local Self-Governance Act, 1999 was enacted in Nepal. The Act created a two-tier system of local government. At the district level,
the District Development Committee (DDC) functioned as the district government. At the lower rung were the Village Development Committees (VDC) for the rural areas and municipalities for the urban areas respectively. The Act recognised the local bodies as institutions for self-governance.
A Decentralization Implementation Monitoring Committee was also formed. It was a high-level oversight and strategic guidance committee headed by the prime minister to monitor and accelerate the progress of implementation of the decentralisation process in Nepal. Unfortunately, the committee failed to deliver as per its mandate and expectations. There was also a provision for the creation of a Local Body Financial Commission (LGFC) to
analyse the financial conditions and needs, and suggest measures to give further financial impetus and muscle to local governments.
The Act introduced the concept of revenue sharing between the centre and local bodies. Moreover, it guaranteed royalty from the development projects implemented within the area of the local units. The Act separated powers between the deliberative and executive organs of local bodies. The executive committees were named by the committee and the deliberative body by the council.
The Act provides for a local service commission to recruit staff for the local government units. The Act reserves 20 per cent seats for women and disadvantaged groups at the village and town council. The Act mandates the existence of the Association of Local Governments to articulate, represent and defend their respective interests.
Election to the local body has been held only twice following the democratic change in 1990. The first local poll was held in 1992, and the second was held in 1997. Like the national parliamentary polls, the last two local body polls were held according to the First Past the Post system – one of the important variants of the majoritarian model. In this model, a candidate need not garner majority votes to get elected. He or she can be declared elected by securing the largest number of votes among the contestants in the polls.
However, it is sad to note that the important LSGA provisions have remained ineffective in promoting the local governance system for the last several years in Nepal. It was because, among others, of the absence of elected and democratically accountable officials at the local level. Moreover, the parallel line agency structures entrenched at the local level were in conflict with the spirit of the local government. A total of over 23 sector laws conflicting with the LSGA were never harmonised.
Because of the political instability, which resulted from the Maoists insurgency and conflict that overwhelmed the country for over a decade, the local elections were not held. In fact, when the situation gradually became normal and the rebel groups mainstreamed themselves as part of the ruling dispensation, the local elections were never an agenda of priority for the political parties.
Elections for the Constituent Assembly were held twice, once in 2008 and the other in 2013, but the local elections have not been held for the last one-and-half decades. It is an instance of the flagrant denial and negation of the democratic rights of the citizens .
The absence of an accountability relationship between the citizens and the local institutions has created a huge democratic deficit at the local level. Local governance and the development process have been badly affected for long due to the absence of a democratically-elected mechanism at the local level. The negotiated settlement of the 10-year-long violent conflict with the Maoists in 2006 paved the way for the establishment of peace and rebuilding of democratic institutions in Nepal. An interim government composed of moderate parliamentary forces (Nepali Congress, CPN- UML) and the Maoists was formed following the settlement of the conflict. The interim parliament repealed the then prevailing constitutional system established subservient to the Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1991, and enacted a new interim constitution in 2007.
The interim constitution provided for the election to the Constituent Assembly to draft a new democratic federal constitution for the country. As a result, a 601-member Constituent Assembly was elected on April 10, 2008 to write and deliver the federal republican constitution. The
interim statute gave vision for strong and autonomous local bodies as self-governing and functional units at the grassroots. The interim constitution mentioned that the interim local bodies shall be formed at the district, municipal and local level with the consent and participation of the political parties that were actively involved at the local level.
The most important aspect of the transitional constitution was the explicit commitment to the adoption of a federal polity. Undoubtedly federalism is usually accompanied by a decentralised government. But federalism and local government are distinct and separate of each other. Federalism cannot be said as a necessary condition for decentralisation and vice versa. We can have federalism in the absence of decentralisation. But federalism alone cannot deliver the fruits of democracy out to the people. It is because of this reason that the constitution of Nepal enacted by the Constituent Assembly elected in 2013 provides a major space for the local government . But the actual effect of it will be established only when it is really implemented.