The legal mechanism was enacted as per the Article 296 (1) of the Nepal Constitution-2015 so as to leverage local leadership and governance system. It was introduced by upholding the spirit of local autonomy and full decentralization with the motive to distribute fruits of democracy in a proportional, inclusive and just manner.
The Act has stipulated several arrangements related to authorities, duties and responsibilities of local government, assembly meeting and working system, assembly management procedures, plan formulation and implementation, judicial works, financial jurisdictions, administrative structure and district assembly, among others. Besides, it has also presented a wish list of the functions of the local governments in 22 broader areas including municipal police, cooperative organization, FM operation, local tax, service charge and tariff, management of local services, collection of local data and records and local development schemes and projects. Going through the Chapter 3 of the LGOA, the scope of work of the local government is varying and wide-ranging within the frameworks of executive, legislature and judiciary functions.
Though the functioning of local government is in a very nascent stage and could not work well due to festive and federal and provincial parliamentary elections, it may be hasty to audit the performance. But, the surface reviews are also indicative to know how the local government is moving and functioning with what threats, opportunities and challenges.
Drawing the summary findings of province-level gatherings of elected representatives of rural municipalities, Executive Director of National Association of VDCs in Nepal (NAVIN) Bimal Pokharel noted that there are several challenges facing the local governments which range from unavailability of administrative building to human resource, poor compliance of directives of elected representatives, deficit knowledge and skills to promulgate local laws and sluggish implementation of annual programme and budget. “Elected local leadership also has differences in understanding on several affairs. They consider that the formulation of laws and arrangement of human resources and budget are the responsibilities of the centre and their roles are to implement them,” he said citing the findings of the discussion.
By law and constitution, the power has devolved to the doorsteps of the people at local level but much has to be done to prepare the base towards exercising the unprecedented authorities. “Everything is running ad hoc at local level right now. There has been widespread rhetoric that the power of Singha Durbar has come to the villages but nothing substantial has changed,” said Dhir Bahadur Bista, Chairperson of Naraharinath Rural Municipality of Kalikot district. “We still need to walk four hours to reach district headquarters to check emails. The ad hoc practices of communications from central government to local have not changed,” he added.
Moreover, local governments are in a dire need of formulating and enforcing dozens of laws to regulate local governance and development affairs. It is a herculean job for the local governments to make laws suitable to their specific contexts in order to address local needs and priorities. Mere copying the model laws developed by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development may result in cosmetic operation of local governance. It will in a way dampen the spirits of the Constitution and LGOA making the local government teeth-less. So, bringing people’s true aspirations and local needs should be taken into account while drafting and implementing laws at local level.
“At the moment, the local governments are required to prepare their e-profile accompanied by Integrated Urban Development Plan,” stressed Chiranjibi Marasini, Chief Executive Officer at Suryabinayak Municipality of Bhaktapur.
“The integrated plan document will be the constitution of the local development. There are several support areas of development within local government framework which demands engagement of different actors of society including citizen’s organizations,” he said, arguing that lone efforts of government would never bring about effective public service delivery and development.
In this context, the participation of citizens and citizens’ organizations could play spectacular roles in determining the local development needs and priorities, aligning them while drafting local laws, preparing e-profiles and integrated plans, setting the strategic direction and providing effective oversight of resource mobilization and effectiveness. The Clause 15 of the LGOA has stated that the local governments should mobilize and coordinate with users, private sector, community organizations, cooperative organizations and non-government organization. It has highlighted the need of synergy between the local governments and citizens and their networks for resource mobilization for development.
Toeing this line, the local governments which are obliged to deliver several functions should create atmosphere to onboard other local actors of development including CSOs. The local governments can mobilize CSOs in multiple areas including formulation of local laws, rules and processes, development of institutional tools and mechanism, preparing digital profiles and designing capacity building of elected representatives and employees.
So, it would be tricky on part of the local governments to create space for civic engagement in the local development which is only possible through collaboration with multiples actors. The multi-pronged responsibilities of the local government could be well delivered when there is trusted collaboration and partnership among the local actors.