Kathmandu: The local elections of 2017—the first of its kind under the federal constitution—promised decentralization, development and governance to the people at the grassroots. Gharghar ma Singhadurbar (government at each doorstep) was the stated slogan of nearly all the political parties.
After the constitution promulgation, which realized the long-held national aspirations of framing the country’s statute by people’s representatives, the local election was held as the most significant step towards reaching out to the people at their homes, addressing their development and governance aspirations.
Local governments were given a wide range of powers by the constitution. Laws were formulated to define the powers and functions of the local governments. Chapter 3 of the Local Government Operation Act, for example, has included the work, duty, and rights of the rural municipalities and municipalities. Annex-8 of the Constitution of Nepal includes the sole rights of the local governments.
If the local elections had revived the hopes of the general people, the local governments were expected to address the local problems. Hopes were high and doubt little, partly because the candidates to contest the elections for the local governments made hordes of promises to the electorates: They came out with manifestoes promising to do what no governments in the past had been able to perform.
Five years down the line, as the second local elections are approaching, the promises they made five years ago have proved to be mere rhetoric. They appear to be deceptive tricks to appeal to the emotions of the electorates. The following three examples serve as the cases in point.
Man Bahadur GC from CPN-UML won the election for the post of Mayor of the Pokhara Metropolitan City with an attractive manifesto and promising development plans. The main plan was to develop Pokhara into a ‘smart city’ on which the local government has fully failed. Even many general plans connected to people’s livelihood have not been yet implemented.
Mayor of Bharatpur Metropolitan City Renu Dahal had included as many as nine long-term development plans when she won the election. Her promises included building ring roads and link roads, construction of three concrete bridges over the Narayani River, addressing the problems of the landless squatters among others. If accomplished, these projects could change the face of the Bharatpur Metropolitan City.
Today, her development plans look as if they never existed.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City is no exception.
During the local elections five years back, Bidhya Sundar Shakya sold the dreams of metro and monorails to the residents of Kathmandu Valley. Five years down the line, Shakya appears to be one of the least performing mayors of the country. Forget mono and metro rails, Shakya has not been able to keep the Kathmandu Valley clean. Garbage heaps lie uncollected in the streets of Kathmandu, now and then.
The aforementioned examples represent the cases of low-performing and underperforming local governments.
The local governments are the people’s governments in the real sense but most of them have failed to live up to people’s expectations, nor have they been able to implement their own development plans.
Right after they won the elections the people’s representatives should have focused on their primary duty–to implement the development plans, fulfill their promises and address the aspirations of people. But that did not happen.
According to experts, rural municipalities and smaller cities have performed relatively better than metropolitans and big cities.
Local governments could be the champion of development at the local levels. But, the ineffectiveness of the local representatives, corruption, over politicization, and lack of transparency in the local levels have been stark. People are expressing their dissents against the incompetency of the local governments and the betrayal they experienced from their own representatives.
Local governments failed to spend the budget. Available reports and data show that a number of local governments have failed in the budget expenditure every fiscal year.
Nepal has 753 local governments through which people can participate in governance directly as people in need can reach out to the local governments directly.
Why they failed?
According to experts, rural municipalities and smaller cities have performed relatively better than metropolitans and big cities. Krishna Prasad Sapkota, a local governance expert, argues that metropolitans and big cities comparatively lag behind local governments of smaller municipalities and rural municipalities in performance. “One-third of the municipalities and rural municipalities have done good, one-third performed medium, and the other one-third has performed poorly,” said Sapkota. “Ten percent of them have completely failed.”
Sapkota attributes ineffectiveness of the people’s representatives, lack of proper coordination between the representatives and bureaucracy, lack of officials in the local levels, lack of working environment, the politicization of development works, and the very structures of the local governments (cases where a majority of representatives represent a certain party rest of them from the rival party and vice-versa) and the authoritarian tendency of the elected representatives as the major reasons behind low performance or failure of the local governments.