Power games

  • Various attempts have been made to curtail the authority of the local governments
- Khim Lal Devkota

Sep 20, 2017-Now that local elections are complete, local governments will finally be established in Nepal after a long gap. Initially, the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) proposed that Nepal be divided into 719 municipalities. In the face of discontent, particularly in the non-participation of the Madhes-based parties in the first and second phase elections, the government increased the number of local units to 753. The constitution has also drawn up provisional boundaries for seven provinces, and provincial and federal elections will be held in two phases on November 26 and December 7. A great number of things remain to be done to prepare for these elections. However, it is evident that the government is ill-prepared, particularly considering that they have not been able to manage the proper functioning of Local Governments (LGs). 

Constant roadblocks

The LLRC proposed that each local level have 70 members of staff, resulting in a total of 52,000 employees. However, the problem lies in the fact that the government cannot mobilise existing staff members, and the addition of another 52,000 will result in considerable management problems.

More than one-third of the LGs have not been able to make their annual policies and programs public. Most representatives at the LGs have not yet been properly educated about provisions regarding local level planning, plan formulations, available resources to undertake projects, periodization of projects, project implementation and management, accounting and expenditure system, types of law enactment, and employee appointment procedures. 

The LGs also face problems related to mobilisation of resources and employee management. Due to a lack of employees, LGs have not been able to provide quick and effective services like the provision of passports, citizenship cards,  registration of vital events (birth, marriage, migration), certification of relationship, etc. Projects for infrastructural development have also been adversely affected due to the lack of technical support. Though the LGs have been granted executive rights by the constitution, the government has not mobilised even a thousand employees to help LGs fulfil their duty. 

Instead of giving money directly to local levels for the purchase of vehicles, the central government is taking it upon itself to buy vehicles for the local levels. Actions such as these are causing raised tempers among newly elected representatives. The government seems intent on controlling fiscal resources and tightening the noose around the local level while formulating laws. In terms of the fiscal aspect, the Parliamentary Development Committee endorsed LGs bill and Fiscal Management bill contained in the Finance Committee are not really supportive of the LGs. 

The constitution has granted the fiscal right of collecting house rent taxes to the local level. However, contrary to this provision, the government is claiming that this right falls within the domain of the central body. Many municipalities including the Kathmandu and Lalitpur Metropolitan Cities were compelled to back away from charging this tax revenue. LGs are not able to exercise their fiscal right properly. 

Additionally, the central government does not seem to be prepared to transfer the sectorial programs and projects to the local levels. For example, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD), which is as the focal ministry for LGs, has also undermined the LGs. The latest example of this behaviour 

was a circular issued to the Department of Local Infrastructure Development 

and Agricultural Roads (DoLIDAR). The circular says projects regarding local roads, bridges, irrigation, etc. (including those undertaken by donors) are to be undertaken by the District Technical Office (DTO). This restricts the executive rights of the LGs. 

Stuck in the past

During the election campaign, the elected representatives assured the people that they would push through and implement a number of programs and projects. To fulfil their dreams, massive scale funding is needed at the level of the LGs. But the recently released circular claims that sectorial programs and projects should not be transferred to the local level, and instead should stay under the jurisdiction of the district. Instead of guiding other ministries to transfer programs to the LGs, the MoFALD is undermining the LGs and keeping power closer to the centre. 

The MoFALD’s circular also disvalued the District Coordination Committee (DCC). The circular grants authority for the expenditure for projects and programs to the DCC, which will, in turn, be required to seek approval from the DTO. 

An elected body, the DCC was formed to assist the LGs in carrying our projects and programs. Under the federal system, technical offices as well as sectorial offices for education, health, road, irrigation, agriculture, livestock, drinking water, etc. should immediately be put under the jurisdiction of the LGs. If the LGs find it difficult to cope in this period of transition, they will have to function as instructed by the DCC. However, given the fact that the central government seems intent on maintaining control over projects and programs, there is no role for the DCC in the current context. 

Just as regressive as the MoFALD circular was the budget released by the government recently. The  budget states that ‘the programs and projects above Rs5 million for the rural municipality, Rs10 million for the municipality and Rs20 million for the sub-metropolitan and metropolitan municipalities will be implemented from the related sectorial line offices’. This provision resulted in strong opposition on all levels. Such budgetary provisions mean that sectorial offices will continue at the district level. 

What makes the situation for LGs even more precarious is the fact that employees are not willing to transfer to the local levels. A few days ago, the Ministry of General Administration (MoGA) transferred some employees to the local level but the decision was reversed due to the discontent of employees. Technical officials of sectorial ministries also refused to serve at the LGs.

Though the constitution has granted the LGs the authority to exercise state power, various attempts have been made to curtail this authority. If we really want to strengthen the constitutional provision of federalism, democracy and inclusiveness, let’s try to build an environment where LGs can easily exercise their constitutional rights.

- Devkota is a fiscal federalisation and local government’s analyst

Published: 20-09-2017 07:53

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