Written by Prashant Bhandari

Singha Durbar has always been the political and administrative hub for Nepal.  Built during the Rana regime, the perimeter of the palace serves as home to most of the ministries. Be it the rise and fall of monarchic governance, frequent changes to the constitution, or the newly embraced Republic model of government, the palace has witnessed it all and remained a stalwart authority in the centralised governance mechanism of the country.

However, with the promulgation of the latest constitution from the Constitutional Assembly (CA) on September 20, 2015, the country prepared to introduce federalism. The issues of decentralisation, inclusiveness and public participation have been resonating louder than ever – factors that are pivotal for the success of federalism. The old Singha Durbar still holds its power but now happily observes it being divided into three levels: Central, Federal and Local Government. This article looks at how local government has functioned so far.

Local bodies in Nepal have become more empowered than ever.

The local government is the one working closely with the people. The political parties initiated a programme known as Gaun Gaun ma Singha Durbar, to spread detailed information on the functions of government to the population. After demolishing the 3,467 old local bodies, elected representatives have been taking their seats in the 753 newly established local bodies – 6 Metropolis Cities, 11 Sub-Metropolises, 276 Municipalities and 460 Rural Municipalities. The 2017 election, completed in multiple phases, was the first of its kind since 1997. The then prevailing Maoist insurgency had disturbed the election scheduled for 2002, while the election called by King Gyanendra in 2006 saw fewer voters as the major political parties had boycotted the ballot.

The long vacant posts of elected members now have Mayors and Deputy Mayors in Municipalities, and Chairpersons and Vice Chairpersons in Rural Municipalities. Similarly, each ward chooses five members including the Ward Chairperson. Women in Nepal, who were traditionally seen to hold household positions, are now guaranteed political participation at the local level as two ward members must be female and one should come from socially deprived ethnic groups. There was a time when the representatives working within the people’s reach had no function than to make general appointments, maintain the Vital Registration System (population data), and carry out smaller development projects. Now they have both legislative and executive functions to exercise.

According to the constitution, the legislative power of the local level is vested in the Village Assembly and Municipal Assembly. The assembly consists of the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson from Municipal or Village Executive, Ward Chairperson, and members from each ward. Also, the members from the Municipal or Village executive elected from the minority and socially deprived ethnic groups are included in the assembly. Within the Executive, the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson (Mayor and Deputy Mayor), and Ward Chairperson, four elected women members from Village Assembly themselves and two elected members from the minority and socially deprived ethnic groups. The new constitution also has a separate provision for the three-member judicial committee at the local level which is led by the Deputy Head of the divisions. The judicial committee will work to solve small disputes as per the law.

It is evident that local bodies in Nepal have become more empowered than ever. With the 22 absolute powers, and 15 shared with the province and the centre, they can now plan their own development activities as per the needs and demands of the people. As the people see the representatives take their seats, the realization of government reaching their doorsteps will materialise. Participation of the people in planning, execution and reviewing will put the pressure upon the stakeholders to become sincere, accountable and transparent. On the one hand, the municipalities and rural municipalities will have a fair share of the budgets from the centre, and on the other hand, they can collect taxes and revenues under various headings including: road, transportation, land, construction, business, registration and recommendation, and tourism, among others.

The regulation of market, conservation of environment, waste management, and disaster management also fall under their responsibilities. They are responsible for different social security schemes like senior citizen allowances, maternity benefits, and plans and assistance for improving the life of differently-abled citizens and children. Furthermore, conservation and management of natural resources and touristic destinations, promotion of local languages and cultures, and collaborating with the central and provincial government for the mega-scale projects are among the responsibilities of local government.

Representatives who have nearly four more years of their tenure remaining are heavily laden with the expectations of the people.

With the budget drafted from the centre, the municipalities and rural municipalities have come up with their annual plans and programs and allocated the budgets for them. This has spread the vibe of development among the Nepali people. However, the representatives who have nearly four more years of their tenure remaining are heavily laden with the expectations of the people. In some places, Mayors and Deputy Mayors are already the subject of heavy criticism due to their failure to deliver works as per their promise during the election. The newly formed offices can only become fully functional when there is proper management of bureaucrats and the co-ordination is established between them and elected representatives.  Rather than only spreading hope among the people, it is high time that the authorities should work as per the need, with full commitment.

As the Communist Government is leading the country, they have a mandate at the local level, after achieving an overwhelming number of votes. Deep-rooted corruption, lack of coordination among various departments, and unstable politics have always hindered development. This majority will help to create a better working environment if the government in power can rise above personal greed and work efficiently. The success of local government will determine the viability of federalism in Nepal and help the people embrace the long-awaited constitution of Nepal.

Prashant Bhandari is a freshman student at Kenyon College, having worked for Glocal Khabar, a youth-based news portal in Kathmandu, in the past. His work focuses on Politics and Diplomacy, with a specific expertise on Nepali society and literature. This article has been contributed via the Yang-Ward Foundation. Image credit: CC by Krish Dulal/Wikimedia Commons.

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