Bottoms up

The units of local self-governance — the 75 district development committees, some 4, 000 village development committees and 58 municipalities — have been without the people’s representatives for the past five years, including one year of the post-Jana Andolan 2 period. They have mostly been run by employees, except sporadically, in some of them, by people nominated to the elective posts by successive governments after the term of the elected bodies was allowed to lapse in 2002 by the Sher Bahadur Deuba government despite the legal provision for extension by a year. This was because Deuba did not want the CPN-UML, the then main Opposition, to continue to hold sway in about two-thirds of them. The failure to fill all the vacancies was due to the Maoist insurgency at that time. Now, at long last, the elective vacancies may soon be filled as the eight parties are reported to have reached an understanding on the matter, including a formula for the distribution of all the posts among them. The three major parties — the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist — are to be treated as equals, the NC-D is to get half of any of the Big Three, and the remaining tiny constituents of the alliance will not have to draw a blank.

According to a report, all the local bodies are likely to be constituted in three phases, starting with the coming fiscal year. The government has prepared a set of directives for operating the local bodies in line with Article 139 of the Interim Constitution, which provides for the formation of the units of local government “to create a congenial atmosphere for the practice of the people’s sovereignty from the local level upwards ... to provide services to the people locally and to promote institutional development of democracy right from the local level up...” Decentralisation and devolution of powers have been emphasised. As there has been a national understanding on the question of providing greater autonomy to the local units, the practice of local governance in the interim period should reflect this consensus.

The eight-party look of the local units will inject optimism into the local people, giving the impression that democracy and peace are returning to the villages. The filling of all the elective posts through consensus-based nomination will activate service delivery, disrupted so often in so many places, to its full capacity, and is likely to make it efficient and transparent. In the past, after the elected bodies were allowed to die, most donors, particularly Scandinavian governments, were not pleased and had expressed their serious reservations about continuing aid aimed at strengthening local self-governance on the ground that the shape of the local bodies under active royal rule did not reflect a representative political arrangement. This had severely hampered work. The eight-party arrangements are expected to enhance accountability and credibility of local units, and greater willingness on the part of donors to help with expertise, money and material to promote democracy and decision-making at the grassroots.