Rather than creating new institutions at the village level, the centre should focus its attention on strengthening the local levels
According to the new constitution, there are 753 local levels and 6,743 wards across the country.
The wards are the smallest unit of the local government, where one ward chairperson and four ward members, including one woman and one Dalit woman, are elected under the first-past-the-post system.
The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 (Schedule 8) has given 22 powers to the local levels. Besides these single powers, there are 15 other such concurrent powers that can be implemented by the three tiers of government under the principles of coordination, cooperation and coexistence. The very idea of including a woman and a Dalit woman at the ward level is to make sure that their concerns are duly addressed at the grassroots level, and they take part directly in the decision-making process. Unlike the previous local bodies, known as the VDCs, the new local levels are more powerful when it comes to taking decisions as per Schedule 8. They can take care of the issues related to the environment, economic, social and cultural development as well as maintaining law and order in the concerned ward. The elected officials, in close cooperation with the local people, can also mobilise people in times of emergencies, such as administering vaccines against the coronavirus.
The Constituent Assembly's decision to empower the local levels was one of the major achievements of the new constitution. So many small-scale development projects and social programmes – promotion of health care and education, protection of the environment and community forestry – identified by the federal and provincial governments can be carried out by the local levels. The ward-level elected officials are the major driving force of community mobilisation as they are quite familiar with the local people and the local context. The federal government's decision to inoculate around 70 per cent of the people with the anti-COVID-19 vaccines cannot be implemented without the active participation of the local levels, especially the elected officials at the ward level.
However, instead of empowering the elected officials at the local levels, the federal government recently issued the Tole Bikas Sanstha procedure-2021 with a view to ensuring maximum participation of citizens in the local development process. Under this procedure, a village or a tole can form a committee of a maximum seven to 11members, to be registered at the concerned ward office for a period of two years.
These committees will be doing the same types of work the elected officials are supposed to do. Their jobs include, among others, maintaining law and order and developing cultural and communal harmony, besides monitoring the development works being carried out in their vicinity. There will be duplication of work between the elected and Tole Bikas Sanstha, which is an unelected body. Rather than creating new institutions at the grassroots levels, the federal government should focus its attention on strengthening the institutional capacity of the local levels, especially the local level Judicial Committees, chaired by the vice-chairperson or deputy-mayor, which are mostly held by women, and they are inexperienced in legal issues.
As had been widely feared, the clash in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) between the factions led by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and Madhav Kumar Nepal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal has seeped to the provincial level. The Provincial Assembly, instead of being a forum to discuss development agendas, has become a platform for smearing and mud-slinging at opponents from the rival faction. As a result, the Provincial Assembly meeting in Province 1, where a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Sherdhan Rai was to be tabled, could not happen on Sunday due to the obstruction by the lawmakers belonging to the Oli faction. The meeting has now been postponed till February 21.
Since the House of Representatives was dissolved on December 20, demonstrations and protests have been held by the rival factions of the NCP, where the top leaders relish in washing the dirty linen of the opponent in public. This has drawn much ridicule from the public while making a mockery of our political leaders. So even if the central leaders delight in levelling criticisms at each other, let the Provincial Assembly lawmakers show maturity and not allow any stalemate for the sake of the country.
A version of this article appears in the print on February 9, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.