Panel on local government For service delivery

A careful reading of the terms of reference entrusted to the commission by the government indicates that the panel has to undertake the multifarious and challenging tasks for ascertaining the complex and substantively meaningful issues

The government formed the local government reorganization commission headed by former senior bureaucrat Balananda Poudel recently. The government   decided to constitute the panel in adherence of the provision prescribed by article 295(3) of the new constitution promulgated almost six months ago. A series of discussions had been held with the experts and stakeholders to define the terms of references of the commission. The much awaited commission is nonetheless very important. And its conclusions and recommendations will be of seminal value and use in working out and finalizing the architecture of the sub national governance in general and local government in particular for federal Nepal. A careful reading of the terms of reference entrusted to the commission by the government indicates that the panel has to undertake the multifarious and challenging tasks for ascertaining the complex and substantively meaningful issues. This has to be carried out on the basis of studies, technical inputs, data and information in addition to the voices/aspirations of the local people.

The constitutional provision as enshrined in Article 295(3) stipulates that the high level commission will define, rationalize and reconstitute the number, size and boundary of the village government (Gaunpalika), municipal government ( Nagarpalika) and special, protected and autonomous areas. But   this responsibility requires detailed review, assessment and examination of the administrative, financial, geographical, structural, cultural and governance issues and dimensions subservient to the general principles, experiences and practices of the local self rule and spirit of the federal constitution.  Such an objective and data based  examination of the aforesaid factors and issues  subject to the referral  norms like accessibility, ease of  administration, geographical contiguity, settlement development and  so on  alone can help the panel to ascertain the  basis for the  determination of the size, number and boundary of the  reorganized local governments.

Moreover, in addition to this, the commission is also enjoined with the task of working on the modality for the integrated Kathmandu Valley wide metropolitan government as it has the status of the federal capital. Since the Kathmandu valley itself is a very sensitive ecological unit, fragmented governance and uncoordinated and haphazard development planning have aggravated its natural and social environment.  Not only  the Kathmandu Valley, there are the  other expansive  valleys in the inner Terai  that need to be  recognized and encompassed  in totality as a separate ecological, governance and  development  unit. These valleys, for example, include Rapti (Chitwan), Dang-Deukhuri, Surkhet and so on.

There has been a discussion going on among the stakeholders around the size and number of the local government units, especially the village development committees and municipalities. Some   proposals have been floated to bring down and rationalize the number and size of the VDCs through amalgamation and adjustment of the geographical areas, demography and boundaries to make them viable and governable from the administrative and service delivery point of view. One such proposal floated on behalf of the Local Development Department (Sthaniya Nikaya Bibhag) of the CPN(UML) in 2070 BS is in place for reference  properly documented with rough maps and sketches. The CPN(UML) document proposes  to rationalize and  bring down the number of the local government units, especially VDCs and municipalities - to around nine hundred to one thousand. The restructuring of the local government units has been needed   as  their  geographical area  is haphazardly delimited. Their demographic size and area is mostly found to be uneven, irregular, broken, disproportionate and inconvenient from service delivery and administrative point of view. The larger size of the local government units may be feasible and convenient from the technocratic and administrative point of view. This may contribute to deploy resources - both financial and personnel - in a more effective and efficient way. However, from participatory and the access point of view it may take the local institution away from the people in the hills and mountains where transportation and movement is very difficult.

The rationale of the public local service delivery lies in the fact that it should not only be available but accessible and affordable easily to be availed with short walking and commuting. If we aim at slashing the number of the VDCs and municipalities to around one thousand, the geographical area of the Gaunpalika (village government) will expand in an average to around that of the existing current  Ilaka (electoral area) for the district development  committee (DDC ) that covers and comprises  at least  five to  seven  VDCs depending upon the local context. This calls for new thinking as to how to make local service delivery and participatory governance more tuned in to the need and interests of the local populace.

In this context, local wards should be thoroughly restructured and recast as the primary focus and site for participatory governance and service delivery. The commission is expected to delve into these aspects rationally and sensibly to ensure that local democracy and service delivery is enhanced and fostered at the grassroots.