Local government by the people, for the people, of the people

Despite all its achievements, the leadership of local government in Nepal has not been without flaws. Municipalities and neighborhoods, in particular, have been arrested for budget discrepancies.

The 58th report of the Auditor General’s Office showed that Rs 40.83 billion out of the Rs 814 billion allocated to local government went unaccounted for in the financial year 2020, with metropolises accounting for a larger portion of the mismanagement.

At one level, this has been attributed to corruption at the local level, but training in the proper financial management of budgets is also insufficient.

“Variations could be due to poor bookkeeping and lack of accounting knowledge on the part of local officials,” says Rameshore Khanal. “This will allow local governments to take steps to familiarize themselves with accounting practices.”

Corruption is indeed rife at all three levels of government, whether it is irregularities in hiring jobs, fees for government services, patronage and nepotism, and bribes to circumvent government mandated policies.

Nearly 30% of complaints filed with the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) since the 2017 municipal elections concern local institutions and elected officials. However, according to experts, this does not mean that local bodies are more or less corrupt than other government bodies, since complaints filed with the CIAA are not limited to corruption.

Mayor of Dhulikhel and Chairman of the Municipal Association of Nepal, Ashok Banju disagrees that local governments are more prone to corruption, citing the transparency of the local political mechanism.

“Details of our spending and decision-making processes are public knowledge,” Banju says. “It has strengthened local democracy.

Balananda Poudel, chairman of the National Commission for Natural Resources and Finance, agrees that local leaders are closer to the people, which forces them to be more accountable.

He adds: “Citizens find it difficult to know what national or provincial leaders are doing. But through local communities, they have close access to their local representatives to hold them accountable for any acts of political and personal extravagance.

More than two-thirds of total local government spending is facilitated by financial transfers from the provincial and federal levels. In the financial year 2021, Rs 259 billion out of Rs 391 billion spent by local governments came from grants provided by provincial and federal governments, of which local governments generate only a small proportion of internal revenue.

National Assembly Member Khim Lal Devkota said that although there are many opportunities for local governments in Nepal to earn more revenue from taxes, they have not been able to utilize them. However, some municipalities like Chandranagar of Sarlahi district, have contracted 21 acres of land for fish farming, earning up to Rs 16.5 million per year in tax revenue.

The general consensus is that the performance of Nepal’s local governments has exceeded expectations, given the confusion and limited guidelines for them to operate under the new federal system. In fact, most local leaders didn’t even have offices and buildings to work in five years ago.

Indeed, when local governments were elected in 2017, there was no specific legal mechanism that representatives could turn to for advice, until the Local Government Operation Act 2018 was ratified. a year later, which meant they were nomads for a year.

Experts attribute the inability of local governments in Nepal to operate at maximum capacity to a lack of cooperation and support from the federal government in Kathmandu. The local level has not been able to exercise its right to access funds due to the lack of legislation.

A lack of guidance in personnel management forced around 200 local institutions to rely on acting administrative heads who may not have had the appropriate experience and human resources. Most neighborhood offices still have no secretaries and are understaffed.

All local governments are required to have an auditor, a secretary, an overseer, an engineer, an agricultural and livestock labor force, and an environmental expert. However, local leaders say much of the development work in their constituencies has been put on hold due to lack of staff. This situation is compounded by the lack of an integrated system for collecting performance and expenditure data at the local level to track progress.

Mayor of Dhulikhel, Ashok Banju adds that local governments are facing difficulties as the federal government has still not been able to get rid of the centralized political mechanism, setting agendas which have led to the duplication of programs of development at the local level.

Lack of coordination and failure to put in place a three-tier structure that would give autonomy to local governments has seriously affected the efficiency of the local level, from small administrative work to budget execution, acknowledges Khim Lal Devkota.

Indeed, even if there are competent village and municipal councils, they have not been able to legislate and enforce their competences.

“Local governments have not been able to exercise their power to intervene,” says Rajendra Pyakurel, executive director of the National Federation of Rural Municipalities. “We shouldn’t wait for the green light from another authority because we are the authority.”

Another major weakness of local governments in Nepal is the lack of communication with the people they serve. The work is undertaken largely without social mobilization or input from local civil society.

Local government expert Bhurtel acknowledges the lack of cooperation with local and rural organizations and partnerships with community organizations in planning, implementation and decision-making processes.

“Local government is not there to serve only those who voted for the representatives,” Bhurtel explains. “Governance should not meet the needs of the majority, but be open to the participation of all citizens.”

As the country approaches its second local elections on May 13, experts stress the need for capable and committed elected leadership in local communities across Nepal. But filling leadership positions will not be enough.

“Existing vacancies at local level should be filled and resources should be increased according to local level responsibilities,” says Gopi Krishna Khanal, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs. “The power of local government cannot be reduced. The more popular our government becomes, the stronger the democracy and the system of governance will be. »

Madhes Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Bhogendra Jha also sees the need to change the way Nepalese view positions of power.

Jha says, “At present, personal gain, not public welfare, prevails at all levels of government. Only when we change this thought process can we deliver on our promises of good governance.

Read also: All politics is local, Sahina Shrestha