18 june, KATHMANDU: The devolution of authority from Singha Durbar – the central administrative hub – to the doorsteps of people has buzzed the country’s political arena especially following the first phase of civic polls on May 14. As a seminal political event held after a hiatus of around two decades, it was much anticipated to transfer the specific decision-making power and functions from the central to local levels and serve the base for deepening democracy. No sooner a month has elapsed since the first phase of local elections; it seems something unwelcoming is likely to take place to revert the constitutionally-enshrined authority of local government.
The Constitution promulgated on 20 September 2015 has envisaged a robust local level with executive, judiciary and legislative powers and functions. The national charter has emphasized on adopting the ‘principle of people’s participation’ and ‘self-rule’ on the basis of local autonomy and decentralization. The functions of the local governments would not be realized till institutional structures, systems and synergies are created within a self-sustaining framework. So, this is a crucial opportunity for locally-elected people’s representatives to exercise autonomy and perform responsibilities to give people a feeling of efficient governance with their participation in decision making.
Against this backdrop, the central government apparently is in a mood to tighten screw on the functioning of local autonomous bodies. The guidelines and directives recently issued to the local level is testimony to the fact. Such practices do not enable environment for local government to sustain its practices. Albeit nascent the local levels should not be tamed to make them dependent. Otherwise, there would be no space for the people-elected body to move in an independent and innovative way. The government has come with a Guideline for Local Units on Preparing Budgetary Programmes and Plans stating specific areas where local units can spend. The guideline was mooted to check possible misuse of resources meant for development activities and programmes after the elected representatives in some local levels made announcements to increase social security allowances.
The guidelines may be a right move in maintaining uniformity in the spending of public money at local levels. Nevertheless, the fear is – it may also nurture the same centralized governance practices against the notion of federalism and de-concentration. On the other side, the local levels should also not take hasty decisions without forming and reforming self-sustaining systems and mechanisms merely to gather cheap popularity.
Their first and foremost role now is to understand their rights and functions stipulated in the Constitution and develop strong base to perform their responsibilities in an answerable manner. It is the time to exercise authority in a responsive way rather not to take cheap and cosmetic actions.
The local election is not only to implement the federal setup of the new democratic republic but also to make the grassroots people themselves the engine of their growth and development. Hence, the time is crucial to create windows of opportunities for the public to participate in the local development and governance process in a meaningful manner. The more the people participate in the process the more robust the local levels would be. Rather than allowing the central government to control its functions, the local units should be open to develop different transparency and accountability mechanisms so that the end beneficiaries could monitor their performances and provide recommendations for further reforms.
As of now there have been some practices of multiple civic tools and mechanisms at local bodies to exact accountability. The social accountability tools such as public hearing, right to information, public expenditure tracking survey, citizen charter, participatory budgeting, asset disclosure, proactive disclosure of data and social audit, which have been successfully tested in previous governance system, should be made an integral part of the local governance. Such participatory and self-sustaining practice would strengthen local units and better their performance as well as avoid possible interference from central government.
The effectiveness of local democracy is measured by magnitude of the people’s active participation in the governance process. Keeping this in mind, the local units should adopt different measures to abet citizens and general public including wide range of Civil Society Organizations interact directly with public authorities by means of face-to-face, online and offline communications. The local units could brew and test many ideas to make such happen and work together with the people for the ultimate purpose of delivering better services to the public.
An epochal opportunity is waiting for the country to initiate a good practice on governance by developing systems of autonomy. The formative time is always crucial to establish culture and conducts as it paves the way for future. So, it is an epochal moment to practice true sense of devolution rather not to experiment already tested centralized system in any forms and manifestations. It would of course not be otherwise when people are empowered to develop and deliver their own systems for their betterment. RSS