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Local levels heaped with non-budgeted mandate, worsened by lack of essential staff

Manoj Karki, KATHMANDU: It’s been almost a year that the local level governments, the third and most important tier of governance in federal Nepal, were formed but they are still grappling with basics like staff and regulations essential for day-to-day functioning.
Even though the local authorities are not responsible for the problem, they are being blamed for it, with accusations being levelled on the newly elected office-bearers for lacking the efficiency and calibre to run a government. Furthermore, failure to meet the rising expectations of the people at the local level is doing more harm to the people’s representatives who look forward to build a political career out of their first term in office.
“The federal government should either provide us required number of employees or allow us to appoint them ourselves. We have great expectations to meet but our hands are tied with limited resource in terms of human personnel and required legislation”, said Mayor of Dhankuta Municipality Dev Kumar Subedi speaking at a National Conference on Urban Governance held in the capital last week.
The local governments could make temporary arrangement by hiring staffers on a contract basis. But the local governance act 2074 (2017) does not allow them to hire technical staff, which is what they are lacking. Absence of engineers has been a major obstacle for the local level governments to move ahead with infrastructure development projects, that most have allocated budget for the current fiscal year.
The issue of civil servants being deputed from the centre is likely to stay for a while until the provincial public service commissions are formed. Mayor Subedi on the occasion also called for addressing the demands of the local level government staffers, who were hired by the then local bodies. The local level government staffers are currently demanding that they be integrated into the civil service system of the country. Arguing that the local staffers comprising of local residents were better equipped with locality and knowledge to perform for their respective local governments, Mayor Subedi cited the example of the then Royal Palace Service staffers being integrated into the civil service.
Meanwhile, many civil servants are unwilling to and have denied going to their respective duty stations at the local level citing reasons of hierarchy as well as career growth. “As far as the civil servants are concerned their major concern now is of their career growth which needs to be addressed, and they cannot be forcefully deployed,” Joint Secretary at the Urban Development and Planning Division Shambhu KC said. He however said that the Federal Service Act, which is currently in the making, would resolve all outstanding issues as far as the central level civil servants are concerned.
Like Joint Secretary KC said the legislations being drafted may resolve the issue but it might be too late and little for the local level governments, who are under pressure to perform at the earliest. There is a risk of the initial euphoria and enthusiasm fading away, and people developing disenchantment towards the new form of governance adopted by the country. Life has to be certainly better with better service delivery now that the governments are so close to the people’s doorsteps.
Many participants at the conference also pointed out to the lack of a transitional plan with the country, which has created many problems that one could have foreseen before the federalization process began. “The problem is also because the local governments here got empowered at one stroke”, Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Chairperson of the Board of Governors of the ICRIER in India said at the conference jointly hosted by The Asia Foundation and Asian Development Bank. She pointed out that it was only in 1992 amendment of the Indian Constitution that the local tier was recognized in India and that they are still not empowered with funds and functionaries, and there is still no predictable transfer of funds.
Dr Ahluwalia emphasized on institutional changes to come off a process like this in Nepal, which would continue to evolve and unfold through time. “We need a set of institutions that work on infrastructure but also transparency and accountability to maintain that infrastructure,” she said.
Hence, the new government should take it as its priority to address the concerns of the local level governments and thereby give the people at the grassroots level a sense of change for the better as far as the governance of the country is concerned.

Published Date: Sunday, March 4th, 2018 | 11:03 PM

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