Transitional challenges of local body restructuring

March 15, 2017



Kathmandu- The government on March 10 published a notice in the Nepal Gazette, effectively formalizing the creation of 744 local units in the country. With this decision, the country has witnessed a major restructuring of local bodies after six decades. The local bodies which were in existence over this period have now been converted to what is called the local level.

This restructuring of the local bodies has been done in tune with the federal structure that the country has adopted. As per the Constitution of Nepal, there would be three tiers of governments, viz. the federal or central government, the province government and the local government. As the country has already embraced federalism, restructuring of the state was the call of the hour and the local bodies restructuring has been done pursuant to this.

As per the new arrangement, Nepal now has 481 rural municipalities, 246 municipalities, 13 sub-metropolitan cities and four metropolitan cities. These local level units will be divided into altogether 6,680 Wards. With the notice in the Nepal Gazette taking effect, the previous Village Development Committees (VDCs) and municipalities have been scrapped.
The Rural Municipalities will have 5 to 21 Wards while the Municipalities including the sub-metropolises and the metropolises, will have 9 to 35 Wards. Before this, there were 3,157 VDCs and 217 municipalities.

With the new arrangement, Kathmandu, Pokhara, Bharatpur and Lalitpur have become the metropolitan cities. Pokhara is the largest metropolis of the country in terms of area. Similarly, the 13 sub-metropolitan cities are Janakpur, Birgunj, Nepalgunj, Simara-Jeetpur, Itahari, Dharan, Dhangadhi, Tulasipur, Ghorahi, Hetauda, Biratnagar, Butwal and Kalaiya. The government has also made provision for 75 District Coordination Committees to maintain coordination at the local level as per the constitution.

The government has created altogether 744 local bodies based on the recommendation of the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission. Initially, the commission had recommended creating 513 local units in view of the economic viability and administrative convenience. But this suggestion met with opposition from the political parties and other stakeholders. The commission came up with a revised proposal recommending forming 719 local units. There were some voices of dissent towards this also and the government formed a task force with the Minister for Federal Affairs and Local Development as its coordinator to study this report and make recommendations on it. The task force recommended adding 25 more local units to the number recommended by the commission.

The restructuring of the local bodies is defined as a watershed moment in the country's governance system for it will now pave the way for the devolution of state powers to the local level. Although Nepal has adopted the decentralization policy for over the last 50 years, it was not found to be that effective in transferring the powers from the centre to the local bodies and in improving the governance system. Due to the lack of effectiveness of decentralization, people in the periphery had always felt themselves away from the centre. And this feeling of alienation among the people was also considered to be one of the major reasons that fanned the decade-long Maoist conflict.

The constitution of the local level would have meaning only if good governance is established and the power devolved and decentralized at the grass-roots level in the real sense of the term and as per the objectives of federalism. Part 17 of the Constitution has made provisions for local executive and the Part 18 for local legislature. Similarly, the part 19 of the constitution has made arrangement for local financial procedures while the Part 20 has made provisions on interrelations between federation, state and local level. These provisions have vested the local bodies with powers, and also made them powerful and accountable. The local level itself is the means for guaranteeing good governance.

The changes that are done in time should be for the better and for the welfare and convenience of the people. This change should not bring difficulties and encumbrance to the people. The change in the local structure would be fruitful and justifiable only if improved local governance is guaranteed. However, doing so is not without challenges. Foremost, the transitioning to the new local set-up is going to be challenging as new arrangements have to be made in terms of logistics and assigning employees to these local units. This is sure going to create some confusion. New headquarters of the local level need to be built and this is going to cost a huge sum of money and resources. The local people have to be oriented to the new structure and for this they need to part way with their old mindset that has been habituated to working with the old structure. This will take quite a while. Lack of transport and infrastructure will likely cause difficulties to the people in many places to avail the services and facilities. This aspect has to be addressed.

The local level election slated for May 14 will be held for these new local level bodies. The election is very instrumental as this would provide the opportunity to the local people to elect their representatives at the local level after 19 long years. The government's priority after the formation of the local level should now be on the effective management of local governance system so that the general public will not have to face inconvenience of any type. Problems to do with transport and communication might arise in taking the government services and facilities at the doorsteps of the people. Efforts should now be directed to minimizing such hassles and improving the situation so that people can avail of government services and facilities at their doorsteps.

The local bodies restructuring is a historic step towards implementing the federal system and making the people feel that the government has actually reached their doorsteps. It will make democracy meaningful to the people and strengthen the republic. The Constitution of Nepal is in the implementation phase. The judiciary has been restructured in line with the constitution and now the local bodies have been restructured into local level. Efforts are on to restructure and reform other state bodies as per the constitution. It is constitutionally mandatory to hold the election of all the three tiers of the state within January 21, 2018 for the full implementation of the constitution. The local bodies restructuring will go a long way in the full implementation of the constitution. RSS

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