Local actors matter most

Published On: February 27, 2021 07:00 AM NPT By: Simone Galimberti

The mayors and other locally elected officials are going to make the difference in Nepal’s politics.

Amid the ongoing political crisis, with the top national politicians jockeying for power and for the leadership of the country, the real game changer won’t be in who is going to be the next Prime Minister or even the next President. Instead our attention should be given to political figures whose responsibilities and potentials we tend to discount and overlook while we analyze the political landscape of the country.

Mayors, governors, local councilors and members of the state assemblies will play a bigger role even if the existing constraints to strengthen the federal system will remain in place. They are central to not only to the local politics but they are fundamental to the entire national governance system. It is actually a global trend with mayors in particular assuming more and more leadership to fight the pandemic and its consequential calamitous effects, often filling a void left open by national politicians.  All over the globe there is a myriad of initiatives promoting and recognizing these contributions.

The basic assumption on this renewed interest on local politics is that effective leadership on the ground is not only indispensible in times of emergency and crisis but it is paramount also in the long term strategic planning that directly affects the citizenry and their future.

That’s why there is more and more interest in supporting elected officers with awards, grants, toolkits that are supposed to enable their performance, helping them navigate these difficult times, taking care of the most immediate needs while defining the priorities for the next years.

After all, localizing the Sustainable Development Goals is about bringing local governance at the center of policy making, allowing locally elected officers to chart a common future in coordination with their peers in nearby localities and, most importantly, in partnership with local people.

For example, Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced the second and biggest “Mayors Challenge”, looking at the “50 leading urban innovations” being undertaken by cities from all over the world. The winners will access a wealth of resource and support to implement and scale their innovative solutions.

Innovating development  

Cities in Nepal could become audacious in rethinking public transportations, waste management or could dare to innovate new forms of hybrid civic engagement, leveraging the essential spirit of community involvement that is part of the local fabric throughout the country.

Patan is trying to incentivize transportation by bicycles. Its efforts are certainly full of shortcomings but still an action, with a clear intent, is being undertaken. The local policy makers there are in motion, planning and implementing and even promoting throughout the cities micro green spaces.

I am confident that many more micro innovations have been pursued all over the country by farsighted elected officers who are genuinely interested to advance the common good.

Even with a crisis at the centre and mixed results at best from the federal government in fulfilling the people’s aspirations, elected officers, if properly enabled, can do wonders, especially if they leverage collaborations and partnerships.

Mayors and their councilors should form stronger collaborations with their provincial representatives, paving the way for innovative thinking on how to ensure equity and sustainability—two pillars of the Agenda 2030—at the center of their planning.

Such effective coordination can really make a difference.

The state of Oaxaca in Mexico has always been afflicted by one of the highest levels of multidimensional poverty but in the recent years—thanks to a strategic approach focused on better coordination and better data analysis—the state government in partnership with local administrations has been able to reverse the trend.

Interestingly Oaxaca is one of the few local governments coming up with a localized version of the Voluntary National Review, the assessment tool used by the member nations of the United Nations to report their progress in achieving the SDGs.

Let’s be clear, “doing” the SDGs is not a standing alone effort but it is instead a “unifying” process that combines individual synergies and initiatives that otherwise would remain separate and disconnected.  Every single developmental effort is about the SDGs and we should start by connecting the dots.

There are so many initiatives supporting local governments, including a SDGs Partnership Accelerator that is aimed at facilitating the implementation of the goals by promoting the involvement of all stakeholders.

Cities 40, the United Cities and Local Governments or UCLG, the Global Convent of Mayors are some other major policy frameworks that leverage the role mayors and other elected officers can have in rethinking the way our societies work. For sure they have their work cut out.

“Towards the Localization of SDGs” recently launched by UCLG is one of the many toolkits that can help local administrators in creating new forms of planning and governance. “Cities are engine of growth, not precarious job,” says the report.

Instead of becoming multipliers of vulnerabilities and inequities as often are, cities, small and big, should really be equity focused, dismantling the numerous blocks that perpetuate the current status quo.

Innovation and genuine interest to the wellbeing of the people are essential as much as adhering to the most important values like honesty, empathy and personal accountability.

Local leadership

These constitute the essence of the leadership that is needed locally together with openness to partner with others, especially the civil society but also with engaged and concerned individual citizens and private sector.

Partnerships Forums for the implementation of the SDGs could be designed in a simple and sustainable rather than the usually donors’ fed initiatives that collapse once the grants end.

If this is done properly and it is not rocket science, such collaborations can truly become essential ingredients to build a better Nepal from the ground up.

The recent approval of the “Tole Bikash Sanstha or Neighborhood Development Organization Formation and Mobilization Procedures” could be an opportunity to have a channel in which the people can participate in the local policy making.

We need to have standards here, especially of moral nature, to ensure that neighborhood associations can, instead of becoming another front of partisan shenanigans and politicking, really compliment and strengthen the work already being done by elected bodies.

NGOs and other groups obviously can play a big role but their work should be made less and less cumbersome.  Right now they are stifled by a system that defeats its purpose of ensuring effective and coordinated development between the state and civil society. It should not be this way.

Coordination is essential but it should be made seamless, quick and results focused. The future of our communities, nations and the entire planet will depend on effective new ways of more participatory policy making and governance. Cities and local governments should be at the center of this effort. There is no doubt that Nepal has long traditions of civic engagement. This must be re-ignited and enabled by effective local governance.

Tools and initiatives, as we have seen, are there, but mayors, state chief ministers and councilors around the country could start from their own best practices and great levels of ingenuity and local expertise.

Hopefully one day the federal government will do a better job at supporting their initiatives but till then, lots of responsibilities will be more on their shoulders. The citizens’ delegation of power to elected representatives does not imply an abdication of duties and responsibilities. The opposite is true.

Only engaged citizens and dynamic civil society and responsible businesses can help locally elected officials to ensure local communities are going to become beacons of a national regeneration project.

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