KATHMANDU, Dec 6: As the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission prepares to submit its report to the government next week, a serious crisis is likely to arise in local governance once the report is submitted.
The Constitution clearly states that the existing local bodies will cease to exist with the submission of the commission's report. A void will be created at the local governance level as the government has so far not made any concrete transitional arrangements. As per the Constitution, the existing local bodies will continue to exist only until the commission submits its report.
“The local bodies existing at the time of commencement of this Constitution shall continue to exist until the determination of the number and areas of the local level bodies in accordance with this Constitution,” states Article 303 (I) of the new Constitution.
Officials at the commission say the government has to make immediate arrangements to cope with the situation that will emerge after the dissolution of existing local bodies. “We hope the government is working on this,” said Hari Poudel, spokesperson at the commission.
Experts are worried whether the local governments as envisioned in the new Constitution will be able to deliver to service seekers. “The local governments will turn into chaos. Service seekers may suffer as there is no concrete plan for arranging the staffing and the service delivery,” said local governance expert Khim Lal Devkota.
An assessment conducted by the commission has pointed out the need for at least 70 staffers and various infrastructures to run a local government body. Furthermore, possible disputes over fixing the seats of local governments will also complicate matters, according to experts. The commission plans to recommend to the government to deploy civil service under-secretaries for handling the local governments but experts think there will not be enough senior government officials to take charge of the estimated 700 local bodies. “These might short fall of staff and face possible disputes over fixing the seats of local governments,” said Devkota.
Commitments on human resources for government offices often go unimplemented. In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake last year, the government had committed itself to deploying section officers in quake-affected districts to ease reconstruction work. The commitment, however, has rarely been translated into action. One non-gazette official is now handling more than one local body due to the understaffing.
Experts have alerted the authorities to the looming crisis, and the local bodies have already been without elected representatives for nearly 20 years. The situation may get further complicated, given that major political forces are disputing over whether to hold the local elections. Civil servants are shouldering dual responsibilities, administrative and political, as the parties have failed to conduct elections for years.
Asked about government preparations, Minister for Federal Affairs and Local Development Hitraj Pandey said his ministry was working to cope with a possible crisis after the dissolution of the local bodies. “We are working on transitional arrangements for local bodies,” said the minister, elaborating on his plan.
A ministry official privy to the development said multiple options are being discussed to avert any crisis in local governance immediately after the commission submits its report. According to him, the government is also mulling an extension of the deadline for the commission in the context of low possibility of holding the local body elections by mid-April as discussed among the parties. The government believes it can thus get enough time to arrange staffing and infrastructure at local level.
As its plan B, the government is considering mandating the existing local bodies to continue to function. “Whatever the government does, service delivery is not going to be easy as many village development committees are to be merged in the course of forming new local bodies. There will be a serious lack of human resources and infrastructure to implement development projects in the immediate aftermath of the existing local bodies being dissolved,” said the source, pointing out the possible challenges for local governance.
Currently, the local bodies are nodal points of government. They implement local development projects worth billions, distribute social security allowances and provide necessary documents to the locals.