Local governance for development

The members of the Liberty Discussion Group sat down at Gaia Restaurant and Coffee Shop, Thamel on the 31st of December to discuss the article “Local Government serves local communities best in Nepal’s shattered landscape” authored by Neil Anthony Webster.

The author of the article argues that local government is often best suited to cater the needs of locals and the community during usual times and times of emergency as witnessed after the April 2015 earthquake. Despite the local election has not been held since 1997 with locally representing officials absent since 2002, the independent Ward Citizen Forum (WCF) has remained quite vocal and effective in delivering inclusive local development with additional monitoring from local civil society. On this regard, the author accuses Kathmandu-centric government and the International aid agencies to have often bypassed the local government and agencies from the co-ordination loop during disaster response moments after the earthquake.

The discussion started with one of the member stressing the need to clearly devolve the governing power to local government and empower them as we approach Federalism. Despite the demarcation of power among the Federal, state, and local government is referred in the Constitution, and will definitely have a written law regarding it, it is necessary to decide from which level of government should government power division should start from. As in, local government can do certain things but other thing as such which is to be reserved by Federal or State government, or Federal government can do certain things but other things as such which to be reserved by State and local government.

In the meantime, while the majority of the power is devolved to the lower levels of government in approaching Federalism, one of the discussion participant questions whether the lower level government reserves enough technical and managerial capability to handle such responsibility must be questioned. And, one of the ideas that floated in the table was to devolve power among the local governments in accordance to the capacity held by each of them.

On the contrary, one of the participants stressed the necessity to distribute the powers among the local governments equally in order to cater to the principle of Federalism. However, it comes to appear that there is no single style of Federalism in order to have a uniform principle after all. For instance, Federalism that occurred in America, Canada and India when states came together to form a federal government is of course a different style of Federalism in compared to our scenario whereby a Federal state is attempting to define states and local units.

Moving along, the tragedy of local government being helpless due to lack of enough managerial and technical capacity that lead them to be by passed by the central government and the aid agencies was placed on board by one of the participants. So, the question of what can be done to increase their technical and managerial capacity was raised.

Participants brought in arguments to broaden the revenue base of the local government by handing over the rights to raise certain form of tax and non-tax revenues previously dealt by the Central government as a way to invest on enhancing the technical and managerial capability of the local government. In saying so, the ongoing idea of authorizing local government to handle entire property related affairs, and therefore the revenue related to it as a resolution to cater the acute fund necessities of local government to invest on its capacity building exercise.

Likewise, it was also discussed how having a demarcated local government to determine with their own fiscal responsibilities can create a sense of competition among them for the betterment of the local people and the well-being of the community as a whole. And, when there is a locally elected representative in-charge of the locality, there would often be incentive to serve the local community better in order to preserve their popularity among the people. However, it all depends on the continuity of local elections after all.