Balen has challenges galore as he takes over as Kathmandu mayorNon-partisan Shah has to navigate the officialdom and a host of party representatives who constitute municipal assembly and executive body that make and enforce decisions.
Binod Ghimire & Arjun Poudel
When the Kathmandu Metropolitan City got its mayor in 2017, first in 20 years, there were high hopes that the city, also the federal capital, would see a complete makeover. But five years down the line, the mess immediate past mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya has left is for everyone to see.
Besides Shakya’s own inefficiencies, experts on urban matters and those who have closely seen the metropolitan city’s functioning point at multiple reasons. While Shakya was elected mayor from the CPN-UML, Hari Prabha Khadgi was elected deputy mayor from the Nepali Congress.
Their differences were not just confined to their offices. The tussle between them was out in the open. While Khadgi publicly stood against the metropolitan city’s decisions quite often, Shakya refrained from providing responsibilities to her.
A mayor is the executive chief of a metropolitan city. However, decisions have to be made from the municipal assembly and municipal executive body. While the assembly, which is composed of the mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairs and members, takes policy decisions, it is the municipal executive body which executes the decision.
Along with the mayor and deputy mayor, the municipal executive body has all the ward chairpersons and five women members elected from among themselves and three others elected by the assembly from the Dalit or minority communities.
Shakya commanded the majority in both the assembly and the executive. Yet, he failed to function.
On Friday, Kathmandu, which is also the country’s largest metropolitan city with a budget of Rs18.95 billion, got a new mayor in Balendra Shah, often called “Balen”.
Shah garnered 61,767 votes to beat Sirjana Singh of the Nepali Congress by 23,426 votes in the final counting results of the local level polls held on May 13, according to the Election Commission.
Singh secured 38,341 votes. Another contestant Keshav Sthapit from the CPN-UML secured 38,117.
“It is no secret that the differences between the mayor and deputy mayor affected the performance of the metropolitan city,” Chandra Mani Bhattarai, editor of metronews.kathmandu.gov.np, an official news portal of the metropolis, who also oversees public relations matters, told the Post.
As soon as he was announced the new Kathmandu mayor, he made a lofty announcement.
“We have taken this election result as the beginning of establishing our vision and agenda,” he said in a short speech. “Kathmandu was and is a family for us. Now we will collaborate to turn Kathmandu into the world’s most beautiful and excellent city.”
Fed up with Shakya’s non-performance, Kathmandu voters this time decided to discard party candidates and voted for Shah, who ran independently.
Just as he assumed mayoral office, he inherits a pile of problems that have been accumulated over the last five years. And then he has to execute his promises, even though they are not as big as those made by other party candidates.
But here is the catch.
Shah, as a mayor, is the executive. However, the Congress holds a majority in both assembly and the executive.
Of the 32 wards in Kathmandu Metropolitan City, the Congress controls 19 and the UML 12. The CPN (Unified Socialist) has won one ward.
The real challenge for Shah starts from here. For every decision to get through, he needs to take representatives from the Congress and the UML into confidence.
“How successful the new mayor becomes will largely depend on how well he manages the team,” said Bhattarai.
Shah has Sunita Dangol, who contested from the UML, as his deputy.
Former representatives at the metropolis say as the Congress has a majority in the assembly and the executive, Shah’s first priority should be towards seeking its support.
“We are always ready to cooperate in every right step Shah takes. However, he needs to take an initiative for the support,” Khadgi, former deputy mayor and a Congress leader, told the Post. “It will be difficult if he tries to walk alone. Mayor alone can do nothing.”
Formation of the municipal executive will be a major step for the metropolis with the announcement of the election results on Friday. This will be followed by the preparation and endorsement of the budget for the fiscal year 2022-23. The budget must be endorsed through a majority vote in the assembly.
Khadgi says the budget will reflect how he plans to move ahead and that will also indicate how he fares. The budget of the metropolis was unveiled on June 25 last year which means there is just a month for the next budget.
Experts say the major focus of the new leadership should be on easing the day-to-day life of the general public rather than making lofty promises.
Some of the major problems the Kathmandu residents have been encountering are waste management and traffic congestion, which need to be addressed immediately.
“By taking all the waste of the metropolis to landfill sites, we are not going to solve the problems,” said Kishor Thapa, a former government secretary, who has an expertise on urban planning. “The new leadership of the metropolis needs to take this fact into consideration and take measures to address this perennial problem,” added Thapa, who contested the 2017 elections for the post of Kathmandu mayor, but lost.
Just as Kathmandu was electing its new mayor, garbage was piling all across the city.
Given the traffic congestion Kathmandu has been facing, Shakya, during his election campaign, had promised to build a monorail. The promise turned out to be nothing but a stunt, as Shakya failed to address the basic need of the city—waste management.
For Shah, who is also a structural engineer, addressing the traffic congestion issue will be one of the major challenges, according to observers.
Kathmandu in recent years is also facing urban flooding with the expanse of concrete cover. Even a brief rain results in floods, causing inconvenience for the public and motorists alike.
In terms of work, there is not much the new mayor needs to do, say observers, because the tasks of the metropolitan city are simply laid down as—local roads and infrastructure, water and sewerage, waste management, parking management, animal management, urban planning, building services and protection of heritage structures and sites, among others. Besides collecting local taxes and facilitation of services like birth and death registration, the local governments have authority to manage school education, basic health, protection of language and culture.
As suggested by experts, Shah hasn’t made tall promises in his election manifesto.
His team members say all of Shah’s promises are achievable.
In his election manifesto, he has listed out his commitments under 28 different topics covering education, health, transportation, pollution control, digital government and corruption control. Improvement of infrastructure of public schools and quality of education, auditing private schools, setting up health clinics in every ward, free screening of breast and cervical cancer and improvement of public transportation are some of his promises.
Bhupa Dev Shah, a core member of his team, said they will work sincerely to fulfil their promises and translate their promises into reality.
“Definitely, there are challenges. Balen will accommodate all the representatives to achieve the common cause of changing the face of Kathmandu,” Bhupa told the Post. “If he is not allowed to work, the meetings will be held live so that the public would know who actually is creating problems.”