Preparing for the pollsThe many and varied complexities of restructuring local bodies should be understood
The government has tabled a one-year roadmap at Parliament for the implementation of the constitution which includes an ambitious plan to hold local government elections in mid-December. In line with this timetable, it has moved forward the deadline given to the Local Body Restructuring Commission to submit the number and boundaries of the restructured municipalities and protected, special and autonomous regions from mid-March 2017 to mid-September 2016. This article deals with the complexities of the restructuring procedure. The country is divided into three ecological regions, mountains, hills and Tarai, which are home to 7, 43 and 50 percent of the population respectively. There are 3,157 village development committees (VDCs) across the country, of which 16, 53 and 31 percent are located in the mountain, hill and Tarai regions respectively.
The largest VDCs in terms of population are Chaumala, Kailali (population 27,586) and Katahari, Morang (population 24,395). The smallest are Gharu (population 71) and Fu (population 176), both in Manang district. In terms of geographical area, Kanda VDC in Bajhang has an area of 1,468 sq km while Madhuri Jabdi VDC in Bara and Gamhariya VDC in Parsa are 1.47 and 1.59 sq km in size respectively. Likewise, Kathmandu Metropolitan City has a population of almost 1 million while Karaputar Municipality in Lamjung district contains a little more than 10,000 residents.
As per the new constitution, the exclusive revenue rights of local governments include property, commercial, rent and land taxes. The data of the Local Bodies Fiscal Commission (LBFC) show that 82 percent of the VDCs are not economically viable. The combined revenues of Bajura, Dolpa and Rukum districts total less than Rs1 million. Likewise, the economic situation of the municipalities is not satisfactory. Kathmandu Metropolitan City accounts for 37 percent of the revenues collected by the 58 municipalities in the country. Kathmandu, Pokhara, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Biratnagar, Birgunj and Butwal account for 70 percent of the overall municipal internal
revenues. Based on this brief revenue analysis, it is confirmed that most of the new local governments will not be viable. Like population and geographical area, revenues cannot be made the sole criteria for restructuring local bodies.
There are no roads in Dolpa and Humla districts. Life is difficult for people in the mountains. The situation is not satisfactory in some hill districts in the eastern region and in nearly all the districts in the mid- and far western regions. There are hundreds of VDCs in the mountains and hills where it takes days of walking to reach the district headquarters.
Similarly, the per capita income in Bajhang, Bajura, Achham, Darchula, Kalikot, Mugu, Humla and Dailekh is below the national average. In terms of literacy, infant mortality and toilet facilities, the situation is very poor in Rautahat, Mahotari, Saptari, and Siraha districts in the Tarai. In Rautahat, 81 out of 1,000 infants die before their first birthday. Only 32 percent the women are literate. In Siraha and Saptari, more than 80 percent of the households have no toilet facilities. In Humla, 66 percent of the children suffer from malnutrition. Likewise, primary schools, primary health posts, agricultural centres, banks and financial institutions, cooperatives, police stations, telephone, drinking water and bus stations are located far from where the people live. In the mountains, these facilities are available to only 20 percent of the population. In the Tarai, 90 percent of the people can obtain these facilities within half an hour.
Local governments are primarily responsible for providing social sector services like education up to the secondary level and basic health and sanitation. The restructuring commission should submit a comprehensive framework related to the functions of local governments too.
Identity and viability
The issue of identity should also be addressed by the Local Body Restructuring Commission. Rural and urban muncipalities cannot be designed based entirely on identity. However, restructuring at the ward level can address identity issues. Along with political and economic rights, the Constitution has tasked local governments with protecting linguistic, cultural and religious rights. Local governments can use local languages in their daily functions as per the requirement and demand of residents. The Constitution has devolved state power—legislative, executive and judicial—to federal, provincial and local governments. No such governments have been formed till date. As per the Constitution, all these governments should be formed before January 21, 2018. Further, most of the constitution related tasks should be completed before this deadline.
The government is willing to hold local government election. The Election Commission and the opposition parties are ready to do that. In this situation, the Local Body Restructuring Commission should submit its report as soon as possible. It needs to concentrate more at the district level than the central level. Clear guidelines and directions are required for each of the districts. Separate policies and guideless have to be designed for each district. These policies should be formed based on criteria related to socio-economic and infrastructure development, revenue collection patterns and viability, service delivery, composition of the community and so forth. Based on these variables, a composite index can be formed and there should be political consensus too.
Devkota holds a PhD in fiscal decentralisation