Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Local Deputies In Development Politics

Anirudra Neupane

The local elections of 2017 were a landmark in terms of women’s representation in the state structure in Nepal. The election guaranteed more than 40 per cent women in the government. Unlike previous experiences, the Local Election Act 2017 made it mandatory for political parties to ensure 50 per cent female candidates in one of the top two local level positions. Due to this provision, 47.67 per cent of top two positions in 753 local governments were secured by female candidates. Though legal provision had not prevented women to be candidates, political parties did not trust the female leaders for the position of mayor and Gaunpalika chair. As a result, only 18 women were elected as the top local political executive out of 753. However, 700 women got elected as vice chairpersons or deputy mayors.

Though only 2 per cent top local positions were secured by female candidates in the last local election, the situation might improve in the next election if elected women deputies can utilise the available opportunities to prove their leadership capacity in the remaining three years. Their action can at least add pressure to leaders and cadres to accept them for the position of mayors or chairpersons in the next election.
Local government operation Act 2017 provides some distinct but very important responsibilities to deputies along with general political responsibilities. Para 16 (b) of the Act makes them the coordinator of local judicial committee. Other responsibilities include coordination of programmes of non-government agencies and activities related to consumer welfare protection; monitoring, supervising and reporting the local government's programmes and coordinating and facilitating the functions of different local committees. Para (65) of the Act makes them the coordinator of local revenue advisory committee that is expected to play a pivotal role in enhancing internal revenue sources through the set of related activities. They are also the members of local resource estimation and budget ceiling determination committee. Deputies are also the head of budget and programme formulation committee that is dedicated to prepare proposal of policies and programme for the next fiscal year, coordinate and facilitate budgetary discussions in thematic committees and prepare and submit budget proposal to executive committee of the concerned local government.
Deputies are performing relatively well the judicial roles as government and non-government actors are also putting their effort for enabling them to better discharge this responsibility through capacity building and engagement exercises. They also seem to be relatively proactive in discharging judicial duties. Deputies have in many cases identified their weaknesses and sought external support to fulfil their gaps for judicial functions. Legal functions of deputies have obviously empowered them with enhanced communication and law interpretation skills. This is very important to provide justice to locals in disputes. However this role has contributed less in promoting political exposure of deputies among mass because the cases solved by the committees are primarily of domestic nature with direct impact on few families.
They are head of local monitoring committee to monitor or supervise NGO sponsored projects implemented by local governments. They should provide their formal report before making final payments to contractors or user committees regarding physical infrastructure construction projects.
Consumer welfare protection committee headed by deputies is expected to take lead role in protecting consumers from exploitation of market in a form of price and quality. However in most cases this committee is fully inactive. Committees neither have a technical back-up at local level nor local units of national level, the quality control department coordinates with them. Deputies have also not been proactively working to manage technical hands from within the available staff at the local level. Thus the role of local government to promoting competitiveness in market, quality of goods and services and consumer welfare has been in shadow.
Municipal executive committees have formed different thematic committees headed by ward chairpersons or other members from the executive committee. Thematic committees in many cases do not even have conducted their single meeting in many cases. Deputies who are expected to coordinate the function of those committees have hardly taken initiatives to activate them.
In Nepal, local leaders have the power to handle budget. Those who can divert the national resources to their constituencies are perceived to be efficient.
As local governments are highly reliant on grants from provincial and federal government, the committees headed by deputies have opportunities to make local governments more self-reliant.
When it comes to budget, the budget committees are efficiently running the core budgetary functions. Committees obviously formalise the draft budget proposals and forecasts prepared by technical units. Deputies or vice chairs have no or insignificant role in prioritising the allocation at wards and municipal/rural municipal levels though they present the executive's budget proposals to the local assemblies. Budget committees neither prepare the ceilings for sectoral allocations nor facilitate the thematic committee discussions to finalise the sectoral allocations.

Once deputy mayors and vice chairpersons engage themselves in budgetary functions as mandated by law, contribute in bringing tangible changes in existing ad-hoc practices of budget allocations, work in improving internal revenue share in total budget and widen the other developmental and coordinating roles, they can prepare themselves as strong mayoral candidates. Only then can we expect more women in the mayoral seats in the next local election.