Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Proactive Local Leadership Needed To Handle Crisis

Kushal Pokharel


The COVID-19 pandemic has posed grave challlenge to the entire human civilisation. Tackling this problem requires all governments, community institutions, private sector, media and citizens to play their own part. While the role of all sectors is desired in the time of crisis, the contribution of local government which is on the frontline to deliver public services is of utmost significance. In the context of Nepal, local governments are constitutionally established as an autonomous tier of governance for serving the needs of people. What separates these local governments from other tiers of government is their ability to connect directly at the grassroots level. In the same way, local governments can better understand the general aspirations and provide speedy public services within a limited time without cumbersome bureaucratic hassels. Municipalities and rural municipalities are, in fact, the centre of public trust. Whenever any critical situation arises in the nation, the local bodies have a crucial role to play. Whether be it the case of the 2015 earthquake or the Indian blockade, these agencies were instrumental.

Resource management
With the nationwide lockdown for the third consecutive week, the proactive local government is the need of the hour. Making use of the locally available resources- human resources, skills and technology, many things can be accomplished. Creating public awareness about the nature of the coronavirus can be better handled by municipalites and wards. At a time when the general people are in confusion, particularly in the rural areas, about COVID-19 primarily due to limited information access and misinformation at times, local governments should come to the rescue. By mobilising local volunteers, including cadres of political parties and common people, a mass awareness campaign can be launched. Seeking the assistance of doctors, nurses and other professionals working at the local level to have an impact is desirable.
Another urgent task the local government is confronted pertains to the identificiation of low-wage, poor and marginal people in the locality and provide basic relief package to them in a convenient manner. In this case, wards are the directly responsible units. The need of a strong vigilance to ensure that the relief reaches out to the targetted community and not to those who are already in comfort zone is all time high. What has become obvious during crises in Nepal is that a certain section of population always tries to take undue advantage of the situation and further aggravate it. Hence, local governments should handle this with proper intervention.
Tracing contacts and managing quarantines are is equally crucial. Identification of all individuals within the ward that has come into contact into the coronavirus infected people needs a strong local leadership. Since the centre can’t reach every nook and crany of the nation, the local governments assume greater prominence. With some news reports of the possibilities of virus penetrating far off villages, gathering data and information over it can be possible only through the local level intervention. Meanwhile, finding out the potential places for establishing quarantine and keeping the suspected people under observation will come in handy in controlling the spread of the virus. In this regard, the local governments can mull over enhancing coordination with existing community based institutions- NGOs, user groups, among others.
Nevertheless, avoidng duplication of work cannot be overlooked. This calls for working closely with the state and central governments. The unprecedented level of crisis emanating from COVID-19 requires collaboration among different layers of government.
Local governments complain the perennial problem of resource crunch in managing the affairs. At this juncture, the problem of adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), medical professionals at the local level stands tall. Embezzlement of public fund and unwise use of the available resources during the crisis tend to further aggravate the problem. In light of the above, the urgency of the local leadership in getting out of this mess has remained low. Although a handful of local representatives have stood for the cause, majority of the elected officials have demonstrated a lukewarm approach.
Public trust
Without a committed local leadership, managing the crisis will be extremely difficult. Despite the concerted efforts at the central and the state levels, absence of local ownership is likely to hit the nation hard. Keeping the crisis in check predominantly lies on the shoulder of local goverments. Perhaps, this is an opportune moment for the local governments to restore the waning public faith and garner public trust. Reaching out to the higher level of governments for necessary support, local governments should adopt a strategy of handling the situation under their ageis. As indicated above, taking the community people into confidence will be the key throughout this endeavor. Adopting a transparent and accountable governing system particularly during such difficult times is indispensable to ensure that the efforts towards combating COVID-19 bear visible fruit.
It is also the right time for the local governments to contemplate over the ways of handling disasters and other unprecedented situations in coming future by intense discussion with local leaders, community institutions and private sector. With various natural calamiities like flood and landslide likely to hit the nation soon, intense preparation for dealing with gruesome scenarios will serve better for the general public welfare.
(Pokharel is a social science and research faculty)