An intelligent, committed and proactive leadership at the local level can make a huge difference. There should be several examples to attest to it. Media reports and case studies documented by different agencies and organisations show the exemplary leadership and their performance in some local governments - Gaupalika and Nagarpalika - though their number drawing media attention is miniscule. A document containing collection of successful cases attributed to exemplary performance of rural municipalities (Gaupalika) brought out by National Association of Rural Municipalities in Nepal (NARMIN) offers a glimpse into innovative results produced by some of the local governments several months ago. Similarly, Nayapatrika daily published a story last month about select local government leaders who have shunned selfish interests to uphold and enhance benevolence and integrity in the interest of local communities. As this writer is among the advocates having rallied behind the cause of competent and stronger local government institutions for long, a small positive result produced from the effective performance of the local government leadership inspires optimism and hope. It makes me vindicated and substantiated of my faith and conviction on the viability of functioning democratic local government system in Nepal. A functioning democratic and accountable local governance system can alone mitigate the malaises of corrupt bureaucratic tendencies long entrenched in Nepal. It can redress the problems associated with the centralised polity that allows the elite stronghold on all state institutions and processes. When this writer came to know about Tilottama Municipality in Rupandehi and its plan to organise the investment summit during last week of September, it drew my attention immediately and I decided to attend it. I contacted to Tilottama Municipality Mayor Basu Dev Ghimire who agreed to facilitate my participation in the summit. The summit was first of its kind ever hosted by a local government in Nepal, if not in South Asia itself that brought national leaders, chief ministers from the States, national planner, experts, investors both from inside and together in a forum. The grandeur and pomposity with which Tilottama Investment summit got planned and hosted was not believable because of the perceived assumption on the limited resource base and leadership capacity, weak management and administrative capacity of the local governments. The Tilottama event did not only falsify but also challenged these perceived assumptions to let the world know that local government in Nepal can do better given they have a positive leadership and are enabled and capacitated in an appropriate institutional environment. The vision of the summit was articulated to promote Tilottama as a vibrant destination for large scale investment, foster stronger networking with multiple stakeholders for shared growth and prosperity and promote public-private partnership model for shared benefit in productive sectors. The Tilottama municipality identified urban development, agriculture, industry, energy, transportation and tourism as major sectors of investment. The investment summit opening featured special address by national leaders and ministers including Minister for Finance Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada, Nepal Rastra Bank Governor Chiranjibi Nepal and chief ministers of States 2, 3 and 5 among others. A special plenary session to discuss investment climate at local level and role of state government was held in which several experts, state ministers, big entrepreneurs and leaders including Khatiwada shared their views and thoughts. Parallel sessions were held on several issues and themes including sustainable transport structures, industrial base and employment, tourism and pilgrimage promotion. A number of projects were showcased and put on offer to attract and forge deal with investors to enhance development at the municipality. The projects showcased included milk collection and processing centre, multipurpose provincial bus park, industrial zone, Tilottama railway development project, information and technology college, smart children park development project and so on. According to Tilottama Municipality Mayor Basu Dev Ghimire projects worth 15 billion rupees have been agreed upon with investors which is an achievement of the investment summit. According to the mayor, the projects once executed will usher in major strides in the development of the municipality in particular and the state in general. At the opening of the summit, some speakers like Chief Minister of State 2 Lal Babu Raut had aired views and doubted on the relevance and effectiveness of the summit arguing that the investment climate at the national level is so unfriendly and scary that potential investors are discouraged and feel insecure to put in their capital to promote and establish productive enterprises in the country. Some truths are undeniably revealed in the statement of the Chief Minister Raut but Tilottama seems aware of its polity limitations and competencies. The menu of the tax incentives and rebates offered to the investors on behalf of the municipality shows that the local government is very realistic to limit itself to its jurisdictions and competencies. It has proposed to offer exemption in property tax, advertisement tax, permit certification tax, land revenue and so on. At a time when the nation has declared the upcoming year 2020 as the Visit Nepal Year (VNY) with an ambitious target of attracting two million tourists in the country, the Tilottama Investment summit will definitely add value and lend an impetus to it. Kudos to Tilottama Municipality that has blazed the trail and demonstrated that a local government with proactive and visionary leadership can produce competitive outcomes both in the domain of governance and development.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at email@example.com)