Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
Think locally

In reality an ordinary citizen's relationship with the state is through the local governance units. They help ordinary people evaluate what democracy has brought, through the work their local representatives do for them in the villages. As the director of the Association of Village Development Committees Pradip Thapaliya says that regardless of whether the decisions are taken at the local chautara (resting place) or while squatting on a straw mat in a village home, they aid the villagers in making up their minds about the [efficacy] of the state. But the government, citing the state of emergency, has stopped the election campaigning for these units that should have begun some months ago. Its decision to have general elections first show that it is not honest towards the local governments. It says that it can hold general elections, but there is some doubt about whether the decision to not hold local elections was a considered one, or whether it is simply not in a position to conduct them.

After the dissolution of the House of Representatives Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his powerful ministers have not been able to agree on following on of three options: extending the term of those already in office [in the VDCs], leaving the local units in charge of their employees, or forming some sort of all-party committees. A source at the Ministry of Local Development told us that Deuba, after two weeks of discussions, put off making a decision saying \'we will consider it after July'. But the State Minister for Local Development is confident that the local governments will be dissolved. He is said to have told Pradip Thapaliya to \'tell the VDC chairmen and vice-chairmen coming here that the local governments will be dissolved.' That decision may have been a result of infighting in the Nepali Congress. Officials at the Ministry of Local Development also told us that the government has more or less decided not to extend the term of present office bearers in local government units.

The Association of District Development Units, which has a majority of UML representatives, had decided to request the government to extend by a year the term of those in office, but doing that would not have been easy for the government. It was a difficult decision, especially for a party that was effectively divided-it would create more political problems as the UML controls most of the local government units. Add to this the fact that an earlier meeting of Nepali Congress DDC chairmen had recommended that the term of the VDCs and DDCs should not be extended. Nepali Congress spokesman Arjun Narasingh KC says that in a situation where the resources provided to villages has been used by the terrorists, his party is of the opinion that these units should be run by the administration. However, Krishna Prasad Sapkota, chair of the DDC Association, says that the government should extend the terms of the organisations in the event that it cannot hold elections.

Another idea being tossed around in government circles is the formation of all-party committees to run the local units until the next elections are held. By law, the government can extend the terms of local governance units members by a year in the event of unforeseen circumstances, natural disasters, economic mismanagement and other "special situations". Sapkota and others disagree. How, they ask, can political representatives appointed by the government stay in the villages, districts and municipalities when even elected members are finding it difficult to stay on. The UML also smells foul play. Spokesman Pradip Nepal says that the talk of all-party committees is just a tool that the government is using in its internal party battles. "We oppose such attempts to end the existence of local governments," says Nepal.

If the terms are not extended and all-party committees are not made, in mid-July these units automatically come under the charge of the employees until the next elections. The people in charge, thus, will be the Local Development Officers, chief executive officers of municipalities and VDC secretaries.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)