Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Local lapses


In July 2002, the Deuba-led government cited the Maoist war as justification for letting the tenure of all local government representatives lapse. In 2006, the King tried to resurrect local government through elections, but nobody accepted the results.

In early 2008, there was an opportunity to provide a fresh start for local government bodies. But the politicians agreed among themselves that drafting the national constitution was so important that the simple, if banal, practice of choosing your own representatives to look after the affairs of your village or district was a task best suited for some future time. As a result, for the last nine years, almost 4000 village development committees, 58 municipalities and 57 district development committees across Nepal have had no local representatives. Next time you see piles of garbage on the streets of Kathmandu, don't bother asking who your mayor is.

The bigger implication is that we now have national Democracy - the one with the capital D, the one about national elections, competing political parties, and so on. But in pursuit of Democracy, we have been smothering democracy ? the one with the small d, the one about the simple practice of local people electing their neighbours and villagers to local public offices for a fixed number of years to address communities' problems. Such a democracy is about holding locally elected officials accountable for the results, or lack thereof, of local development.

This was on my mind as I completed my visit to eastern Nepal two weeks ago. The heads of local government in all the municipalities are all government-appointed bureaucrats. They are not necessarily from the cities they have been assigned to serve. As is customary, they hold their posts for a relatively short time - about two years, if not less. Given how career games in a bureaucracy play out, they have more incentive to please their Ministry's bosses in Kathmandu than the local people.

Moreover, these heads report to local boards, which are often coalitions of the local reps of all national political parties. These are politicians who have been shut out from the national stage. But without the pressure of facing elections, they are content to take credit in their party's name for anything good that happens in their municipality while blocking local reforms that are likely to reflect well on other parties. Over time, such repeated posturing plays out in such a way that the local boards are often dysfunctional when it comes to working in the interests of locals.

Some village communities have gotten around this problem of local mis-governance. In one locality I visited on the outskirts of Kathmandu last week, the homogeneity of the local population seems to have allowed a reservoir of trust to build up among the people. This made it easier for a respected community figure to emerge as a leader to positively influence the process of local governance when it came to, say, having villagers install toilets and basic water mains. But this is also a troubling sign, in that this sort of Big Man approach to governance is not what democracy is about.

Depriving local citizens the practice of choosing their own representatives is probably the greatest quiet danger to Democracy than all the political strutting by parties in the capital.

1. Arthur
So even Ashutosh Tiwari is starting to speak in favour of a people's movement to "capture state power"!

2. half_zero
In the disguise of Strictly Business, Mr. Ashutosh Tiwari has recently been venturing into the strictly political McMohan Line. As soon as Mr. CK Lal decided to left to write about Nepali Media, a vaccum created in in the absence of Lal's political commentry. Ashutosh seems to try to fill up that vaccum.

But if Sigmund Freud is called to diagnose thier psyc, he may say: Mr. CK Lal is "trying to teach" Media CEO how to manage media company. In other hand, Mr. Ashotosh is subtly inferring that his penball also rolls both ways.

3. Anon
I think you got the article exactly opposite of what it meant to convey. 

4. May
half_zero, ever thought of taking up psycho-analysis. you'd make a good shrink. 

5. Arthur
Anon, perhaps the article conveyed something the author had not intended!

There has been no "consensus" to hold local elections because the officials appointed to administer them are from the non-Maoist parties and know that most elected local representatives would not be from those parties in most places.

Government that does not consist of their own people is precisely what these parties mean when they accuse the Maoists of wanting to "capture the state".

The author may not agree with that, but it is still true. So in calling for people to choose their own local officials he is still calling for people to "capture the state", whether he intended to or not.

6. bridohi

Strictly for business to flourish, political stability is the key. Since there is a lack of security & political stability, it is only natural for one to analyze the Nepali political situation. What else is there to do? Stability is key to economic growth & employment. If these conditions were prevalent in Nepal, then, we could really address the Strictly Business issues.

7. Anonymous
What is an exchange of opinion?

You go to the Maoists with your opinion and, after torture, you return with theirs!

You can't twist this article any way you like just to avoid the embarrassment of misunderstanding it in the first place, buddy. There is not yet any penalty for being wrong, and just because you end up making a mistake does not create the possibility of a counter revolution. So, relax. And enjoy another one for my best buddy:

Kids in communist East Germany had to learn about the advantages of communism. At a school, the following conversation takes place...

Teacher: "Kids, here's East Germany and there's our big friend, the Soviet Union in dark red. Then, these in light here are the allies of the Soviet Union, other Communist countries just like us.

And, over there, you will see the imperialist USA in blue. The enemy! And the enemy's allies over there in light blue.

Down there is Afrika where wild people live! The wild people live in huts and are killing each other!...

8. Arthur
Anonymous, I gather you must be the same "Anonymous" as previously explained that the Nepalese english language press was pro-communist. It would be helpful if you could follow the example of others commenting here by adopting a nickname to avoid being confused with others writing for the first time as "Anon" who might actually be interested in exchanging opinions.

9. Anonymous
"Of course, the intensity of that stance is on the wane but some ideas that have now become conventional wisdom in papers are notable." Yes. Good spot since nobody else uses that pseudonym. 

Arthur, you keep running away from an argument and use lying as a form of argument. Typical. You claim for yourself the role of a liberal when you are the exact opposite of it since you fail to take note of facts that are contrary to your opinion. 

This does not surprise me though. Having been a communist and known quite a few of them, I fully understand the behavioral patterns of the lords of pain.

You say that this columnist is essentially advocating your stance. That ain't so. 

The author appears to be in favour of designing a solution for a problem. The solution is available within the existing framework of governance and there is both precedent and an example that it would work with effective implementation. It does not, however, fulfill the fantasies of those hoping for a bloodbath in favour of probabilities.

Taking such a step, i.e., systematically designed solution to solve a specific problem, has the advantage that it is open to course correction - if something goes wrong the process can be tweaked to improve results. There is no demand for perfection, other democratic countries constantly face issues about how best to ensure economic execution (of plans), and they successfully make amends to fix problems along the way. 

The solution that you call for, that of people capturing state power would result in an inefficient state where the currency would be peddling influence - ironically much like the one that many Nepali are currently experiencing.

Having this discussion, in my humble view, is far more important than discussing the decline of Congress - good that it is debated but more important that this is.

Why? Because it has a direct influence over what is the headline of this week. Saving the tiger cannot be in the hands of an overlord sitting in a far off land issuing orders calling upon all and sundry to ensure the survival of the little kitty.

It can be ensured if the decision maker is somewhere close to the habitat -discouraging local poachers, ensuring the survival of forest cover which is vital to their future, participating in carbon trading mechanism which could be a key source of revenue and a whole host of other solutions (not necessarily including the ones listed).

This system would also serve as a brilliant feedback mechanism and ensure greater peace. Perhaps the reason why, if the author is to be believed, political parties find it so threatening.

10. bideshi
kathmandu has no mayor? no wonder.

11. bara

Hello Ashu Dai

it is good to know that you have started to also write about politics. We need young profsssionls who can give clear picture of political cricis in nepal. good luck and hoping that you wil lalso give some comprihansive solution also..


12. Thurpunsich
Mr. Tiwari should have taken a few courses with the political science professor Bob Coehane (who later went to teach at Duke) when he was at Harvard. Institutional development at the local level (a subject Mr. Tiwari is talking about) is best left to local people, not national politicians.

The local political/administrative bodies (elected or otherwise) can look to all the community forestry and irrigation systems that are being managed very well by the local people who have devised local institutions to govern themselves.

Let the GPKs, Makuneys, Prchandeys et al. squabble in the power corridors of Kathmandu. That shouldn't stop the local "politicians" from doing what they can do, without the blessings from Kathmandu.

In this age of decentralization, why look to the center only?

Mr. Tiwari has touched on an important topic, but his blaming the central leaders (as despicable as they are) is not what the local people need.

Local people need the spirit of governing themselves with mutually acceptable rules.

As Elinor Ostrom, the newest Economic Nobel Laureate would say, it's all about local rules, baby.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)