“In my Gaupalika, in the last fiscal year, the total budget received was about Rs300 million. Of this, one third went into overheads,” says Hem Raj Joshi, Chief Administrative Office of Chure village. “The rest was development budget, and the municipality could not spend the conditional budget because it could not come up with specific projects.”
The main challenge for village councils has been the lack of capacity for participatory development planning as demanded by constituents. Additionally, the inability to spend the allocated conditional development budget has made it difficult to allocate resources for health, education, energy, or for women or marginalised groups.
“In my village, I set aside money for women’s income generation activities last fiscal year, and informed the women to make use of it by coming up with a project proposal, but did not get a single proposal,” says Urmila Thami KC of the Jugu Village. She is vice chair of Gaurishankar rural municipality in Dolakha district.
The question now is: are local governments really equipped to deliver development?
“The people have to be active and make the local authorities accountable, and development will definitely happen,” says Dhan Bahadur Thapa Magar, the former Village Panchayat head.
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Power Centre, Om Astha Rai
In remote Bajhang district in western Nepal, there are still rural municipalities like Saipal where the nearest road head is two days walk away. On a recent flight from Dhangadi to Kathmandu, the chair of Saipal Rajendra Dhami said proudly: “With the development budget we got last fiscal year, we built two micro-hydros of 22 kilowatts, each which has electrified two wards in the municipality. We promised it to the people, and we delivered.”
In the first fiscal year 2017/18 since rural municipality councils were elected, an estimated 90% of the budget has been spent on infrastructure, mainly roads. There have been media reports of the roads being the result of misuse of funds and corruption, but it is also true that people want roads and there is pressure on elected officials to deliver.
“As farmers in remote gaupalika, we need roads and irrigation first,” says Jogendra Thakur in Sarlahi district of Province 2. Indeed, a road to Dalit communities in the village opened up the area to development and provided access to market. It is better than distributing a goat or sewing machine.
Several generations of Nepalis have been made guinea pigs to test out development fads by donors, experts, scholars, NGOs and INGOS. Yet, after more than 60 years, there was still no clear path to development.
Under federalism, however, locally elected officials have found a way to give citizens a voice in spelling out their priorities directly to elected officials. Finally, they can identify and demand the kind of development they need, and force elected officials to be accountable and deliver on promises.
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Syndicated federation, Bihari K Shresth