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Interview | Local governments must evolve as effective, and accountable institutions: Devendra Brahma, Deputy Mayor, Pyuthan Municipality

‘Local level representatives should try to remain close to the people regardless of their caste, class, ethnicity, gender, physical status, identity and other realities.’

Kathmandu: Until the 2022 local elections, Devendra Brahma had a different identity. He was known in the district as an ardent social worker. He used to cover the voices of the voiceless through his journalistic works. He was an advocate of social justice and equality. He used to believe that even a tiny good effort made by those at the policy-making level would have a great impact in transforming society. 

The 2022 local elections changed the course. He won the deputy mayoral position. Now, he is in the position to convert his vision into action. A deputy mayor who believes in participatory approaches and democratic principles, Brahma believes that accountable local governments can create hope in the entire system.

The DMN News spoke to Brahma regarding the role of local government in the federal structure, responsibilities in delivering service, and opportunities and challenges ahead. Excerpts:

Let us start from the understanding of local governments in Nepal. In your opinion, what is local government? And, what is it not?

Local government is the best gift given by the current Constitution of Nepal, which was promulgated by the Constituent Assembly following the second People’s Movement. With executive, legislative and judiciary under one roof, it is the government of every citizen’s home with perhaps the most different and special rights in the world. 

Regardless of who voted during the local elections, the local government is the closest government that supports every citizen in their ups and downs. Personally, I feel that people have high expectations from the local level government. The main challenge is that people expect the federal government, provincial governments and the local governments to do the same kind of activities. I think we need to create an environment where people become fully aware about the distinct roles and responsibilities of the three levels of governments in Nepal.

The local government has to deal with the local issues and problems directly. In this connection, local people want to feel the changes through activities of local governments. What is the scenario in Pyuthan? How does your municipality reach out to the people? 

Pyuthan Municipality is the main hub of Pyuthan district. The entire district is a hilly area. Despite this, some parts of the district are comparatively in a better position in terms of road connectivity and other facilities. The reality of some parts of the municipality, however, is not different from many rural parts of the country. The municipality also has the most rural settlement. The municipality has taken this reality into consideration while making policies, programs, and allocating budget.

On one hand, we cannot lose sight of issues in the existing rural settlement and, on the other hand, consider the want of further development in the urban areas of the district. Unlike other municipalities, making plans for uplifting only a certain group is not enough.

Sectoral development and self-reliance of poor and backward communities is our main goal. We are conducting a household survey to find out their current situation. 

At Pyuthan Municipality, we want locals to participate in the decision making process in all possible ways. We are committed to promoting the values of transparency and accountability. As a Deputy Mayor, I am committed to delivering my roles all in an effective manner to reach out to the locals. 

In your observation, what makes people enhance trust in local governments and what makes them feel disappointed?

Needless to say, the major advantage of the local government is its proximity to the people as local governments focus on local issues. In this regard, representatives at local level governments must realize the fact that they must be accountable to the local people and their efforts must be focused in promoting the well-being of the local people. 

I personally feel that local level representatives should try to remain close to the people regardless of their caste, class, ethnicity, gender, physical status, identity and other realities. Adoption of the doctrine of fairness while delivering the services helps bring people closer to the governments. 

In contrast, poor service delivery, continuity of the process orientation create hurdles to the people while seeking services and biases in allocating resources and development works contribute to increasing the frustration among people. 

Having said that, we need to also look at the realities at the grassroots level. People have a high level of expectations from the governments. But we have limited resources. This mismatch between expectations and resources has created a very challenging situation.

Let’s change the context a bit. Often the deputy mayoral post is seen as secondary to the post of mayor. Is that the case?

The Local Government Operation Act (2017) has entrusted many responsibilities to the deputy mayor. From budget formulation to revenue policy decisions, monitoring every issue within the municipality, and consumer welfare protection are the responsibilities of the deputy mayor. 

Besides these, although there is very little practice, the constitution has provided the deputy mayor with an important responsibility as the coordinator of the judicial committee. Thus the deputy mayor has equally important responsibilities as that of the mayor.

What are some of the programs and plans that you have led as a deputy mayor?

We have made a collective effort to make Pyuthan Municipality exemplary. Systematic and exemplary judicial committee; each ward with a black-topped road; cash subsidy of Rs 10 per liter to farmers involved in milk production; farmer subsidy based on commercialization;  guardianship of orphan children up to grade 12 wherein the municipality will bear all the expenses. These are some of the programs we have started.

Besides, we also run a program called ‘Yuva Sanga Upa-Mayor’ (deputy mayor with the youth). The purpose is to make youth skilled for employment and self-employment. Its main objective is to create a new generation skilled and tech savvy.

What kind of work are you doing to make the judicial committee exemplary?

In my opinion, the most important issue to be managed is the judicial committee. It seems that there is confusion in this matter because no charitable organization is taking the lead, let alone the federal law ministry and the provincial Ministry of Law.

Therefore, first of all, we are disseminating information to reach the most backward community here about the judicial rights obtained according to the Constitution of Nepal and the Local Government Act. The goal of the judicial committee is to solve problems at the community level through reconciliation as much as possible. We are constantly working to achieve this goal.

Currently, we are looking at 39 cases. For the facilitation of which 40 reconciliation workers are working with us. They are involved in reconciling the petitioner and the second party without taking even a single penny from them, while adjusting to the minimum facility provided by the municipality.

This year, we informed 667 people of the municipality about the local judicial committee, the disputes that it deals with, the provision of free access to justice within Pyuthan municipality, and the benefits of reconciliation, focusing on the community level. The goal is to increase this number to 1,500 in the coming year.

Under the leadership of Pyuthan Municipality, we have held regular meetings of the judicial committee of all municipalities in the district to discuss the judicial process. Apart from this, we held the first district-level Judiciary Conference at Pyuthan last year in Gaumukhi, and we will hold it in Jhimruk Rural Municipality in the presence of conciliators this year.