Minister for Local Development Top Bahadur Rayamajhi , a senior party leader of the UCPN (Maoist) and aide of Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, is known for his penchant for actions and results. He shuns rhetoric and demagoguery, and speaks his mind straight forward without often being aware of after effects and consequences. Before he came to assume the portfolio of the Ministry of Local Development, Minister Rayamajhi was in-charge of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works where he claims he streamlined and reframed working norms and procedures. As Minister of Local Development, Rayamajhi is grappling with a difficult situation posed by weak and allegedly corrupt local bodies where local governance and development has become a big casualty. Minister Rayamajhi spoke with The Rising Nepal about what he is doing to bring the local bodies to order. Excerpts:
The present government led by Dr. Bhattarai has completed hundred days in office. How do you assess its performance?
- The performance of the present government is unique and exceptional. It has achieved breakthrough in peace process which no government over the last three years could yield. In regard to constitution writing too, this government is set to garner meaningful results. Though the expectations of the people are yet to be met, many pro-people measures have been undertaken to deliver relief to the people.
There are media reports attributed to your public statements on the likelihood of local elections. Is the MoLD seriously considering to conduct local elections soon?
- I think there is no alternative to local elections to set the local bodies in order and make them accountable to the people. However, political consensus on the matter is the important precondition to it. I have started to interact with the political leaders at personal level to persuade them on the need to hold local elections but this has to be done on formal and party level. All the responsible political leaders have recognized to the need to hold local polls in order to set the democratic local government in place. However, sometimes party interests prevail, and good political proposals also often get dumped.
There are complaints raised persistently on the rising scale of corruption and blatant misuse of resources at the local level. You are often reported to have admitted to this bitter reality. Though it is a problem of an enormous magnitude which cannot be tackled with minor efforts and initiatives, you need to do some thing concrete and effective to minimize the malaise. What are you doing to stem the rising concerns of corruption at the local level?
- We must admit the fact that the local bodies, in many instances, are found plagued by large scale misappropriation and misuse of resources. This is clearer as it is evidenced by the media reports coming out time and again. The corrupt activities at the local level are executed through consensus and nexus between political functionaries and bureaucracy. We have started to mount the level and intensity of monitoring and vigilance to minimize and control the misappropriation of resources at the local level. We have initiated action against the government functionaries found indulged in corrupt acts. This has been commenced from the Kathmandu Metropolitan Corporation itself. The chief of the KMC has been suspended and he is being probed. Moreover, actions and transactions of the KMCs are under scanner.
Though negative examples are publicized and draw public glare there are some positive examples that should not go unnoticed in this context. The local communities have mobilized and used the available resources properly and effectively. Roads, drinking water schemes, health posts and schools have been built setting examples of efficient and effective utilization of resources.
The all-party mechanism is also criticized alleging that it has bypassed the formal planning process and reduced the local development into a mockery. What steps have been initiated to ensure that the planning process works in line with certain predictable framework of rules?
-The bottom-up planning process has been overruled and disrespected in the country. The Local self governance act provides a clear framework for decentralized bottom-up planning process but this has not been put to practice in the absence of elected representatives at the local level. The centralized planning process has become so dominant that delegations from districts come to the capital for smaller projects and schemes. I have found that the local bodies allocate significant amount of budget to finance the traveling and accommodation expenses of delegation to the capital. This needs to be checked totally. This can stop only when decentralized planning process is adhered to and institutionalized in the country.
The administrative instability at the local level due to frequent changes of local government officials has been said to be responsible for poor performance of the local government. What you think needs to be done to discourage and check the partisan interference in the haphazard transfers of the employees at the local level?
-I do agree with the points raised by you as for the last several years bureaucracy has been subjected to undue influence and interference from the political quarters. Local bodies have become the victims of transfers and changes of the responsible government officials and employees. LDOs and executive officers are found transferred before they physically get to their assigned locations and take over the mantle of responsibility. This has hampered the performance of the local bodies and led to deterioration of the situation. I would like to set example by making necessary correction of the mistakes committed in the past. I am not in favor of meddling in the working of bureaucracy and I do sincerely believe that intervention in bureaucratic norms and values will undermine the morale of civil servants.
You should be aware that around five to seven hundred VDCs are reckoning without the secretaries as a result of which ordinary people are denied of the basic services at the local level. Moreover, due to security or other reasons many VDC secretaries are staying in the district headquarters by not reporting to the respective VDCs where they are assigned. How are you going to ensure that these anomalies are corrected?
-I have noted this situation with seriousness and instructed that the VDC secretaries should be made to go to their respective VDCs and deliver services at once without any reluctance. Though there may be some cases where VDC offices may not be physically and institutionally equipped for service delivery to the people. In such a situation necessary arrangements should be made to warrant that services are catered to the people without having them to face any hassles.
You know that the country is going to be reorganized into a federation. The local government should be one of the principal tiers of federal structures endowed with effective mandates and competencies. What has MoLD done to articulate its position on the status of the local government in the federal structure of the country?
The MoLD has not developed its separate position as such on the set up and modality of the local government in the federal structure of the country. However, we are airing our views that the local government should be an important tier of the federal government structures in the country. The local bodies should be mandated with functions, finances, functionaries and freedom.