By Mona Sherpa, Women Rights Activist/Deputy Country Director of HELVETAS – Nepal
(This post was brought to you by Khasokhas Weekly.)
During my recent visit to different parts of the country, I had the opportunity to interact with the newly elected local representatives who shared with me their excitement of being a part of a new chapter in Nepal’s history. As the country changes guard to a federalization process, the excitement of the elected officials couldn’t conceal the confusion and chaos that they were facing in regards to the unclear demarcation of their roles, responsibilities - a by-product of unclear guidelines and policies. There’s mounting fear that these challenges will blur the aspiration of the people, and the policy defaults will have an adverse effect on the current model of governance. Expectation management also seems to have created a mental toll in elected representatives. Narration such as, “there’s lack of capacity in us (elected representatives), and this may affect the trust bestowed upon us by the people,” could be heard. This sentiment echoed by many is a strong testament to a commitment on the part of the elected representatives who do not want to undermine the aspiration of the public who voted for them.
Unlike the yester-year scenario, the public cannot be fooled by political gimmicks; they are well informed, and aware. The people who I interacted with, shared with me that they cannot be treated as mere, ‘voter banks,’ but there needs to be a system in place which meaningfully involves them in the local decision-making structures. People need to be motivated to realize that their role isn’t over yet, and for local governance to be successful – the public need to take on the role of collaborators, critics, and accountability actors. Therefore, there needs to be a structure to bring together the elected representatives, and the public to build their knowledge, and capacity for strengthened local governance.
My interaction with both the elected representatives and the public reminded me of the movie, the Terminal. The uncertainty faced by the protagonist of the movie triggered by the absence of clear directives reflects the state of elected representatives in the country. This void should be addressed, otherwise, there is a possibility of public dissatisfaction, which may lead to public disobedience, increase in trust deficit which we can witness in today’s governance system. Furthermore, the lackluster political approach may taint the willingness of elected representative, and their untapped potential.
The promulgation of the new Local Government Act addresses the need for accountability of elected representatives towards the people, and also shuns the notion of centralized authority, by enriching power and decision-making authority to the elected representatives and the people. Also, the patriarchal architecture of politics has been shunned with the representation of 49% women in the pool. This proves that people have voted for change, and there is no turning back. There's a sincere need to understand that there's manifold opportunity, and one should skillfully tackle the barriers, and this requires collaboration on the part of both – leaders and public. The first step towards this is to embrace positivity, and understand that it will take time for things for a change, and the system to be in place.
There's also an opportunity to create a positive majority, and indulge in conscious action to answer the age-long unsolved questions on the social construct, political upheavals, and economic dysfunction at the local level. The key to doing this is to strike a meaningful balance between the required practices and address the gaps in the regular governance processes. The role of the civil society is unprecedented to herald dialogues and discussions at the local level. The public as 'watchdogs' needs to be observant and be informed about the local governance process because these changes will govern our lives in the coming days. To be unperturbed to the changes in governance today is like turning your back to a prosperous future. It is everyone's duty to ensure that the elected representatives do not slip through the procedural loopholes of the then bureaucratic procedures and practices. This has been a practice for long, and we cannot repeat this practice again. The public should engage actively in the local governance discourse by being a part of different public engagement forums, and organize oneself to counter the act of hegemonic power. It is also important for the public to pave way for a governance system that recognizes the contribution of all, and there's no disparity in behest of one's gender, ideology, or status. Therefore, we shouldn't let our consciousness manifest into skepticism towards the unfolding development, and hide behind phrases such as, "Ke garney yestai ho," (What to do, things are like that), but be responsible towards the system, and be a part of materializing the people's government that we have sought for so long. Also, we need to change our habit of blaming leaders, and the government for every failure that we have witnessed in the road of a democratic transition. The people need to take shared responsibility.
Therefore, it is important to collaborate and work together to smoothen the transitional phase of local governance without compromising the democratic values. Like in the movie, the Terminal, Tom Hanks could ultimately come out of the terminal with his positive attitude where he didn’t break the law even when he was given an opportunity. He succeeded because of his strength of exploring possibilities within the given space. There were struggles and cliffhangers, but his sheer determination eventually helped him overcome all hurdles to succeed, and it would take collaboration, positivity, and understanding of responsibility in each and every one of us to ensure the success of a new governance structure.