March 14, 2017 Sujeev Shakya

Trigger for Growth

As Nepal braces itself for elections, a recent announcement was made on the formation of local bodies. Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba previously dissolved the local bodies in July 2002. It is ironic that Deuba could be the prime minister once again, and oversee the 2017 local elections. Nepal is suffering from ‘mass Alzheimer’s’ and needs to be reminded that all the opportunistic politicians aligned with the former monarch to rewrite Nepal’s political history by re-imposing an autocratic rule. With the upcoming elections, many are once again trying to use the erstwhile institution of monarchy to usurp power 15 years later.

Platform of leadership development

The absence of locally elected representatives has had an impact, which has been evident over the past 15 years. Given the absence of democratic practices within political parties, leaders were inducted right at the top and many power brokers and business folks made it into politics. The reduced tenure of governments meant that politics started to be seen as an opportunity to make money. The need for opposition is critical in democratic practice; however, the fact that Deuba will be the 11th PM in as many years (since 2006) speaks volumes about the way the syndicate of political parties has wiped out opposition.

Leadership at the centre has proved lucrative with Nepal’s $20 billion economy and government revenues of $6 billion. In real democratic practices, leaders are developed from the bottom-up, as opposed to the feudal practice of imposing leaders top-down. Emulating the politics of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, appointing wives, children and relatives as ambassadors became the way of keeping the circle of power intact in Nepali politics. The children of politicians either capitalised on the business opportunities presented by politics through working on government contracts, or left the country in abhorrence of the actions of the older generation. The only hope for change in Nepali  politics within the next 10 years is shown by the new breed of leadership at local and provincial levels. This is the best leadership development plan that Nepal can foster.

Devolution that can deliver

One of the reasons Sher Bahadur Deuba dissolved the local government 15 years ago on behalf of the political syndicate was that the devolution of power would present them with considerable competition. This indicates that devolution worked. Nepal’s inhabitants are incredibly diverse; with a population that is almost equal to Canada’s, Nepal is the 40th most populated country in the world.

The political forces can use this platform to build local level leaders. These leaders will undoubtedly be young, as it is not likely that 60- or 70-year-olds who are interested in politics will participate at the local level if they have not yet made it to the federal level.

This kind of change is definitely possible given that 70 percent of the Nepali population is less than 35 years old and millions of first time voters are on the list. However, current student leaders vandalise property and work as pawns of political forces. Many argue that if this trend continues, nothing will change. There is a need for an optimistic outlook where we hope for a generation who shuns college- and union-politics, and once in power, changes the way politics is conducted.

Politics is a reflection of society, and in our society we have seen the occurrence of devolution—albeit at a slow pace. Young people are increasingly given the choice to pick their vocations, live in nuclear families, marry who they choose and migrate to a country of their preference. Our politicians,

however, still live in an outdated world where their myopic view leads them to believe that their patronising, oratory power and bribery will attract votes. Society has evolved to the point where modern communication platforms such as social media have brought about a huge global change. Its effects have been felt on governments worldwide, and it will be evident in Nepal as well.

A window of opportunity

Local governments have proved to be some of the most successful funding interventions by multilateral agencies and development finance institutions. Municipalities now compete for funds and compete on delivery. Dhulikhel provided a constructive example two decades ago with the implementation of some positive initiatives focusing on tourism, water supply, hospital and education. Perhaps the Kirtipur municipality can seek funds to convert the shabby sports stadium to achieve world class status, thus sparing Nepalis the humiliation of shabbily dressed staff working on the cricket field, or of the constant absence of lights. The Bhimdutta municipality could also convert the airport built for royal hunting trips and transform it into a world class sports academy and stadium. This could spur the youth in Nepal to be involved in productive activities, as opposed to serving political masters who goad them into burning educational institutions and public property.

There could also be competition on which ward completes the digging for the Melamchi project and rebuilds roads first. Incentive structures can be built to foster productivity of the local governments. In present day Nepal, money is not a constraint; rather it is the limited mindset and the inability to get things done that present a problem. Nothing is better than creating a sense of competition between various local bodies to ensure improved delivery of services for citizens.

A combination of leadership development and an anti-incumbency wave against corrupt, old and narcissistic leaders who still adhere to the status-quo will make space for new leaders, who should instil a sense of healthy competition to provide local neighbourhoods with a better quality of life. A window of opportunity is present if leaders manage to make good use of the billions of dollars of funding available for the development of infrastructure or entrepreneurship. We should not squander this opportunity as we did in 1990 and 2006.

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