Staff crunch dashes Humlas’ hopes
Among the seven rural municipalities in Humla, five have Subba and Kharidar as their executive chief
Nawaraj Mahatara : Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal
It has been a year since the local level elections were held in Humla of Karnali Province. Longer it is since the people of the districts first heard “rumours” of the powers of Singha Durbar being transferred to municipalities. But there have been no practical changes on the ground in terms of service delivery.
Tulpati Rokaya, 50, of Maspur in Tanjkot Rural Municipality-3 lost his life four months ago in the lack of timely treatment. He did not get medicine in the village as he was down with common cold and fever for two weeks. “We walked all day long to the health post in Chhaprela,” said Mangya, elder brother of Tulpati. “We returned empty handed since there was no medicine. We could not save my brother.”
People of the remote southern village Maspur, which is a four-day trek from the district headquarters Simkot, reach the Chhaprela health post for medicine. Since the health facility experiences a scarcity of medicine, people have no cure but to rely on traditional domestic treatment practices. Baisagi Budha of Maspur, who has been ill for a month, said she drinks a liquid obtained by boiling garlic together with an iron implement in water in cases of stomachache.
When this reporter visited Maspur last month, 15 people were found to be ill in the village. The patients from the households totaling 19 in the village complained of fever and headache. But there were in no position of receiving cure.
The people’s representatives were unaware of this. “I had no idea. I’ll now talk to the rural municipality chair and arrange for treatment,” said ward 3 Chairman Parimal Sunar. Tajkot RM Chairman Bagdal Malla said drugs had been procured to be dispatched to the Maila Health Post. The medicines reported to have been purchased had not reached the health post until a month ago.
Seventy-year-old Jokhya Budha complained that he gets no Cetamol for headache since no medicine is available. “I’ve had to apply citrus juice and chili when there’s a headache,” said Jokhya.
Five health facilities in Adanchuli of Humla have been without medicines including the most common Cetamol for six months. Local people who visit health posts are deprived of health services. ANM Suman Chaurasiya of Shreenagar Area Health Post in Adanchuli said they had to return patients who visit the health facility seeking treatment. “In the past years, we got medicines from the District Public Health Office four times a year,” said Chaurasiya. “It’s become a chaotic situation since the public health offices were transferred to the local level.”
Local people suffer not only in the lack of medicines, they also bear the brunt of absence of service delivery from the wards and rural municipality centres. The joy of having their own local government has been short-lived for Humla people. One instance speaks enough: old age allowances that should have been distributed seven months ago have yet to be delivered to the beneficiaries.
Seventy-year-old Jokhya Budha of Maspur said, “Earlier, we received elderly allowances, though belated, at Chhaprela. Even that is not possible now.” He added that the VDC secretary and village chief visited villagers every four to six months to distribute social security allowances before Maila VDC was merged to form the Tajkot rural municipality. “At the local level now, staff and people’s representatives are not even found in their office.”
15 secretaries for 44 wards
All the wards of Tajkot rural municipality and the RM office at Chapprela face a staff crunch. There are two secretaries for the five wards in Tajkot. They are stationed at the RM office. “We can’t reach all the wards, it may be easier for the locals to approach us here.”
Chankheli rural municipality in Humla has no story different from Tajkot’s. To the dismay of local residents who hoped services like birth and death registration and citizenship recommendation would be available at the ward office, they are required to trek to Piplang, the RM centre, since no Chankheli ward has staff. All the forms and office seals necessary for vital registration have been taken to Piplang.
Dharmakala Shahi of Garkha in Chankheli RM-2 said that she failed to register her son’s birth even after visiting the ward office twice. In the absence of staffers at the ward office, people from most villages are compelled to walk whole day to Piplang to receive services otherwise easily available at the ward offices. This renders the slogan of “power of Singha Durbar in villages” as a “government joke” for the Chankheli locals, said Harichandra Tamang of Ward No 5 in Nepka.
Piplang used to be the marketplace for Shreemashtha VDC. Local people used to reach there for “government businesses”. The hopes of locals to avail of services from the ward itself have been dashed.
The Chankheli RM with six wards has only two secretaries. Chankheli-3 ward Chairman Shaligram Aidi, who is also the officiating RM chief, admitted that service delivery from the ward office had not been possible due to the absence of necessary staffers and physical infrastructure. “Our works have not been effective,” said Aidi. “On the one hand, we don’t have staff. On the other, the absence of fundamental services like bank, internet, telephone and electricity has added to the misery.”
Not only ward offices, RM centres have no adequate staff too. Face of the “local government”, people’s representatives are not available at office. Dip Bahadur Rokaya of Adanchuli RM-5 said he had to reach the RM office for birth registration since the ward chairperson and the ward secretary were not available at the ward. The six-ward Adanchuli RM also has only two ward secretaries.
Adanchuli RM Chairman Dal Phadera said services had been ineffective as a single person had got multiple responsibilities. He said there was difficulty for a Nayab Subba (non-gazetted first class official) and two secretaries to handle the affairs at the whole of a rural municipality. “I often have to go out for meetings,” said Phadera. “When I’m away even those officials don’t stay in office, denying people services,” he said. For the local governments to make their presence felt among the people, the Centre must deploy officials to the sanctioned posts, he demanded.
Tanjan Lundup Lama of Kermi in Namkha RM-2 has an experience similar to Dip Bahadur’s when it comes to the services. His son, who recently sat the School Education Examination, was unable to get the “backward area citizen” certification in his four attempts from the RM centre Yalwang. “Earlier, VDC secretaries would be found at least at the district headquarters Simkot for works. The RM centre now has no staff and elected representatives.”
The unavailability of people’s representatives and staff at the local station has inconvenienced people in the seven rural municipalities in Humla. For the 44 wards in the district, the District Coordination Committee sent 22 secretaries in the first phase of staff readjustment. Now only 15 secretaries remain in the district and most of them are stationed at the RM centres.
They are found only at the centre. Since they have extra responsibility of looking after the ward affairs, they choose to attend the RM office.
Chankheli 1 ward Chairman Nanda Bahadur Bohora admits that they have failed to serve the local people due to the staff shortage. “I regret over my [unfulfilled] electoral promises,” said Bohora. He blamed the state and central governments for troubling the powerful local federal units by not managing staff.
The Sarkeghard rural municipality has eight wards, looked after by a total of two secretaries who stay at the RM office. People from the remote villages like Rahdeu, Jair and Rodikot have to walk nearly a whole day to meet the secretary for recommendations given by the ward office. Acting executive chief Kumansingh Dhami said official performance had been affected due to the lack of officials for the sanctioned posts. “Since the Centre and the District Coordination Committee have not sent officials, the wards are unable to cater public services,” said Dhami.
Sarkeghard is one of the remote villages in the mountain district of Humla, which is inaccessible by road. Officials deployed from the DCC ad the Centre have yet to reach there. While this hits works at the RM, local people have been denied state services.
Acting executive chief Dhami said the few officials had failed to serve from many wards, hence the compulsion for people to walk up to the centre for services. The time of the limited number of officials at the local government goes to providing recommendations and forming consumer groups for development projects.
Subba and Kharidar (a junior official) are acting as executive officer in all the rural municipalities of Humla except Simkot and Namkha. Account officers at several government offices at the district headquarters have been given the financial charge of rural municipalities. According DCC coordinator Danbahadur Rawat, no local unit has the assigned number of staffers. “Citizens can’t avail of state services where there are no staffers.”
Section Officer Ujir Rokaya of the DCC said a single secretary had to look after affairs at six wards. “There is a dearth of all kinds of officials in the district including the secretaries,” said Rokaya, explaining the hassles in service delivery.
In the ten months of the fiscal year, Adanchuli RM has failed to prepare the cost estimates of the projects agreed for this year. Acting executive officer Til Prasad Pande said the estimates had not been prepared in the absence of technical staff. “The cost estimates that should have been prepared by mid-September have yet to be made,” said Pande. “This has affected the formation of consumer groups and project agreement in the rural municipality.”
As the fiscal end nears, works have begun from the district headquarters Simkot. As requested by the rural municipality, the DCC has assigned its Food for Work project technician Basanta Rawat to prepare the estimates. Rawat has been working on the estimates for rural projects from the headquarters without visiting the villages.
According to the Local Government Operation Act, an engineer heads the technical section of a rural municipality. But no engineer has reached the local units in Humla.