Wanton disregard for law by local govt officials

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The elected local officials who had allocated budget in their party’s stronghold have halted projects in areas dominated by opposition. Such cases in Tulsipur and Ghorahi–two Sub Metropolitan Cities of Dang—have generated controversy.

Devendra Basnet : Center for Investigative Journalism- Nepal

While allocating budget and making project agreement, local bodies should select projects on the basis of locals’ needs. But the local officials of Dang district agree on the projects and allocate budget so that they themselves or people affiliated to their parties could benefit from it. Some local representatives even go to the extent of blocking projects that have already been approved.

A project to build an embankment on Gwar Khola in Tulsipur Sub Metropolitan City is such an example. The Ward Chairman, who belongs to the UML, refused to allow construction saying the consumer committee for the project was dominated by opposition party members. In September, the project office had decided to allocate 2.5 million rupees for the construction of the embankment on Gwar Khola, which flows through Haripauri village of Tulsipur Sub Metropolitan City. The project has been approved following pressure from Dilli Bahadur Chaudhary, state minister of labour and a Nepali Congress (NC) leader.

But work has stalled after Shyam Dangi was elected as the ward chairman in local election last year. Dangi declined to recommend for the implementation of the project on the ground that the opposition party had initiated it. Though the UML’s Dangi is the ward chairman, the NC is in majority here. The consumer committee is also led by the NC and Maoists. Dangi is blocking the work because his opponents are in majority in the area.

When asked about the project, Dangi said he wasn’t aware of it. “I don’t know whether the project has been approved. How can I issue recommendation for something know nothing about it?” Dila KC, the consumer committee chairwoman and a Maoist, said: “We met him (Dangi) several times and urged him to implement the project, but he turned it down saying it lacked due process,” she said.

Locals showing boundary marked in a terrain by Gwar Khola. Photo : Devendra Basnet

Gwar Khola forms the boundary between the villages of Haripauri and Ganar. The two villages have separate wards, but construction of an embankment at Ward No 15 of Ganar has already begun. That’s because both the ward chairperson and head of the consumer committee belong to the UML. Projects at both wards were allocated at the same time, but while work at one is moving ahead, another is in limbo due to uncooperative ward chairman. “I don’t know which project has gone ahead and which hasn’t,” Dangi said.

While the public representatives get engaged in ‘politics’, locals of Gwar Khola are deeply worried about floods from monsoon rains which threaten their homes. Uma Ram Nepali, who lives close to the river, said, “We urged authorities to build an embankment, but it hasn’t been done yet.” While both the mayor and deputy mayor of Tulsipur Sub Metropolitan City are UML members, the NC won Ward No 10 and the UML Ward No 9.

Partisan interest

There’s yet another example of public representatives blocking development projects due to political calculations. In August last year, Tulsipur Sub Metropolitan City allocated 4 million rupees to blacktop a section of dirt track (Damodar Marga) between Urahari and Sukaura at Ward No 11 of Tulsipur Sub Metropolitan City. But when the consumer committee wanted to sign an agreement for the project, Maya Acharya, the deputy mayor, refused to have it registered at her office. Chitra Bahadur Oli, the chairman of Ward No 11, said they were deprived of the project despite allocation of budget. “The Sub Metropolitan City refused an agreement because both Ward Chairman and head of consumer committee are from NC,” said Oli, who was elected on the NC ticket. “They will create trouble if they can’t monopolise the budget.”

The Sub Metropolitan City is planning to open bidding for the project since the opposition holds majority in consumer committee. According to Allocation of Business Rules 2012, a project worth less than 5 million rupees must be implemented by the consumer committee. But Acharya, the deputy mayor, has proposed to revoke the committee before blacktopping the road. “The locals seem uninterested in it. So we should carry out bidding,” she said.

But Ukta Bahadur Basnet, secretary of the committee, defended the body, saying they were eager to start work on the project. “The problem was that they couldn’t agree on the division of spoils,” he said. It was mysterious for Sub Metropolitan City, which initially allowed the consumer committee to implement to the project, to now push for bidding. “It’s an attempt to hand the project to one’s relatives in the name of bidding,” he said. “We don’t accept the dismissal of consumer committee.” Topendra KC, the executive officer of the Sub Metropolitan City admitted dispute had emerged. “The dispute was there from the start and its remains so,” he said.

The road connecting Urhari-Sukaura remains without blacktopping due to the political dispute between the officials.  Photo: Devendra Basnet

Projects have been delayed due to the partisan and personal interest of public representatives. A project for blacktopping a road in Ghorahi Sub Metropolitan City is a latest example.

On October 11, 2017, Ghorahi Sub Metropolitan City allocated 2.5 million rupees for a project to blacktop a 500-metre road at Ward No 15 (behind Mahendra Multiple Campus). But controversy erupted when the time for agreement was set. As a result, discussion dragged on for a month. After she found that her party members were not among the consumer committee members, deputy mayor Sita Neupane refused to sign the project agreement. Neupane represented the UML. What’s more, her rival candidate, Pushpa Sherstha was the chairperson of the consumer committee. She said she would agree only if another committee was formed.

But Neupane wouldn’t acknowledge this in public.”I was for blacktopping more roads, but they didn’t agree,” she said. In fact, Neupane was trying to have the road in front of her house blacktopped. But it wasn’t in the agreement. After Neupane kept insisting on it, the consumer committee held talks with mayor Naru Lal Chaudhary, which eventually led to an agreement. “It was approved only after series of discussion with the mayor,” said Shrestha, the chair of the committee. “Development projects should not be a means for taking revenge,” she said. The work began one and half months later.

Public representatives who won the election selling the dream of progress and prosperity are now involved in personal and political interest. They believe that if they land developmental projects in their electoral area, it will ensure political benefits in future. Such thinking has led them to focus on their own personal interest rather than the public’s.  

 Where to self-governance?  

 In several places, elected members had distributed projects without informing the ward office.  For example, the ward office members of Tulsipur Sub Metropolitan City Ward no 11 had no idea about a road budget which was for laying of stones on pitching a road.  

 The staff at Ward 11 had no idea about the budget allocation. Ward member Subash Dangi said, “We had no idea about the budget allocation. They gave the project to few people.” Not only they didn’t know about it, but they had no idea about the formation of a consumer committee. “When we went to set up the consumer committee, we came to know that it was already formed under a UML member as the chief,” Dangi added.  

Deputy Mayor Maya Acharya had got the budget to build the road in the name of her deceased husband. After seeing that the Ward chairman who got elected from Nepali Congress wouldn’t let her build the road in her husband’s name, Acharya got the budget approval from the Sub Metropolitan office.   

KC, the executive officer of the Sub-Metropolitan admitted that the budget got passed without consultation with them. According to Local Self Governance Act 2055, projects can go through only after having a proper consultation with the municipality, sub-municipality, and rural municipality. But on the basis of a majority, the mayor and deputy mayor expedited the budget for their own benefit. Sub Metropolitan City’s Planning Commission Section Officer Pawan Yogi said a meeting held during Jan 2017 had passed the budget.  

 A similar project at Ghorahi Sub Metropolitan city got approval without consultation. Ward chairman Chitra Bahadur Dangi is unaware about a road blacktopping project that was done between Narayanpur and Jharbaira of Ward no 10. “I’ve no idea how this project got started. This is happening by undermining the authority of the Sub Metropolitan office,” he said. “I didn’t say anything because it benefits the ward residents but to distribute budget without consulting is against the law.” The mayor and deputy mayor of Ghorahi Sub-Metropolitan city are both elected from the UML party. 13 candidates from the UML had won the election, whereas Nepali Congress won 5 wards, and the UCPN-Maoist won 1 seat.  

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