Dhananjay Shah / Dilip Thakur
The most important aspect of the recent local elections is the dramatic win of independent candidates as mayors- Balendra Shah, aka Balen, in Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Harka Sampang Rai in Dharan Sub-Metropolitan City, Gopal Hamal in Dhangadhi Sub-Metropolitan City, and Manoj Kumar Shah in Janakpur Sub-Metropolitan City. Their victories were miraculous and called for change in the status quo.
The rise of Balen, Harka, Gopal and Manoj clearly reflects the changing mindset of Nepali voters. They appear to be fed up with traditional political parties and want a new power to emerge. This indicates the expression of frustrations and reaction to the incompetent leadership of mainstream parties. This was not expected but is indeed a need of the hour.
In one way, the election results sent a warning to the political parties. On the other way, it encourages the young, visionary and bold people to contest the upcoming provincial and federal elections and effect a change. This is the most important message of the local level elections, providing a hope for achieving prosperity and development and living a decent life.
The local elections sent newcomers into politics. Their slogans were simple but the Nepali people have trusted their words. It’s fairly a big challenge for mayors to keep the word. Mayors show modern attitude but the bureaucracy tend to prefer the status quo. It’s a herculean task to work in a team work. This is the era of smart people. Mayors alone becoming smart do not make municipal office smart. The mayors have a critical role in leading the team. The true leadership lies in mobilising and activating the existing human resources to optimally accomplish the organisational goals.
The mayors have challenges to cooperate and coordinate with two other tiers of governments -provincial and federal run by the major political parties. The funds for building smart cities come from the purse of other federal ministries like the Ministry of Urban Development. The technical and financial support comes from provincial ministries such as the Ministry of Physical Planning and Transport.
There are many challenges for the mayors. One challenge is that mayors have no independent ward chairpersons and members. The village and municipal councils and executive boards comprise of ward chairpersons and members. They are all from political parties. The decisions are made with majority. The fear is that their proposals may be turned down by the majority members of the boards and councils. All the mayors need to forge consensus on major issues.
Another challenge is traditional governance system. The civil servants are accused of sticking to rigid laws and regulations. The ICT tools have not been widely used. Another problem is the excessive trade unionism in the government offices. The civil servants have become cadres of political parties. They abuse their nexus with political leaders to meet the vested interests.
The next challenge before the newly elected mayors is widespread corruption. Breaking the network of corruption is an uphill task. They should be bold enough to end illegal syndicatism that is ruling the roost. The danger is that they can get entangled in the maze. The new and energetic mayors should not be frustrated by this and drop their vision and plan.
In the worst-case scenario, the mayors better choose to resign than to surrender. At all costs, they must stick to their vision and agenda of development, prosperity and good governance mandated by the public. For this, there is a dire need to motivate, inspire, teach and train bureaucrats. Also is the need to utilise ICT tools and techniques to the fullest.
The independently-elected mayors must not shy away from taking measures of change and reforms. Their confrontation with the political parties might hamper them from carrying out their stated goals. The mayors have to put their best foot forward to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.
Vision and plan
With the new fiscal year, the new mayors have a big task to formulate policy and programme of the coming fiscal year. Another important task is to design the projects for the coming fiscal year. On one hand, it is critically challenging to fulfill their commitment to the people. On the other hand, the Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Action are imperative issues that need an urgent action.
Building smart cities is possible only with visionary leaders. The independently-elected mayors have to demonstrate their vision and plan. They have to act at all costs. They are not alone. The public are behind them. The independent mayors should keep their promises made before the voters during the polls. Failing to do so will make the people frustrated again.
(Shah is currently working at Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, and Thakur at the Ministry of Finance.)