A news report published in a local vernacular daily last week made a highlight on the information about the weak competence of deputy mayors to exercise their authority at the local level. The news item further stated that the deputy mayors from at least five municipalities in Rautahat district thronged the District Administration Office to appeal to the Chief District Officer (CDO) to take up their issues with the mayors in their respective municipalities and prevail upon so as to allow and enable them to exercise their authority provisioned in the Local Government Operations Act, 2017. They accused the mayors concerned of not informing and including them in the meetings that intended to make crucial decisions on the subjects that fall under their domain. According to the deputy mayors who ventilated their grievances, the mayors do not even consult with them and involve in the meeting that make decisions regarding the use of fund to deal with incidents of the violence against the women. They say the Local Government Operations Act has given them wide ranging powers in local decision-making but they are hindered in exercising their authority due to highhandedness and overarching dominance of the mayors. In fact, as per the Local Government Operation Act, the deputy mayors are mandated to chair several important committees that have far-reaching meaning for local democracy and development. The committees that the deputy mayors are authorised to chair and coordinate at local level include judicial committee, plan monitoring and evaluation committee, budget advisory committee, budget appropriation committee and so on.
Irony But it is an irony of the fact that the deputy mayors who have the legal mandate to take important decisions for local democracy and development are complaining of being denied to have an access to decision-making authority which is being usurped by their male counterpart mayors. It shows how the social power imbalance entrenched in the patriarchal society like ours undercuts the meaning and substance of the entitlement and authority envisaged in the legal enactment. The legal norms are therefore less effective than cultural norms entrenched in our social landscape. From the precedence and protocol point of view too, the deputy mayors as elected representative are equal, if not superior to the CDO but they feel so disempowered and bereft of the authority and esteem that they took resort to inviting the government administrators to intervene on their behalf which brings, in a way, a ridicule to the post of the deputy chief in the local government that is constitutionally recognised as one of the spheres of the federal governance in the country. This writer has tossed up the issue of the judicial committee coordinated by the women deputy mayors in these columns time and again underscoring the need for capacity building of these women leaders for an effective exercise of the authority granted to the committee by the law. This writer believes that judicial committee can help poor communities, including women, to access justice at the local level. The committee is composed of three members headed by deputy chief of the local government. Other two members in the committee are local councilors chosen from among the assembly members. In 753 local governments, 700 deputy chiefs happen to be the women. As a consequence, in almost all local governments, few elected women leaders head the judicial committees. This offers an immense space for promotion and development of women leadership and gender justice at the local level. Moreover, with women leaders at the helm of the judicial committee, it is expected that women and marginalised groups receive a fair and friendly deal especially in the cases related with family and matrimonial issues, domestic abuse and family discords. The Act discusses the types of cases as well as the procedures of facilitation of disputes by judicial committees. The committee is empowered to facilitate different types of disputes and while doing so they are required to encourage the parties of disputes to opt for mediated resolution of disputes. Disputes are required to be mediated by the mediators from the roster of the judicial committees. Once registered with the judicial committee, disputes should be resolved within three months from the date of reporting by second party to dispute. If judicial committee fails to resolve disputes within three months, the parties concerned should be informed of it and then refer the case to courts. Judicial committees can establish mediation center in each ward at local level. If all three members of the committee cannot be present, then the chair and one other member can also hear the dispute and settle it, but decision-making cannot proceed if the chair himself or herself is absent. If only two members other than the chief are present, they may proceed with other processes of dispute settlement but cannot make a decision to settle the disputes. The rights of the judicial committee will be collectively exercised by its chief and members, and that the majority’s decision will be recognised as the committee decision.
Capacity The above discussion shows that the judicial committee coordinated by the deputy chief can be a powerful and effective mechanism for justice dispensation at the local level. The capacity of the committee needs to be enhanced to ensure that the functional authority is exercised properly. Moreover, the committees like budget and revenue mobilisation are very important at the local level. But in the absence of their awareness and capacity, deputy mayors have not been able to recognise to the significance of their authority given by the law. The situation, though on an erroneous assumption, that they have to take resort of inviting to the chief district officers to intervene on their behalf is a sad commentary on the state of affairs which needs to be corrected.