I feel our current score is 50 but we are trying to reach 70: Mayor Kharel

It has been more than three years since the election of the local government after the country entered a federal setup. There is high expectation from the local government as the Constitution of Nepal 2015 entrusted more executive powers to it. However, being in the transitional process, the local governments have faced many challenges like clarity on the roles and responsibilities among three tiers of the Government, allocation of human resources and promulgation of laws by the federal government and lately, the Covid-19 pandemic. The local governments are trying to deliver as much as they can despite these challenging situations. Amid this context, Nepalekhabar.com had a brief chat with Mayor of Budanilkantha Municipality Mr. Uddhav Prasad Kharel about the achievements and challenges the municipality has been facing and how he is trying to meet the expectations of people. Here are the excerpts:

Mr. Mayor, it has been more than three years since you assumed the office; how do you rate your performance as compared to the commitments you made during the elections?

Budanilkantha Municipality, which lies in the northern part of Kathmandu Valley is a densely populated municipality. People from different locations across Nepal are residing here, which was formed by merging six then village development committees. This is the youngest municipality of Kathmandu Valley. Definitely, people have high expectations from the local government and we are working to meet it. We have set five priorities and are continuously working to meet these priorities.

The first priority is Good Governance, which is the foundation for all. Before forming the municipality, all the local bodies were working independently with separate mechanisms, so we were expecting various issues but we have been able to integrate it into 13 wards and provide integrated services to the people. We are committed to provide hassle free services. Our second priority is Infrastructure and we are trying to expedite the process of development of infrastructure despite some challenges. We opened our office from a rented building and it was quiet challenging to expedite the development works in an integrated way. We have been trying to complete all the physical infrastructure as planned during the period. Social Development is the third priority for us. For that, we are giving emphasis to education and health and trying to address the issues of Dalits, poor and marginalized people and bring them in the mainstream of development. We have set Economic Development, which is also the priority of the federal government, as the fourth priority. Although economic development is quiet challenging, we are trying to address it by promoting agriculture, livestock and employment generation related actions. We have been trying to provide skills oriented trainings to the needy people so that they can engage in employment opportunities. Similarly, we are trying to focus on economic activities by systematizing the market and create further employment opportunities. Our fifth priority is Environment Protection; management of garbage and creation of disaster resilient communities and we are working with different stakeholders in this regard.

As we faced and are facing different challenges like management of civil servants and lack of skills of those civil servants, inadequate experience of elected representatives and the global pandemic Covid-19, we have been allocating resources as per our priorities and expediting the completion of these tasks. Although we could not accomplish many projects within the stipulated time due to these challenges, we are working closely with the federal and provincial governments towards addressing it.

If we compare our performance against our plan, I feel we have scored 50 out of 100 marks. However, we hope to score 60 to 70 by the time we complete our tenure at this office. If we reach 70 percent, then we will feel we have made significant achievements and we are working to reach there.

If you have to mention five major achievements of your tenure, what would it be?

The first thing is that we have been able to construct the municipality building within this time. Most probably, we are the first municipality of Kathmandu valley which has constructed its own building. Along with it, we have completed many other infrastructure projects. Second, we have started construction of 14 strategic roads of the municipality. Although these roads have not completed due to various reasons, we hope to complete these by February next year. The next thing is we have been implementing an ambitious drinking water project towards meeting the target of One Household One Tap. Of the 30 thousand households of the municipality, 15 thousand households are yet to be connected with running water/tap so we are trying to reach this target soon. We hope to connect three thousand taps this year and we are also implementing a big project worth 2 billion 150 million in coordination with the federal government. On the education front, we have constructed or renovated 30 schools as per the norms of the Government of Nepal. We are also constructing various infrastructure for tourism promotion. We hope we will contribute for poverty reduction and economic empowerment through promotion of tourism. We realize that infrastructure work is taking time, but we are working towards accomplishing most of the work as soon as possible to create a prosperous municipality.

Environment protection has become a huge challenge for urban cities due to rapid urbanization, what are your efforts in this regard?

Like the other 256 municipalities, we are also working on how to make our municipality the best. This municipality is surrounded by natural beauty, so we are exploring how we can maintain and keep the beauty intact while making it a means of livelihood for people through promotion of tourism. We are trying to connect environment protection with income generation so that people are motivated to protect nature. We have been constructing various infrastructure like foot and bicycle trails and museum among others. We are trying to develop some settlements as unique settlements so that it will help attract tourists. However, success of these initiatives depends on the support extended by people of this municipality. We are in the process of making an integrated project in coordination with provincial and federal governments. The higher authorities seem not to trust the local governments and trying to demoralize the local governments as corrupt institutions. For instance, when we gave assistance of 10/12 thousand rupees to a person in need of a kidney transplant, they stated our support as arrears and blamed that the mayor distributed the money to his party cadres; which needs to be changed. If some people are corrupt or indulging in irregularities, action should be taken against them rather than generalizing it. Despite some challenges, we are trying to set a foundation for a Happy and Prosperous Municipality.

The government has reached the local level but people are still facing hassles while seeking services from these local governments, what is your plan to resolve it?

You have raised a valid question. I am aware about the issues faced by the people and also the attitude of civil servants. I also faced similar issues in the past but now I am in the position to resolve it. The traditional way of providing services to the people needs to be changed and we are trying to optimize the use of Information and Technology in a bid to resolve it. We are also trying to develop different working procedures and making the duty bearers accountable. However, despite many attempts, we have not been able to change it substantially. I sometimes fear I may not be able to address the issue of bad governance. The rights holders are also becoming conscious and challenging if their issues are not addressed properly, so we are working to resolve it. Although it is taking a relatively long time, I hope we will be able to improve the governance and provide effective and efficient service to the people.

You also mentioned you could not deliver as expected due to various challenges and it seems the challenges posed by Covid-19 will remain with us for some time, how you are planning to expedite the works in this situation?

Yes, we have nearly one and half years with us and it seems the challenge of Covid-19 will remain with us during the period. The number of infected people has been increasing every day but we don’t have alternative of moving ahead together with Covid-19. There have been criticism saying that the municipality opened the tender of roads or started other development works while the country is facing issues related with Covid-19 but we cannot halt all the development activities with the fear of it. We have been paying proper attention towards controlling the pandemic and at the same time expediting the development works with proper safety precautions. We should not fear too much about Covid-19 and should expedite the development works and maintain good governance while fighting Covid-19. Rather than being scared about the disease we should follow proper safety protocols and move ahead with high morale. However, we have been continuing contact tracing and public awareness raising initiatives related with Covid-19.

What are the major challenges you have faced during this period?

The three tiers of the government should collaborate strongly with each other and they have to respect the existence of other structures. The main mandate of the federal government is to support the other two tiers of governments for policy formulation and strengthening their capacity, but it has not done much in this regard. The federal government should support for execution of local level planning but responsible authorities have been giving the statement that there is only corruption at the local level. If some local authorities are indulging in corruption or other irregularities, actions should be taken against them rather than generalizing it. There is also unclarity about the role of provincial government. It seems the provincial government is interfering on the jurisdiction of the local government and implementing some small projects as well. The provincial level government should concentrate on provincial level planning. The local government should think of increasing the resources and provide good governance to the people. If there is cooperation from federal and provincial government, we could do much better to deliver on the expectations of the people. If there are some weaknesses of the local government, we can improve it in the days to come. I believe that most of the problems will be resolved after the next election and the local government will be more effective.

What is your plan to ensure participation of public for the sustainability of infrastructure constructed and to develop their ownership in the development process?

We are making plans to ensure meaningful participation of the community in the decision-making processes and for the sustainability of development initiatives. I feel that the Public Procurement Act needs to be amended as it is the major bottle neck towards quality work. Rather than complaining to the local authorities on all issues, people should be responsible and they should also contribute from their part for the development of the society. We have developed the code of conduct for general public, local entrepreneurs and civil society organizations for making them responsible and hope to launch the sensitization campaign once the situation stabilizes. We are trying to collaborate with every sector for the sustainability of public infrastructure. It is pity that the infrastructure constructed by users’ committees are found substandard in many instances as they are not profit oriented organizations. We are also developing a working procedure to link the available public infrastructure with income generation
so that people will properly utilize such infrastructure. We are trying to ensure public participation in management of these infrastructures so that it would help to generate income and also sustainability in the long run.

Do you have any final message to our readers?

We have been experiencing different natural disasters along with Covid-19 pandemic, so I would like to request all people to take necessary precaution. The festive season is also coming, so we need to be more cautious. The local government is always with you, so please feel free to contact us if there is any problem. I would like to request all to be optimistic so that we will reach our goal. The local government is committed but we need your support and encouragement for the journey towards prosperity and wellbeing.

(Editor’s Note: How do you find this interview, please send your comments at info@nepalekhabar.com. As we are promoting positive discussion in the society, please feel free to write to us if you want someone to be interviewed for disseminating their positive thoughts.)

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