MISSION MUNICIPALITY For Clean Nepalgunj

Long after becoming helpless witnesses to irregularities committed by representatives of major political parties in the municipal functions, the civil society members living in Nepalgunjg Municipality have finally launched a campaign to make the inst

March 28, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 04 No.-19 Mar.25-2011 (Chaitra 11,2067)

Development work has come to a complete standstill in Nepalgunj for the last six years. Infrastructure like roads and hospitals is a casualty. Worse is the rampant misuse of municipal budget. After the expiry of the tenure of elected representatives of the municipality in 2001, the institution has been under non-elected representatives of various political groups. After Janadolan II, the municipal affairs went under the control of four major political parties- Nepali Congress, UCPN- Maoist, CPN-UML and MJF.


As political parties and other administrative units are unresponsive to the deterioration of service delivery and rampant financial irregularities, members of local civil society groups consisting of more than a dozen organizations of lawyers, media persons and human rights activists have kicked off a campaign called, Mission Municipality.


“Enough is enough. We cannot tolerate the inaction and irregularity in the municipality. We want effective service delivery, improvement of local infrastructure and clean and healthy city as it was in the past,” said Bhola Mahat, regional representative of INSEC and convener of the Mission. “When a public utility institution fails to function properly and political parties do not respond, it is the duty of civil society to raise the issue. This is what is our objective.”


With bumpy roads, the city is full of dust.  The uncollected garbage is left everywhere. People cannot find fresh air to breathe. In the rainy season, the city turns into a big pond due to lack of sewerage and drain. Even newly constructed and upgraded roads, pavements and other infrastructures do not last long. The situation of Nepalgunj Municipality has shown how life becomes a mess in case the local bodies fail to respond and address the issue in time.


“We have watched inaction of the municipality and municipal officials and political mechanism for years hoping that they will act. We are compelled to raise the issue as people are losing faith,” said Mahat.


Nepalgunj municipality is located in Banke district of Bheri Zone in the mid western development region of Nepal. Nepalgunj municipality lies in low terai with Chure Bhawar in the municipality occupying an area of 1314 hectares.


Established in 2017 B.S (1935 AD), the municipality had a population of 57535 with 30241 male and 27294 female. The population growth rate is estimated to be 3.01% (CBS, 2058). The population density is 4599.12 people per sq. km.


Preamble of Local Self-Governance Act
Local Self Governance Act’s preamble says it is expedient to make provisions conducive to the enjoyment through the utmost participation of the sovereign people in the process of governance by way of decentralization and to constitute local bodies for the development of the local self-governance system in a manner that they are able to make decisions on the matters affecting the day –to-day needs and lives of the people by developing local leadership.


According to Local Self-Governance Act 1999, the government formed the local bodies building and development of institutional mechanism and functional structure for local people and bearing responsibilities. The act follows the principle and policies for the development of local self-governance system having the municipalities oriented towards establishing the civil society based on democratic process, transparent practice, public accountability and people’s participation in carrying out the functions devolved on them.


In the case of Nepalgunj, these bases are violated. Instead of running under the elected representatives, which the act envisioned, the municipality’s affairs have been given to nominated people following the expiry of the tenure in 2001.


Although basic functions of the municipality are to serve the interest of the people, the objective has been ignored because the municipality is under unaccountable representatives of the various political parties. Even common people have to go to streets to press the municipality to perform its mandatory work.


According to the clause 96 of the act, there are certain mandatory functions and duties of the municipal areas. Along with preparing the annual budget, the municipality has also functions and duties related to physical development, including to carrying out plants on drinking water, drainage in the areas of municipality and operate, maintain and repair or cause  to be operated, maintained and repaired the same. 


To preserve rivers, streams, ponds, deep water wells and utilize them properly, to control and prevent river cutting, flood and soil erosion, to carry out, transport and manage the disposal of garbage and solid waste, to distribute electricity to municipal areas, to manage the pre-primary schools are the duties of municipality.


Similarly, under the duty relating to works and transport, the municipality has to prepare plans of unpitched and pitched roads, bridges and culverts as needed within the municipality area except those roads which are under the responsibility and control of the government, construct, maintain and repair or cause to be constructed , maintained and repaired the same. It has many other responsibilities and duties prescribed by the laws.


State of Municipality
Whatever the resources it has and whatever the situation in the municipality, no new development projects like roads have been started in Nepalgunj Municipal area.  Due to use of low quality materials, the repaired black topped roads turn into earth in a short time and the drainage systems are virtually defunct and the city is full of uncollected garbage.


Although the municipality has been annually spending millions of rupees under these titles, the huge chunk of money was misused by local leaders of political parties, local employees of municipality and contractors. There are financial irregularities everywhere.


“After knowing about the huge irregularities, we have already summoned our previous representatives and appointed new ones for the post,” said leader of Nepali Congress. “Our party representative may have done some wrong but he alone cannot be blamed. All representatives of political parties attended the meeting and approved the programs and budgets.”


CPN-UML’s representatives too hold similar views. “Our representative often was misled by municipal employees. Our party has already nominated new representative,” said UML district chair. 


The tragedy of Nepalgunj Municipality – which was regarded as the best municipality till a decade ago in terms of roads, drinking water and sewerage- is that it did not formulate plans for people. Due to this, it looks like a city of full of earth and garbage.

Moreover, traffic jams have become a new problem in Nepalgunj as the construction and expansion of the new urban roads is virtually halted and the number of vehicles grows.


Thanks to unholy alliance between municipal employees, representatives of political mechanism and contractors, every year the annual budget is spent on paper.  The municipality makes plan for road construction and improvement of other infrastructure and calls tenders. So far as the qualities of works are concerned, they are below the par.


In some cases, the contractors collect advance money and collect the final installment just completing the paper works. “The budget allocated for the development works is generally divided among representatives of political parties, employees of municipality and contractors.”


Due to this, many construction works including culverts, roads, drinking water taps and other buildings are ruined a few months after the construction.


“Political party representatives and members of civil society have been making hue and cry blaming us squarely. This is unjust. Political representatives pressed us to award contracts and issue checks. We are not the persons to prepare the plan and sanction the budget,” said an employee of municipality on condition of anonymity. “A lot of work has been completed. The quality of work was compromised because of leaders of political parties who wanted money to their henchmen.”


In terms of budget allocation, Nepalgunj Municipality’s annual budget has been increasing for the last one decade and the donor agencies like UNDP and UDLE have also been supporting the basic requirement of municipality. However, the face of municipality is still ugly.


It is estimated that around 18 tons of waste is generated within the municipality each day. The major solid waste generators in Nepalgunj municipality are hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, medical shops, groceries, slaughter houses, vegetable markets, pathology labs, and hair saloons etc.


Waste collection and transportation is solely carried out by the municipality. There is no specific collection centre in the municipal area. The wastes are thrown in empty lands, road sides and storm drain. The municipality sweeps the road and collects the waste from roadsides. The drains are also cleaned frequently and the wastes are taken out and the wastes are collected. Three tractors are mobilized to collect the wastes from 17 wards of the municipality. The municipality has employed about 93 sweepers and laborers to clean up the city.


With support from Practical Action, Municipal Association Nepal, UDLE, Europe Aid Cooperation Office, a project Strengthening Local Capacities in Integrated Sustainable Waste Management  (ISWM) in small and medium municipalities of Nepal showed the state of Nepalgunj municipality in garbage.


“The municipality does not have enough budgets under sanitation. We don’t have vehicles, tractors and employees in sanitation department. These all are creating problems,” said a municipal employee.


Mission to Save the Municipality
After looking at the rampant misuse of resources, a group of lawyers, human rights activities, and media institutions have set up a Mission Municipality. The alliance points out the weakness of political parties to turn the municipality into a mess.


The mission has already organized a couple of discussions programs with various stakeholders including the political party leaders, lawyers, media persons and others. The mission also informed district administration and CIAA about the growing misuse of authority in the municipality’s day to day work. “We are very much concerned about the executive secretary of the municipality,” said Mahat.


However, the municipal employees said that the civil society members need to press the representatives of political parties who are holding the key as members of all party mechanism- which is equivalent to Municipal Council and Municipal Executive body. “No program can be executed without the approval of the mechanism,” said an employee.  “Why is the civil society organization silent about this?”


According to Clause 80 (1) of Local Self-Governance Act 1999, the municipal council is the supreme body to formulate the policies and programs. Political mechanism, though it is composed of nominated representatives of political parties, enjoys equal power and authority as previously elected council members.


According to clause 100 (a), functions and duties and powers of secretary are to perform all administrative functions of the municipality under the direction of mayor, to execute the approved town development program under the direction mayor and to maintain accounts of expenses incurred on the construction works performed within the municipality and so on.


Human Rights Caucus recently organized a discussion program inviting the representatives of political parties, media persons, lawyers and other civil society members. The caucus holds the view that the inaction of those groups is also responsible for the present mess in the municipality. It also draws the conclusion that there are rampant irregularities in the municipal development activities.


Budget Expense
According to the Key financial indicators of Nepalgunj Municipality, actual capital investment is weak. Prepared by UDLE, the indicators show the Nepalgunj Municipality heavily spent its money under the capital investment out of its total budget.


According to UDLE, Nepalgunj Municipality generated Rs. 104,284,372 in the year 2006/07. Out of this, It spent Rs. 44,492,538 as a capital investment.  In the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, the total expenditures of the municipality were Rs.31, 329,901, Rs. 28,116,485. Rs. 40,147,549, Rs. 28,230,964 and Rs. 39,710,290. Out of this, the municipality spent as a capital investment Rs. 13,144, 412, Rs 8,144,553, Rs 19,924,863, Rs. 7,129,475 and Rs. 8,755,374.


As the number of employees increased, the ratio of employees’ salary, allowances and travel and per-diem also increased in the last five years. In the year 2005/06, the total salary was 2,276,420 but the salary of 2008/09 was more than Rs. 30 million. 


The regional representative of INSEC Bhola Mahat charged that negligence of leaders of political parties and municipal employees was responsible for the present state of municipality.


“The development process of the municipality was disrupted because of their inactions,” said Mahat. Political parties nominate their representatives but they have hardly asked what has been going on in the municipality,” said Mahat, convener of the Mission Municipality


Sixteen political parties have nominated representatives for the political mechanism of the municipality. The mechanism is equivalent to the elected council of the past. Following mounting criticism from civil society, two largest parties Nepali Congress and CPN-UML summoned their representatives from political mechanism and appointed two new party representatives.


Mission Municipality
One of the aims of the civil society caucus is to book the culprits involved in the irregularities and make the municipality free from corruption. Divided into 17 wards, the population of the municipality is 300,000.


Due to the bad conditions of road and lack of proper drainage, the municipality has been facing a number of problems. However, municipality has done nothing in the last five years. The common people squarely blame executive officer Ram Lal Shrestha for the state of affairs. 

Following the complaints of local people and civil society members, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority raided the municipality and took various documents under control. “After initial investigation of the documents, we found a lot of evidence of rampant corruption,” said Devendraraj Bharati, local unit chief of CIAA.


According to Bharati, executive officer Shrestha is irregular and the team found that he was absent up to 16 days in a single month. There is rampant indiscipline in the municipality and employees do not obey the basic rules. “We have issued several warnings to employees and executive officer Shrestha but nobody listened to us. Executive secretary Shrestha is responsible for the present state,” said Bharati.


Budget Expense
According to the Key financial indicators of Nepalgunj Municipality, actual capital investment is weak. Prepared by UDLE, the indicators show the Nepalgunj Municipality heavily spent its money under the capital investment out of its total budget.


According to UDLE, Nepalgunj Municipality generated Rs. 104,284,372 in the year 2006/07. Out of this, It spent Rs. 44,492,538 as a capital investment.  In the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, the total expenditures of the municipality were Rs.31, 329,901, Rs. 28,116,485. Rs. 40,147,549, Rs. 28,230,964 and Rs. 39,710,290. Out of this, the municipality spent as a capital investment Rs. 13,144, 412, Rs 8,144,553, Rs 19,924,863, Rs. 7,129,475 and Rs. 8,755,374.


As the number of employees increased, the ratio of employees’ salary, allowances and travel and per-diem also increased in the last five years. In the year 2005/06, the total salary was 2,276,420 but the salary of 2008/09 was more than Rs. 30 million. 


The regional representative of INSEC Bhola Mahat charged that negligence of leaders of political parties and municipal employees was responsible for the present state of municipality.


“The development process of the municipality was disrupted because of their inactions,” said Mahat. Political parties nominate their representatives but they have hardly asked what has been going on in the municipality,” said Mahat, convener of the Mission Municipality


Sixteen political parties have nominated representatives for the political mechanism of the municipality. The mechanism is equivalent to the elected council of the past. Following mounting criticism from civil society, two largest parties Nepali Congress and CPN-UML summoned their representatives from political mechanism and appointed two new party representatives.


Mission Municipality
One of the aims of the civil society caucus is to book the culprits involved in the irregularities and make the municipality free from corruption. Divided into 17 wards, the population of the municipality is 300,000.


Due to the bad conditions of road and lack of proper drainage, the municipality has been facing a number of problems. However, municipality has done nothing in the last five years. The common people squarely blame executive officer Ram Lal Shrestha for the state of affairs. 

Following the complaints of local people and civil society members, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority raided the municipality and took various documents under control. “After initial investigation of the documents, we found a lot of evidence of rampant corruption,” said Devendraraj Bharati, local unit chief of CIAA.


According to Bharati, executive officer Shrestha is irregular and the team found that he was absent up to 16 days in a single month. There is rampant indiscipline in the municipality and employees do not obey the basic rules. “We have issued several warnings to employees and executive officer Shrestha but nobody listened to us. Executive secretary Shrestha is responsible for the present state,” said Bharati.


The CIAA committee also found that executive secretary distributed donations to various persons arbitrarily. After investigation of official documents of municipality, the caucus found that more than 10 million rupees was distributed to the retired employees of municipality.


The caucus accused that executive Shrestha distributed 30 million rupees in development budget received from UNDP and 7 million rupees from internal resources to the employees. Executive Shrestha also distributed petrol to the workers of political parties to appease them. By selling the coupon of petrol, workers of political parties buy alcohol, meat and other commodities.


Executive officer Shrestha, however, denied all these allegations and said they were personally motivated works of some individuals.


According to clause 90 of Municipal Council, it is the council which sanctions budgets, formulates plans and issues guidelines to municipality. Under the direction of the government, all party political mechanism is now replaced by it. Under the government decision, the political mechanism has sweeping power related to day to day affairs and development issues of the municipality. From awarding tenders to other executive works, the executive secretary has to abide by the political mechanism.


“I cannot do anything alone. There is a board represented by all political parties.  Only after the consensus and agreement in the board, I was authorized to use budget. Due to political pressure, I was unable to carry out development activities.


“It is unfortunate that we are unable to initiate development activities but I have no idea about the misuse of money,” said Krishna Raj Pandey, representative of the United People’s Front.
This is the eighth of nine investigative storied on politics of local bodies supported by The Asia Foundation. The views expressed by the Author do not necessarily reflect those of The Foundation or founder.

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