For a majority of citizens, particularly the poor, vulnerable and marginalized population of Chaurpati Rural Municipality of Achham District in Sudur Paschim Province, accessing the services provided by the Rural Municipality used to be a tough task. Most of them were left out because they had no knowledge about the services provided by the Municipality.
Following the opening of the Community Information Center (CIC) a few months back, things have been changing drastically for the better. Equipped with computers, smart phones, printers and officer in-charge, CIC has started to provide information to the people about the services available in the Palika.
Although Chaurpati Rural Municipality is a Smart Palika of Sudur Paschim Province, with the digitalization of services starting there from over a year ago, a large number of people still did not access the services.
Maya Kunwar, Vice Chairperson of Chaurpati Rural Municipality, believes that the establishment of CIC is a major step to inform the people and increase their access to the services delivered by the Palika. "I am pretty sure that CIC helps people to access services offered by Palika," she asserts.
With funding from DANIDA, DCA supported the establishment of CIC in Kailari Rural Municipality, Kailali and Panchadewal Municipality, Accham, as a pilot initiative of DCA Active Citizenship for Inclusive Governance Programme.
Following the success of the first project in Kailari Rural Municipality of Kailali district and Panchadewal Municipality of Achham District that helped the local government become more accessible and transparent for the people, it has been replicated in the European Union (EU) funded Participation, Inclusion and Wider CSOs' Actions for Responsive, Transparent and Accountable Local governance in Nepal (PARIWARTAN) Project in Achham and Doti Districts.
As per the project document, there is a provision for only two CICs. However, Mangalsen Municipality liked the concept of CIC and it has replicated the center through its own resources with technical support from PARIWARTAN Project.
"As Palikas didn't provide photocopy service and support for people to fill the necessary forms in the past, we used to go outside for such services and had to pay additional money. Thanks to CIC and its officer in charge, we got the support for obtaining the citizenship certificates for me and my husband as well as our marriage certificate and birth registration card of our child," explains Deepa B.K of Kailari Rural Municipality, Kailali. "This support has changed the situation for many now. Having this CIC inside our Palika has saved our money and time, which has simplified our work a lot."
The CIC center provides quality service to the citizens. "We don't have to invest much time to look after all the necessary documentation that needs to be prepared by the citizens who come here for different works. This ensures the quality of work and also makes the service seekers happy. Hence, we have integrated this service in our periodic plan and have provisioned for a separate staff to operate this center from FY 2078/79," opines Laxmi Sadgawa Tharu, Vice-Chair of Kailari Rural Municipality.
The PARIWARTAN project has been mainly working in 4 sectors and providing support to local government and supporting the establishment of CIC is one of them.
Under this objective, DCA has already established 4 CICs in partnership with local partner NGO and a bilateral MoU with respective Palikas. Currently, 3 CICs in Accham District in partnership with local NGO Malika Development Organization Nepal (MDO-Nepal) and 1 CIC in Doti District with local NGO Equality Development Center (EDC) are in function. These CICs are in operation in Pachadewal Binayak Municipality, Mangalsen Municipality and Chaurpati Rural Municipality of Achham District and Shikhar Municipality of Doti district under PARIWARTAN Project. In addition to this with support from DANIDA fund, 1 CIC is in operation in Kailari Rural Municipality of Kailai district. There is a plan to handover this CIC for which the process is underway with Kailari Rural Municipality.
The CIC concept applies in the Governance Mechanism to bridging the gap between public service and citizen’s access to the service. The concept ensures the Right to Information and enables the environment for marginalized citizens, who are left behind, to access services and resources provided by the public service entity i.e. Government Service Provider. For the operation of the centers, CIC Operating Guidelines 2077 has already been formulated by DCA and local partners and endorsed by the local Municipalities.
Unlike in the past, Nepal's present constitutional approach to local government has emphasized local participation, empowerment and creating institutions for service delivery. However, they demand accountability and transparency in their actions.
As accountability is a relationship between local government and citizens, the local government representatives have to explain and justify their conduct as part of the process. To hold the government accountable, transparency and information about local government's decisions, services and actions to the public are a must.
The Local Government Operation Act, 2017 (the 'LGOA'), which specifies local government functions and powers and provides a basic structure for the working of municipal assemblies, also emphasizes the need to increase access of people to the services.
In this regard, the establishment of CIC in various Municipalities and Rural Municipalities in Kailali, Achham and Doti will increase people's involvement in Municipal activities.
At a time when the entire country's concern is growing over how to increase access of local people, particularly the marginalized, poor and socially vulnerable, the establishment and operation of CICs in Kailali, Achham and Doti have raised hope and set examples of how all this can help.
With funds from the EU and DCA and in technical collaboration with the Institute of Local Governance Institute (INLOGOS), CICs in Sudur Paschim region are something that can empower the people and can set examples for many other Municipalities and citizens to be able to understand their rights and be able to enjoy them.
The first batch of CICs were conceptualized almost three years ago when DCA took elected representatives from Kailari Rural Municipality, Kailali and Panchadewal Binayak Municipality, Achham, on a field and exposure trip to Odisha, India, in June 2017, where they observed the function of CICs supported by DCA India.
"It was a very good and interesting exposure visit to India to observe CICs operated under the Municipality officees. Newly elected representatives like me really benefited from the visit. We realized that this kind of mechanism would very much help us better serve our citizens as per our commitment in the election," says Ambika Chalaune, Vice-Chair of Panchadewal Binayak Municipality.
Following the visit, CIC operations were initiated in Kailari Rural Municipality, Kailali and Panchadewal Binayak Municipality, Achham, in 2018. Since then, more than 3,000 marginalized people have found resource and support from the CIC to access the local services.
DCA has been providing the necessary support to operate the center. One staff is dedicated to work there in coordination with Palika and its IT focal person for technical support. DCA has also supplied other logistic, and equipment support such as laptop/computer, photocopy machine, printer, desk, table to the Palika for a smooth running of the center.
CICs have not only been providing information to the community people but also assisting service seekers to fill different forms, with formats that are required, to access local services and resources like social security allowance, Prime Minister’s Employment Fund, disability card, vital registration, etc.
"I had tried a lot to get the disability card but due to illiteracy and disability, I was unable to obtain the card. But the CIC in-charge visited my home and supported me to fill the necessary forms and arranged all the supporting documents. Now I have a disability card (Red Card) and get the Social Security Allowance every quarter. Further, with the support from CIC center, I also got a wheelchair which has made my life easy. Now, I can move here and there without anyone’s support. Thanks to CIC and the center in-charge for all the support," says Namsara B.K. of Kailari Rural Municipality, Kailali District.
The staff in charge of the information center visits different wards twice a week to make the community people aware of the services provided by the respective Palikas. This results in building confidence and a sense of belongingness amongst the marginalized communities and CIC so that they do not hesitate to go to the Palika.
Shikar Municipality, Doti, supported by the PARIWARTAN project operates the CIC center in the Palika which has a provision of a separate staff. The database of all the services provided is presented to the Chief Executive Officer and Palika representatives on a monthly basis. A survey is also carried out monthly to assess the satisfaction level of the citizens who access the services from the Palika. The result shows that more than 85 per cent of respondents are satisfied with the service provided by the Center.
For an efficient operation of the CIC, PARIWARTAN teams have already issued a CIC operation guideline and have provided orientation to the center in-charge and Palika representatives. Palika's communication officers also provide technical support to the CIC in-charge on a monthly basis.
The CICs in operation in the respective Palikas have proved to be very useful. DCA and its local partners have plans to extend it to other Palikas as well. Discussions have been held on the usefulness of this mechanism to motivate other Palika representatives and its replication.
Since CICs are targeted to serve the people by providing them with much-needed information about the service delivery, coordination with all stakeholders would be crucial in the smooth operation of the centers.
"The local authorities are very enthusiastic about welcoming new ideas and supporting the citizens. They have been adopting new technologies to reach out to more of their people and CIC has been crucial in bridging the gap," says Ambika Chalaune, Deputy Mayor of Panchadewal Binayak Municipality, Achham district.
As Sudurpaschim Provincial Government has already announced its aim to increase the number of Smart Palika in the Province, the establishment of CICs will go to serve the objective of the Provincial Government. "The Provincial Government is happy to welcome any initiative which supports its effort to make local government accessible and transparent. The establishment of CIC has been helping the local population to access the services provided by local government," says Naresh Singh Karki, Spokesperson of Sudur Paschim Provincial Government.
With the establishment of CIC, the concept of 'Smart Palika' has evolved. "The name Smart Palika, itself is smart, so there's no doubt that it will help us improve our communication system in reaching to the public easily," says Jamuna Bohora, Deputy Mayor of Jorayal Rural Municipality, Doti District. Bohora hopes that the launch of CIC will help authorities and locals in many ways including gathering information of the available resources in the Municipality and easily disseminating messages to the service seekers among others. They are prerequisites of Smart Palika. "This will eventually help in the development planning process of the Municipality," she opines.
"As we are in the process to make it easier to access services by turning the Palikas into smart local governments, CIC will serve the government's objective," shares BasantaAdhikary, Spokesperson of Ministry of Federal Affairs and Administration.
The application is also a tool to connect elected representatives with the citizens. It includes a complaints mechanism that is easy and confidential for citizens to use.
"This also ensures people's right to information as they will have access to all the information related to the Municipality. The Municipality will have enough information to recommend to donors as to where to invest and who the beneficiaries are," adds Ambika. "Now we can plan ahead - we can allocate budget for water supply systems, enterprise promotion, schools, and health centers in the area where people are in dire need of such facilities."
Mukesh Kunwar, IT officer at Chaurpati Rural Municipality, Achham district, believes that the online system will help in the proper use of resources. "These data will be GIS-based so the Municipal authorities sitting in the office can see the exact location of the community households – nearest school, health centers, road, water supply schemes, touristic places, public places among others." He emphasizes, "Limited internet access and low literacy rates are the main challenges in understanding the intended message and in its successful implementation. However, the establishment of CICs in different locations can bring change, as it will make services accessible to all. EU's funding provided through DCA has been bringing the change at the local level, making local governments accessible and accountable and we see its greater potential in the days to come," Kunwar adds.