Participatory planning (PP) was implemented by Butwal sub-metropolitan city in 2014, 2015 and 2016, enabling local citizens to engage in deliberative policy-making and budgeting processes.
Problems and Purpose
Citizen participation in governance has been one of the consistent reform strategies in Nepal since 1990. While most of the citizen participation programs and projects of the government have been implemented at the local level, a significant amount of participatory processes can be seen also at the national level. Participatory processes at the local level have been expanded to several policy areas, most notably in the field of community forestry, environment management, agriculture, irrigation, public health, and education.
A participatory planning process was implemented by Butwal sub-metropolitan city in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The process opened budgeting and planning up to ordinary citizens and created channels through which public deliberation could influence policy decisions.
Background History and Context
Citizen participation in the policy making process has been regarded as the most challenging task in Nepal's public sector management for over six decades. In the early decades (1950-60), the low literacy rate remained the obstacle to fully utilise citizen engagement in governance. Later (1960-90), tensions and conflicts between the King and the political parties hindered the democratic development of the country which, in turn, led to neglect of citizen participation in governance. However, when Nepal transformed its political system from Panchayat, a form of partyless democracy ruled by the King, to multiparty liberal democracy in 1990, participation in governance appeared as one of the fundamental democratic rights of the citizens. Thereafter, a number of legislative and institutional arrangements were created at different echelons of the government to institutionalise citizen participation.
The modern form of PP represents one of the participatory institutions that was envisioned in the Local Self Governance Act 1999. However, as there were no local elections until 2016, the legislative provision of PP was disrupted locally. As a result, the central government continuously reformed the structure and processes of the PP so that people from all walks of life could participate in the local policy making process. A number of international financial institutions including the United Nations were also actively working with the Government to strengthen the planning process.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Until the end of the 1980s, citizen participation in local policy making was organized through the traditional types of community-based organizations. Because the country had not introduced democratic practices as such, a few local elites used to be nominated by the central government to look after certain local affairs in the selected localities. Regardless of the promulgation of several acts and creation of local institutions such as the Village Panchayat, meaningful citizen participation was not realized. However, a number of charity and religious-based organizations at the local level were very active at that time. The reason for their activeness was that they were patronaged by the monarch because the nature of such organizations were non-political.
The PP is therefore a relatively new institution that was envisioned in the Local Self Governance Act, the main law regarding local governance until the end of 2016. The Law and subsequent regulations envisioned that the planning process would be a regular process, which would begin every year in November and end in around three months. All the local bodies were supposed to organise the process at the same time, with notably similar guiding principles. There was a kind of montoring mechanism (temporal) at the central government level to check if local bodies were formulating their annual local public policies and budgets. Another mechanism to see if local bodies were using participatory planning to formulate local public policies and budgets was relatively routinized by the Local Bodies' Fiscal Commission (LBFC), a central government authority tasked with developing recommendations about the central grant to be allocated to local bodies.
Regardless of the central government's monitoring, if not controlling, role in the planning process, local bodies were relatively autonomous in terms of the institutional design, procedures of deliberation, and the extent to which public deliberations were linked to actual policy decisions. As a result, the way the planning process was exercised by local bodies was different from one municipality to another; however, the main elements of formulating local public policies, annual budget and plans and recommending service delivery improvements were present across the different locales.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The participant selection process of the PP varies across different villages, municipalities, and districts. In some municipalities*, there are strong community based organizations such as the Tole Lane Organizations (TLOs) which have their own rules and regulations to select participants. These rules are normally approved by the relevant municipalities. Municipalities, indeed, aim to create as many TLOs as possible so as to incorporate every single household. The TLOs Guidelines of Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City, for example, mentions that the executive committees of the TLOs are mostly nominated by their fellow citizens. In some instances, the members are chosen by organizing elections.
In other municipalities which are relatively new, or have lower income, other forms of community-based organizations, such as the Cooperatives or Mother's Group, are invited to take part in the deliberation. These forms of institutions are not recognized officially as the inevitable embedded units of the PP but are regarded (in Resunga Municipality, for example) as crucial in representing ordinary people and raising the voices of their fellow citizens.
There are other circumstances in which none of these two situations prevail. In this situation, the LGCDP has designed the concepts of Ward Citizens Forums (WCFs) and Civic Awareness Centres (CACs) for all villages and many of the municipalities. The WCF members are chosen (not elected) by the ordinary people in each of the Ward of the municipality. It has been widely acknowledged that the WCFs aim to foster citizen participation based on the principles of inclusive democracy, by which divergent groups of the society are enabled to be organized. Many municipalities (including newly established municipalities such as Tilottama in Rupandehi, or old municipalities such as Ramgram in Nawalparasi, where PhD candidate Thanesh Bhusal, observed their planning processes) recognise these groups as the embedded institutions of the PP. These Forums, in fact, have been beneficial in bringing ordinary people into the decision-making process.
Methods and Tools Used
Until 2016, local bodies (municipalities, villages and districts) of the central government had to organise participatory planning process to formulate local public policies and annual development projects. The planning process was mainly organised in three different yet interrelated stages. Stage 1 involved the preparation of general guidelines to be followed throughout the process. Stage 2 focused on the deliberation of demands and proposals by communities. Stage 3 concerned the articulation of demands, and resulted in recommended policy and developmental projects, presented for approval to the relevant local council. All of these stages were carried out through a range of associated activities in which about 2400 people were directly engaged in 2014 in Butwal municipality. A specified budget used to be allocated by the central government for local bodies in impementing such policies and programs.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
PP, as a process, offers various opportunities for people to participate, interact, deliberate and thereby influence the overall decision making process. Firstly, the local bodies communicate the policy and budget guidelines to the communities via the Ward Committee (which is intended to be an elected authority but is currently run by appointed bureaucrats). The community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other sectoral institutions such as the sub-health posts, schools, forest user's committees are invited by TLOs, WCFs, community mobilizers, and alike to deliberate on the guidelines. The deliberation takes place in public places and any community members can participate and join the discussions. A local staff of the municipality is also present for these meetings. Experts and activists, including representatives of local political parties, also take part in the process.
Then, the decisions resulting from such deliberations are forwarded to the Ward Committee office which organizes a comprehensive workshop (Ward-Bhela) by inviting selected representatives of community-based organizations; at the workshops, participants justify, argue, and defend their initial proposals made at the community level. These workshops are also attended by interested ordinary people, local officials, political representatives, and media. Such deliberation can take place from a few hours to many days.
Finally, the decisions of Ward-Bhela are then forwarded to the municipal/village secretariat. The municipality then reviews all the proposals. The reviewing process is relatively less open to the public; however, a number of associated institutions such as the Budget Advisory Committee provide extensive feedback on the proposals. After the revision (mainly from the perspectives of technicality and financial viability), the municipality then organizes an Integrated Planning Formulation Committee (IPFC) meeting, which is comprised of all the representatives of communities, NGOs, sectoral organizations and so on. The IPFC deliberates on the refined proposals for many days before recommending policies to the municipal council. In absence of elected authorities at the councils, the centrally appointed bureaucrat then endorses the decisions (exactly as is recommended by the IPFC).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
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Analysis and Lessons Learned
Following the 2017 local elections in May and June, the notion of local governance has been significantly changed, and local bodies are no longer in existence. Reforms have introduced 'local governments' for the first time in the country. These newly created local governments have been unprecedentedly empowered to exercise executive, judiciary and legislative powers at the local level. Planning and budgeting are likely going to be the major strategy in the new local government environment, however there are uncertainties as to how ordinary citizens are going to be incorporated in planning and budgeting.
Thanesh Bhusal, "Assessing Nepal's participatory planning at the local level: lessons for participatory governance," Conference: American Society for Public Administration, March 2016, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299735328_Assessing_Nepal's_participatory_planning_at_the_local_level_lessons_for_participatory_governance
Thanesh Bhusal, "The dynamics of citizen participation in policymaking: Examining Nepal's participatory planning (2002-2016)" PhD for the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, 2012-2016, https://www.researchgate.net/project/The-dynamics-of-citizen-participation-in-policymaking-Examining-Nepals-participatory-planning-2002-2016
*as observed by PhD candidate Thanesh Bhusal as a participant observer.
The first version of this entry is based on research undertaken by Thanesh Bhusal for his doctoral dissertation at the University of Canberra's Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. Data and information collected for the original posting of this entry were gathered using traditional social science research techniques such as observation, semi-structured interviews, focused group discussions and analysis of secondary sources to generate ideas.