Participatory Planning in Nepal

Participatory Planning in Nepal

English

Introduction

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. 

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 at communities. Stage 3 concerned about the articulation of demands, and thereby prepared a list of recommended policy and developmental projects to be approved by 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 amount of budget used to be allocated by the central government for local bodies in impementing such policies and programs.

Following the 2017 local elections in May and June, however, that the notion of local governance has been significantly changed, and that 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 obviously 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.

In this platform of Participedia, I bring a case of the participatory planning process that was implemented by Butwal sub-metropolitan city in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Two dimensions of planning are being investigated: the ways through which ordinary people were given opportunities to participate in the process; and the extent to which public deliberation was materialised in influencing actual policy decisions. The data were gathered as part of my PhD research, and I have utilised ordinary social sociece research techniques such as observation, semi-structured interviews, focused group discussions and analysis of secondary sources to generate ideas.

History

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 lower level of literacy rate remained the obastacle to fully utilise citizen engagement in governance. Later on (1960-90), the tensions and conflicts between the King and the political parties hindrered the democratic development of the country which, in turn, neglected the notion of citizen participation in governnace. 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 is one of the instances of participatory institutions that was envisioned in the Local Self Governance Act 1999. Nonetheless, as there could not happen any local elections until 2016, the legislative provision of PP was disturbed. 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 strengthening the planning process.

Originating Entities and Funding

Until the end of 1980s, citizen participation in local policy making used to be organized through the traditional types of community based organizations. Because the country had not introduced democratic practices as such, a few number of 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, a 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 that governed local governance until the end of 2016. The Law and subsequent regulations envisioned that the planning process would be a regular process, that it would strated every year in November, and end in around three months time frame. 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 orgnaising participatory planning to formulate local public policies and budgets was relatively routinsed by the Local Bodies' Fiscal Commission (LBFC), a central government authority to recommend the government 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 the other, though the main essence to formulate local public policies, annual budget and plans and recommend for service delivery improvements were pervasive across different locales.

Participant Selection

The participant selection process of the PP varies across different villages, municipalities and districts. In some municipalities (where I have observed the process as participant observer for the purpose of my PhD research), 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 apporved by the relevant municipalities. Municipalities, indeed, aim to create as many TLOs as possible so as to incorporate every single households. 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 internal income, other forms of community based organizations such as the Cooperatives, or Mother's Group are invited to take part in the deliberation of the PP. These forms of institutions are not recognized officially as the innevitable embedded units of the PP but are regarded (in Resunga Municipality, for example) 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 desgined the concept of Ward Citizens Forums (WCFs) and Civic Awareness Centres (CACs) at 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 the newly established municipality such as the Tilottama in Rupandehi, or the old municipalities such as the Ramgram in Nawalparasi where I have obsered their planning processes) recognise them as the embedded institutions of the PP. These Forums, in fact, have been beneficial in bringing ordinary people into the decision-making process.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

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 (supposed to be elected authority but currently are run by the appointed bureaucrats). The community-based organisations, 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 of the community member can participate and join the discussions. A local staff of the municipality is also present in these meetings. Experts, activists including the representatives of local political parties and advocates also take part in the process. 

Then, the decisions of such deliberations are forwarded to the Ward Committee office which organizes a comprehensive workshop (Ward-Bhela) by inviting the selected representatives of community-based organizations where they 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 happen from 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 public however a number of associated institutions such as the Budget Advisory Committee provide extensive feedback onto the proposals. After the revision (mainly from the perspectives of technicality and financial viability), the municipality then organises the meeting of Integrated Planning Formulation Committee (IPFC) which is comprised of all the representatives of communities, NGOs, sectoral organisations and so on. The IPFC deliberates on the refined proposals for many days before recommending the municipal council with the policies to be decided. In absence of elected authorities at the councils, the centrally appointed bureaucrat then endorses the decisions (exactly as is recommended by the IPFC).

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Further analysis is to be provided throughout my PhD study (on time to time).

Case Data

Location

Geolocation: 
Local Bodies (municipalities, villages and districts)
Nepal
27° 41' 14.496" N, 83° 25' 56.424" E
NP

History

Start Date: 
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End Date: 
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Ongoing: 
Yes
Number of Meeting Days: 
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Participants

Process

Facilitation?: 
Yes
Other: Facilitation: 
Local Officials
Facetoface, Online or Both: 
Face-to-Face
Type of Interaction among Participants: 
If voting...: 
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Organizers

Who paid for the project or initiative?: 
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Other: Funding: 
Local Governance and Community Development Program
Who was primarily responsible for organizing the initiative?: 
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Other: Organizing Entity: 
Village Development Committees
Municipalities and District Development Committees
Tole Lane Organizations
Integrated Planning Formulation Committees
Who else supported the initiative? : 
[no data entered]

Resources

Total Budget: 
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Average Annual Budget: 
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Number of Full-Time Staff: 
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Number of Part-Time Staff: 
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Staff Type: 
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Number of Volunteers: 
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