The ongoing construction of the Kushmishera primary health post in Baglung is typical of the pace with which development projects are carried out in rural Nepal. The post, which was supposed to be completed three years ago, even today, is half complete. Meanwhile, its total estimated cost has ballooned to Rs 20 million. In the adjoining Myagdi district, the Charang health post remains incomplete even after the extension of the deadline for the third time. All in all, in the three districts of Baglung, Parbat and Myagdi over two dozen projects worth Rs 600 million in total have been delayed, which is to be primarily blamed on negligence of local authorities and lack of effective monitoring from the center. Inefficiency and lack of oversight also mar donor-funded programs like Local Governance Community Development Program (LGCDP) launched four years ago to avoid duplication of work and to ensure good governance at the local level. LGCDP is now notorious for misuse of its funds by local authorities.
In fact, such inefficiency characterizes most development projects in the country. There is no single factor that stands out as the biggest culprit, but lack of political will to push through planned projects is one of the most egregious. For instance, the government has time and again failed to appoint local development officers (LDO) in respective district development committees (DDC), thus handicapping local development efforts as only LDOs can authorize the release of their budget. The other big hurdle has been frequent strikes and bandas, which have not only delayed projects but also given local authorities a ready excuse for their inefficiencies. Yet another nagging glitch is the absence of trained manpower.
All these issues could be addressed to a degree if there were local elected officials in place, which has sadly not been the case for over a decade. In the absence of people’s representatives who could be held accountable, there is a growing tendency among big political parties to divide the spoils accruing from local projects among themselves. But it would be imprudent to believe that the election of local officials would be a cure-all. There also has to be rigorous monitoring of projects to ensure they are completed within designated time and budget. This is important because donors, who make up 70 percent of development expenditure in the country’s annual budget, are showing greater reluctance to invest in projects with low level of accountability and transparency. In the long run, election of people’s representatives is undoubtedly the best bet for introduction of much-needed changes to the status quo (though far from perfect, considering how inefficient even local elected officials have been in the past). For the time being, the government must commit to and implement a strong mechanism to check unbridled corruption and mismanagement of local projects.
Easier said than done. But there are some clear pointers: first, the center’s monitoring mechanism of local level projects must be strengthened, both in terms of personnel and resources, and second, there must be a strong local component in such projects so that the intended beneficiaries have a say in deciding the kind of development they want