Among the biggest victims of the prolonged transition have been the Village Development Committees across the country that have now been operating without elected officials for a decade. In the normal course of things, elected officials are involved in planning and budget allocation for local level projects while VDC secretaries carry out clerical responsibilities like attesting official documents of locals. But in the absence of elected representatives, both the tasks have fallen squarely on the shoulders of the VDC secretaries. This is the reason their abandonment of their work stations presents an alarming situation.
Most VDC secretaries—who have been living in district headquarters or in the national capital—claim it is unsafe to go back to their VDCs. But the evidence on the ground gives a lie to their claim. A recent survey carried out by the Ministry of Local Development in three districts—Siraha, Dhanusha and Mahottari—considered the most vulnerable in terms of their security situation, found there is no credible threat to government officials working there. Indeed, in recent times the animosities emerging from the decade-long civil war and the communal disharmony witnessed in the aftermath of the Madhesi Uprising have largely subsided. For the VDC secretaries to resort to the excuse of ‘insecure working conditions’ now can only be considered a cheap cop out.
We believe the government is right to demand that VDC secretaries return to their work stations within a week or face punitive actions. It is unfair to make people trek for days on end just to get a signature of the VDC secretary who has decamped to the district headquarters. The secretaries were recruited on the condition that they would serve the local population. Failing this, the government would not be obliged to keep them in its payroll. There have been suggestions from some quarters that the only answer to the current malaise afflicting local bodies is local polls. But that is infeasible at a time the country is in the midst of a prolonged transition and there is no legitimate government. Even if there was a legitimate government, it would have had to conduct local polls on the basis of old demarcations, which would not be acceptable to those who have been calling for equitable redrawing of state boundaries. In this situation, the best among the bad options is to get VDC secretaries to go back to their work stations and resume their jobs.
The VDC secretaries have been asking the government to ‘ensure their security’ if they are to head back. But the onus to clearly spell out their security concerns (rather than make vague allusions to ‘threats’) lies with the secretaries themselves. There are also suspicions that many secretaries are away for the fear of persecution for misuse of funds. The government must look into these claims and punish the guilty. VDC secretaries’ inflated sense of indispensability is a poor justification for their clear failure to carry out their duty