What’s it like to be a staffer at the lowest level of government: in a VDC? Many VDC secretaries will tell you it’s not the greatest job in the world. Pick any point in time over the last decade or so and you’ll find quite a lot of VDC secretaries absent. Many posts are often vacant too! But there are exceptions, and we recently ran into one of them: Indramaya from Palanchowk out in Kavre.
Indramaya is not even a VDC secretary but only “assistant secretary”, a post created some time back. The DDC realised that several VDC secretaries were in fact over-burdened – they had to look after two, sometimes even three VDCs at a time – so it was decided to recruit assistant secretaries: one per VDC. The condition was that all had to be women, married to ensure they wouldn’t leave.So, what does an assistant VDC secretary do? Well, quite a lot: “It’s a bigger responsibility than I thought”, Indramaya explains. “The villagers come here and I have to attend to all their matters”.
True enough, Indramaya is doing everything that a VDC secretary does except putting the final signature. If you need a citizenship card or a passport, you’ll typically have to talk to her first, if you live in Palanchowk. Same thing applies if you need to register land, get old age allowance, or get a VDC scholarship for a child. Add to that birth and death certificates and that’s just some of the matters!
“It’s not enough to just sit here at the office and do paper work. I also have to go and talk to people, check up on their information, verify what they are saying is genuine.”It’s not the greatest job to be a VDC secretary, or assistant secretary for that matter, if you’re on bad terms with the locals. As an outsider, which many VDC secretaries are, it takes time to get familiar with the community, develop relations with the locals, not to mention be accepted by local leaders. That’s one reason why some VDC secretaries leave their post, an LDO in another district once told us. But Indramaya never had that problem: “There can be situations, but being a local they all know me.”
Her VDC secretary, who stays in the town most of the time, comes to see how things are going once a week, sometimes just once a month. He goes through the paperwork and signs where needed. Otherwise, Indramaya is on her own, and so far she is looking forward to going to work every day. She is the VDC secretary de facto and loves talking to the locals, helping them out where she can.
Indramaya hasn’t faced any objections to her working as assistant VDC secretary – being a woman. But at the same time, it’s not always easy when you’re the only woman among the local officials:
“All the local leaders are men; so is the VDC secretary. It would have made things easier if the VDC secretary was also a woman, in terms of the understanding you have one woman to another.”
Add to this occasional pressure from the family – Indramaya is a mother of one and expected to handle domestic chores as well. Moreover, going for meetings at the DDC office in town, she has to return on the same day or else – her being a woman – people would soon start gossiping about her.
But on the whole, Indramaya doesn’t feel any disrespect from the men, and there is even a major advantage: many women hesitate going to the male VDC secretary but feel confident coming to her!
There’s even more to the job. It’s the VDC secretary who in large part has to make the local development plans, though in consultation with the villagers and local leaders. It’s been like that since the VDCs were dissolved as elected bodies. But Indramaya often does that as well. She talks with the local leaders about local needs in the wards and oversees development work. If there is a lack of budget, she even helps to pass the request on to the DDC.
The key is to work with – not against – the local leaders, she has found.
It was great to meet Indramaya – a content and respected assistant VDC secretary – at a time when many VDC secretaries are absent from their posts. In fact, at the time of writing, several hundred posts are vacant – some 600 at the last count – out of roughly 3.900. In other words, villagers in at least just as many VDCs have no-one like Indramaya to go to but must take their matters to the district.
Is the key to a more stable staff situation at the VDC level to recruit VDC secretaries and assistant secretaries from amongst the locals themselves – and perhaps even from amongst married women or others likely to remain as opposed to leave the VDCs? Well, who is to tell for sure. VDC secretaries are absent, and posts remain vacant, for other reasons too: lack of security, to mention one. But we felt excited about meeting Indramaya and to hear her story. So, it’s hereby passed on!
Indramaya is in her thirties, married and has a son. Her level of education is IA (10+2). Before her job as assistant VDC secretary, she was a local facilitator with a donor programme.
Listen to Indramaya’s story in Nepali on Local Talk right now (stream from upper right corner) or click here for an English version of the interview – there is more than what we’ve covered above!