Every year, usually in November, in all VDCs the VDC Chairman calls for a Village Council meeting: a kind of village-level assembly in which all elected politicians in the VDC, plus some invitees, do two main things: evaluate last year’s activities and approve next years budget. It’s a decisive meeting, in that sense, since this is where the Ward Chairmen and Ward Members can try to get funding from the VDC.
We observed a typical Village Council meeting in a VDC east of Kathmandu. The way the meeting unfolded resembles many others. The meeting hall was full. It was a one-room VDC office which could just accommodate the attendees, roughly sixty people, who sat on low wooden benches, facing the “leaders” of the VDC at the end of the hall: the VDC Chairman, VDC secretary, a headmaster, and the local DDC Member. They were all UML; only two Ward Chairmen were NC.
So, how did the meeting unfold? We’ll suffice it to sum up the main steps in the decision-making process which took place (i-v):
(i) First off, in a way the meeting already began before anyone else than the UML leaders had shown up. The VDC Chairman, the VDC secretary, the headmaster, and the local DDC Member, got together at the VDC office in the morning, going through the requests for development received from all the nine wards. The requests had been submitted on pages torn out of note books, some only passed on orally and then penned down by the secretary, and there were perhaps twenty altogether.
(ii) It was no secret. The VDC secretary readily explained to us what they were doing: they were deciding on the budget, selecting the requests to be included for next year. They selected almost solely requests from the UML wards. Why? Well, they knew what the needs in the VDC included, and those requests they selected were the most important. We knew, on our part, that other needs were also quite urgent and relevant. But it was not our mission, of course, to argue with them.
(iii) The real Village Council meeting convened after lunch. It began with the VDC secretary reading aloud the expenditure report from last year. Critical voices in the hall asked whether the VDC Chairman could account for delays and incompletion in some of the development work? Some attendees started laughing at this remark. The DDC Member took the word and explained that lack of budget had made things difficult. The majority then approved last year’s expenditures by clapping their hands. In fact, even those making critical remarks clapped along.
(iv) The VDC secretary went on to recite next year’s budget. The two NC Ward Chairmen now stood up and asked, camly, why the requests for projects in their wards had been ignored. One of them elaborated on his remark that both NC wards had largely been neglected for five years. The VDC Chairman equally camly explained that since the budget was limited, they had to give priority to those areas most in need, so that was the reason. The DDC Member stood up and said the VDC Chairman had made a responsible decision. This time, though, the NC did not clap.
(v) The budget was approved after the UML majority had clapped their hands. After the meeting, when the formalities were over, the NC Ward Chairmen and their Ward Members started complaining, though, and now more loudly. Some even made ironic remarks about the UML fixing everything beforehand. UML Ward Chairmen replied in a joking tone, and this went on for ten-fifteen minutes. One of the NC Ward Chairmen told us later on, after everybody had left the VDC office:
“I am invited for the meeting every year, but the budget has already been decided upon. So it’s a formality. We complain but our wards never get anything. The VDC Chairman just says there is no budget.”
It is very common, in our experience, not that the Ward Chairmen in minority not get anything at all – they usually get a little – but that protests at the Village Council meeting are in vain, just as this short observation illustrates. In other cases, we have observed that the majority give the minority a small share to appeace them – but the minority’s objections, even loud ones, are largely ignored.