Nepali Times

Votebank constitution

Monday, August 24th, 2015
..................................................................................................................

editorial

Story so far: the four main political parties made up of the ruling NC and UML with the opposition UCPN(Maoists) and MJF(D)signed an agreement on 8 June to speed up the constitution draft with a provision for eight provinces, but leave the demarcation of provincial boundaries to a future Federal Commission and their names to state legislatures.

After protests erupted, the parties said “oops” and went back to the drawing board, demarcating boundaries not for eight but six provinces. How that number was picked out of a hat, we don’t know. But it set off a maelstrom of protests by various groups which felt left out.

The people of the Province #6 in the west were for and against and went on a weeklong arson spree. The folks in Baglung and Rukum found their districts cut cleanly in half and were unhappy. The Tharus wanted their own homeland in the western Tarai and were on warpath. And the Madhesis were suddenly not satisfied with just the plains in Province #2 and also wanted a piece of the Pahad.

So the constitution framers went back to the maps and decided on seven provinces by dividing Province#6 into two: the trans-Karnali and the Mid-West. This put out the flames in Surkhet and Jumla, but angered the Tharus who felt their demands had been ignored. It got serious enough for the Tharu chief of the MJF(D), Bijay Gachhadar, to disassociate himself from the four-party grouping and join other Madhesi and Janajati parties at the barricades. And now things have gone out of control with the violence in Tikapur of Kailali where Tharu protesters fought pitched battles with police that left at least seven protesters and policemen dead.

Already the Tharuhat Struggle Committee and Madhesi activists had shut down Nepal’s plains for the past week or more, essentially blockading the hill and mountains. Thousands of trucks are stuck on the Indian side of the border, hundreds of thousands of people are stranded, and there is a danger of the unrest spreading after the Tikapur clashes.

So, as the number of proposed provinces goes from the original 14 to 8 to 6 then 7, the number of parties in the constitution alliance goes from 4 to 3. Senior ministers from the NC, UML and UCPN(M) tell us informally that they are doing the best they can, but there can’t be a formula that will satisfy everyone. They are determined to take the process forward with an amendment bill, clause-by-clause debate and voting in the coming week so that the constitution will be ready. They say even if everyone is not fully on board, there will be a provision to turn the Constitution Commission into a Constitution Appeals Commission to address the demands of those who feel left out.

While we can go along with the argument that there is no compromise that will satisfy everyone, the process so far is murky, lacks transparency, appears arbitrary and reeks of vote bank politics of the main protagonists: Sher Bahadur Deuba of the NC, KP Oli of the UML, Bijay Gachhadar of the MJF(D) and Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoists. It is also driven by the impatience of all these gentlemen to get to power in the national unity government after the constitution is passed.

Among the parties that have most reason to be aggrieved are the indigenous Tharus who have found themselves disenfranchised by the process. Even when the demands of the Karnali was heard by the Big Three in Kathmandu last week, they failed to meet the Tharu demand for greater autonomy in the western Tarai. This has brought the Tharus and Madhesis, who had no love lost for each other, together to find common cause. The government has to act urgently, leaders including Gachhadar need to try to douse the flames and come up with a solution that satisfies the Tharus.

Madhesi leaders, thoroughly discredited and most of whom were voted out by their own people in the 2013 elections, have now resorted to their only weapon: incite hatred against Kathmandu’s ‘colonisers’. Last week, they had made irresponsible and incendiary remarks exhorting the Tharus to take up axes and knives, or promising Rs 5 million to anyone who is killed in street protests in future. It is clear that they want to reignite the flames of another Madhes Movement. But now that they have Province#2, the movement has not gained too much traction so far.

Meanwhile, Kathmandu lives in a bubble. Rulers here tend not to notice, or underestimate the anger outside. The Madhesi people may be disillusioned with their leaders, but there is simmering distrust over Pahadi rulers in Kathmandu not treating them with enough respect and giving them more say in their lives. But they are much angrier about the state’s neglect of their region, the poorest in terms of Human Development.

The lesson from all this, which we should have learnt from similar exercises elsewhere in the world, is never to leave maps in the hands of politicians. Never mix politics with boundaries. Demarcation is a technical subject with implications for viability that is best left to experts, politicians just mess it up with their short-term time horizons. For immediate firefighting, top leaders from all parties and groups must find a way that doesn’t involve more bloodshed.

Read Also

Over-fermented federalism, Bidushi Dhungel

Protests over boundaries

Twist in the tale, Om Astha Rai


None of the above

Sunday, August 16th, 2015
..................................................................................................................

Nepalis don’t trust the present crop of leaders, but this is an opportunity for fresh new faces to win public support through performance.

Nt survey icon onlineThe trust of average Nepalis in the political leadership keeps sinking. Except one, every active politician today scored in the single digits in a recent public opinion poll in which respondents were asked who they would like to see as Nepal’s next prime minister.

This is a damning indictment of chronic political failure, and the public’s disenchantment with elected figures across the political spectrum including those who have led governments multiple times in the past decades. However, it also shows that the field is wide open for fresh new faces with proven performance, integrity and ability to work for the public good.

More than 3,500 respondents in 35 districts were interviewed earlier this month in the Himalmedia Nationwide Public Opinion Survey 2015. We have been tracking public disillusionment with politicians for the past 12 years in these annual polls, and expected it to be quite high. This year, an inadequate political response to the earthquake, the delays in the constitution and persistent political infighting seem to have heightened public disenchantment.

In response to the question ‘Who should be Nepal’s new Prime Minister after the new constitution is promulgated?’ nearly 55% of the respondents rejected the names of all top politicians, said they wanted some new independent figure, didn’t want to say or didn’t know.  Baburam Bhattarai (10.4%) appears to be ahead only because the others are even less popular, and because of the public perception that he gets things done. Bhattarai has performed consistently well in past polls as well, coming second after Sushil Koirala in 2013 and scoring 13.5% last year. But even in those previous polls, more than half the respondents were ‘undecided’, ‘none of the above’ or ‘don’t know’.

Infographic by Ayesha Shakya

Among all the party leaders it is Pushpa Kamal Dahal whose fall from public grace has been the most dramatic. After scoring 38.7% in the 2010 Himalmedia survey and consistently in double digits in annual polls since 2008, he had sunk to 3.4% in 2013, and is now down to 1.8%.

However, after hitting rock bottom Dahal has nowhere to go but up. He has been remaking himself as a flexible and pragmatic leader capable of springing back to wrest leadership. His critical behind-the-scene role in allying with the UML’s KP Oli to push through the draft constitution, and his rallying speech in the Constituent Assembly on Friday in which he exhibited his legendary oratorical skills to restore some of his charisma may be indications of a ‘new’ Dahal.

The lack of public trust in politicians is also reflected in responses to the question: ‘Which political party would you select to deliver a peaceful and prosperous Nepal?’. Once more, the proportion of respondents who said ‘Don’t know’, ‘Won’t say’, or ‘None of the above’ totaled 42%. The NC was on top as in previous two years with 25.4%, the UML used to be neck-to-neck with the NC but is now trailing at 13.5% and the fragmented Maoists have gone down to 9.3% from highs above 20% in polls after the 2008 CA elections.

Aside from popularity, an even more striking aspect of this year’s Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey compared to previous years is that despite political and societal polarisation, the respondents have shown even more maturity, moderation and a rejection of identity politics.

For example, 48.6% may have voted for Nepal to be declared a Hindu state, but taken together support for the constitution to ensure ‘Religious freedom’, ‘Secularism’, or ‘No mention of religion’ total a significant 46%. Our suggestion would be to take a middle path in such a divisive issue (especially because ‘Secularism’ has only 20% adherents) by opting for the ‘Freedom of religion’ formulation.

There is also a surprising consistency and consensus on answers across ethnic, geographic, age, literacy, and gender lines. For instance, one may expect far fewer men to be against the citizenship on the basis of mothers in the draft constitution, but male and female respondents were at par with 55% and 56.3% respectively rejecting the discriminatory clause. The percentage of those who think federalism based on ethnicity is a bad idea has gone up from 70-75% in previous polls to 80% this year. As in previous years, the opposition to carving up the country along ethnic lines is not popular even in the Tarai or enclaves asking for ethnic homelands. This may, in part, explain why (except for the Tharus) there has been only muted opposition to the six province delineation in the Madhes or eastern Nepal.

Among those who didn’t like ethnic provinces, more than half said the boundaries south be North-South and all provinces should incorporate the mountains, hills and plains for their future economic viability. Even in the Madhes, there was an overwhelming rejection of ethnicity-based provinces, and more than half them preferred North-South states that incorporated the highlands. This is reflected in the belated realisation even among Madhesi politicians that Province 2 may not be viable.

As in previous years, we are struck by how much the political slogans of the political parties, especially the smaller ones, are so divergent from public opinion even in the areas they represent. This leads us to ask: what use are elections and public opinion surveys like this if politicians keep ignoring the people’s voice? Politicians probably want to keep the option open for religious or regional rabble-rousing, not having learnt the lesson that identity politics in the end backfires. The other reason they ignore public opinion could be a cynical belief that money and muscle matter more at election time than what people think.

Either way, the Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015 feels the public’s pulse two years after the last election. It is encouraging that collectively we are still a progressive people who haven’t given up on democracy, even though we don’t seem to think much about the leaders we elected.

Read also:

Trust no one Om Astha Rai

Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015

A wide open field

All politics is local Kunda Dixit


The authority to rebuild

Thursday, August 13th, 2015
..................................................................................................................

Do we have the political will to save time and money to fuse the long-pending Disaster Management Authority with the Reconstruction Authority?

Authority to rebuild Nepal

Photo: Bikram Rai

How soon the earthquake has been forgotten, and the country has drifted back to politics as usual. The constitution is finally taking shape, but the attempt by the four top parties to ram through boundaries of six provinces in the draft last week set off a political earthquake. Aftershocks are still being felt, especially in western Nepal.

The delineation of boundaries was ad hoc, haphazard and arbitrary. If this is what we had to fight and die for in a ten-year war and suffer another decade of peace, then we might as well just have stuck to the five north-south development zones and devolved political power to them. We would have saved 17,000 Nepali lives, time, money, and a lot of heartache.

However, the 25 April earthquake did give Nepal’s politics a mighty jolt and woke up our rulers from their slumber. The public’s disillusionment with politicians was so great they had to try to hurriedly pass the constitution and use that as an excuse for regime change. Hence the 16-point accord. The opposition, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the UCPN(M) and Bijay Gachhadar of the MJF(L), are so desperate to get on board the unity government that they are trying their best to quickly quell the anger in the west and the grievances of the Tharu people to move ahead with the constitution.

Since the government of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is not known for multi-tasking what has fallen by the wayside in all this is the formation of the Reconstruction Authority and the delay in the appointment of its head. The lives and livelihoods of three million people in 14 districts affected by the earthquake depend on it. On Thursday evening, the Cabinet finally named  the National Planning Commission Vice-Chairman Govinda Raj Pokhrel as CEO of the Reconstruction Authority. Pokhrel’s appointment was hailed as the correct move because of his experience in steering post-earthquake assessment and planning.

As our coverage graphically illustrates nearly 2,000 widows are still waiting for help four months after the quake. More than two million people are living in tents and tin shelters. Two months after successfully concluding the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction (ICNR) and getting a pledge of $4.4 billion, the government has gone back to sleep.

The appointment of the CEO to the Reconstruction Authority has been deadlocked because of a tussle between the ruling NC and the UML over their party candidates – obviously because the agency’s head has ministerial rank, a powerful mandate and control over a huge budget. Nothing new after all. But it is costing us our recovery.

As our analysis shows, the earthquake was stark proof of our lack of disaster preparedness, which in turn was a result of political and governance failure over the past ten years. We were fortunate that the earthquake spared much of the densely-populated areas of Central Nepal the catastrophic destruction that seismologists had been predicting. But better readiness would have saved many of the lives that were lost.

For the past seven years, an international consortium of donors including the United States, Australia, Japan, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank had been trying to alert the Nepal government about the need to set up a Disaster Management Authority to oversee preparedness, contingency planning as well as coordinate rescue, relief and rehabilitation when the earthquake did strike.

Of course, nothing was done. The bill to set up the authority has been in limbo in parliament – another casualty of the lack of political will. If that Authority had been in place, not only would we have been much more prepared but the rescue and relief would also have been speedier and smoother.

Despite the government’s lapses on many fronts, it was admittedly overwhelmed by the scale of the destruction: more than 700,000 buildings destroyed, 30,000 classrooms in ruins. However, there were very few instances of people dying due to lack of emergency medical care, 3,000 injured were airlifted and nearly all got free treatment. The logistics of food and medicines has been relatively well managed. Despite the turf battle at national level, CDOs coordinated aid well. Local bodies would have performed even better if there had been elected VDC, DDC and municipality councils.

Since the Reconstruction Authority with a mandate for rehabilitation over the next five years has still not been set up, our suggestion would be to fuse it with the proposed Disaster Management Authority. We need something more credible, and a little more permanent. After all, we are sure to have floods, landslides (and God forbid) another earthquake somewhere in Nepal in the next five years. The new head of the Authority, therefore, can then work on rehabilitation of this disaster so that it serves a model for earthquake preparedness for the rest of the country as well.

In fact, that is one of the most significant points in the draft Reconstruction Policy drawn up by the National Planning Commission (NPC): to scale up nationwide the reconstruction process in the 14 affected districts. The policy also favours job creation and use of local resources while at the same time encouraging the use of better quality reconstruction material and earthquake resistant designs. The theme is to coordinate centrally, but implement locally. And that may as well be our national motto.

Read also:

Better build back Sonia Awale

Strategy for recovery Sonia Awale

Jump-starting the economy Sarthak Mani Sharma

Ruin in the rain Sahina Shrestha

Deconstruction before reconstruction Editorial

Earning back the people’s trust Tsering Dolker Gurung


Fixing what’s broken

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
..................................................................................................................

Nepal’s tourism was in crisis long before the earthquake struck

tourism in post-quake Nepal

‘Build Back Better’ has become a mantra for post-earthquake rehabilitation in Nepal. As a motto it strives for an ideal outcome: the reconstruction of roads, schools, homes, government buildings, hospitals, utilities should not just be physical rebuilding, but restructuring each area from the ground up.

Nepal was a disaster zone long before the earthquakes struck. Education was in a shamble because despite enrolment numbers being up, the quality was poor. The health sector was either over-commercialised or under-served, putting basic medical care out of reach of most of the population. Kathmandu’s haphazard urbanisation and unsafe buildings make it a ticking timebomb that was not defused by the 7.8 quake on 25 April.

The root reason for all these problems has been poor governance,  political unwillingness and a disturbing lack of accountability on the part of elected officials. The earthquake, therefore, has given us the chance for a paradigm shift not just in the 15 districts affected but in the rest of the country as well. And the constitution offers the vehicle to make politics more just and equitable.

Much has already been said in this space about maximising job-creation during the reconstruction process, and the National Planning Commission has taken the lead in ensuring that this happens. This would be the start of a longterm process of reversing the outflow of our desperate young men and women to work overseas in appalling conditions.

The other mainstay of Nepal’s economy is tourism and this has taken a direct hit from the earthquake. Saturation coverage in the international media of the immediate aftermath has spread the perception that Nepal is completely destroyed. The fact that many tourist spots in Nepal like Pokhara, Chitwan, Lumbini, Muktinath or Mustang are not affected is not widely known.

In addition, alarmist travel advisories by some governments have frightened off potential visitors. Insurance companies take their cue from these blanket notices and the high premium has is further deterrence. Happily, as we write this, the United States, UK, New Zealand have relaxed their advisories and there are indications that they will be revised further as independent assessments of the Everest and Annapurna trekking trails and Kathmandu’s heritage sites become available.

Nepal’s tourism was also in crisis long before the earthquake. Visitor numbers were stagnant, spending per tourist was down, average duration of stay was getting shorter, repeat visitors were getting rarer.

It isn’t hard to figure out why: the quality of the product was going down with the chaos at the airport, the visa lines and the squalour of Kathmandu. The Annapurna Circuit and other trekking areas were marred by new highways. Chitwan suffered a 70 per cent drop in visitors after lodges were relocated and Sauraha became unpleasant. There were concerns of air safety for domestic travel after a series of crashes.

Air fare was another factor: it cost more for a tourist to fly from Kathmandu to Rara than to fly to Europe. Helicopter rescue in Nepal is as expensive as in the United States and is the highest in the world. Then there were the high profile disasters like the Everest avalanche last year followed by government bungling on permits, the tragic loss of lives in the Annapurna blizzard raising questions of the lack of early warning and shelters along the trail.

The ‘Turning Point in Tourism: Role of International and National Tour Operators’ conference organised by the group, Samarth, last week drew attention to these factors already affecting Nepal’s tourism before the earthquake. Robin Baustead of the Great Himalayan Trail Alliance said: “Nepal has fantastic mountains to climb, but it is becoming a much harder place to climb them in.”

Visitor numbers to Nepal have gone down in the past. It plummeted by 40 percent after the 2001 royal palace massacre, went down by 80 percent during the 2003 Gulf War, and shrank to a third of normal during he Maoist conflict. But in all these cases, the arrival numbers revived in a few months. This time, even the most optimistic scenario predicts a 70 per cent drop in the autumn season, and a 40 per cent drop in bookings for the spring. It will take longer to bounce back this time.

The Samarth conference drew up a checklist of things to be done to revive tourism revenue:

Set up a verifiable third party online knowledge base with up-to-date information on the safety status of trekking trails

–       Relaunch the Nepal brand in target markets, especially India and China

–       Clean up the airport, streamline visas, make it easy for visitors

–       Don’t reduce prices, improve safety and quality of services

Read also:

Rebuilding ourselves Kunda Dixit 

An opportunity for all: Nepal is open to visitors

Fixing tourism Karma Dolma Gurung

Tourism is down, but not out Om Astha Rai 

Where have all the tourists gone? Tsering Dolker Gurung 

Trekking in solitude Peregrin Frissell


Rebuilding ourselves

Thursday, June 25th, 2015
..................................................................................................................

More than aid, we need help to boost tourism, investment, trade and to create jobs in reconstruction

The headlines in the media about this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction were scripted: donors pledges fell short of assistance needed for long-term rehabilitation because they are concerned about accountability and delivery in distribution. Aid agencies and governments have reason to be worried, given reports of emergency supplies piling up in warehouses, the politicisation of relief and government disarray. Despite billions pledged, hundreds of thousands of survivors haven’t even received the Rs 15,000 emergency grants yet.

But, as Emily Troutman argues a lot of the money raised for disasters around the world is also heavily skewed in favour of the donor. The colossal mismanagement of aid after Haiti’s earthquake has become the stuff of legend. Seeing the way Nepal relief is going, it doesn’t look like the aid industry has learnt its lesson. ‘In Nepal, I found patterns in the humanitarian response that persist in every disaster,’ Troutman writes. ‘Money will be wasted, aid will arrive too late. As in Haiti, local organisations with the expertise and commitment to really make a difference will be left out.’

A disaster is an opportunity for humanitarian organisations to replenish their coffers and cover overheads. Lot of the billateral aid pledged on Thursday is already earmarked for donor agencies. A recent investigation by the group Disaster Accountability also confirms that charities often fudge where donations go, hide overheads, and even blatantly misrepresent the actual assistance they provide.

To be sure, the destruction from the earthquake has been overwhelming, and the monsoon is set to move the mountains again. Nepal’s need for long-term reconstruction is so enormous that the country cannot go it alone. There is need for funding, logistics and the human resource to manage it all efficiently. Now is the time for targeted interventions, to do things less wastefully so that beneficiaries benefit.

We have argued in this space before that relying on crowdsourced funding for private relief work has filled the gap left by the state’s delayed and patchy response. But such aid lets the government off the hook and allows it to abdicate its responsibility. Piecemeal relief can never match the scale of operation needed, which only a national government has at its disposal. The Nepal government’s concern about aid dependency among survivors in parts of some districts is, however, valid. While farmers in remote areas will need help with food for the medium term, many living near roads who have paddy seeds are not planting them this season because there is so much free rice being doled out. We should be careful emergency food aid doesn’t crowd out long term food security.

Nepal has been labeled ‘aid dependent’ because about three-quarters of our annual budget for health, education and infrastructure comes from overseas development assistance even at the best of times. This has given foreigners and Nepalis alike the impression that this country will grind to a halt if aid was stopped. This may be the right time, then, for us to look beyond aid to trade, tourism, investment and job creation as better alternatives for self-sustained growth, and to build a prosperous future.

For the kind of natural and cultural assets Nepal posseses, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of tourism’s true potential for revenue and employment. Visitors who choose to visit Nepal do so because our mountains, heritage and biodiversity are such powerful draws, not because there has been any strategic marketing. We seem to excel at making it as difficult as possible for tourists to visit. Nepal should scrap visas, revamp our national airline, streamline entry points, encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more.

If they really want to help, donor governments should drop their inaccurate and outdated travel advisories, and the irrational ban on domestic air travel for nationals. High insurance costs are also dissuading tourists from visiting Nepal, especially after the earthquake. Distorted international media coverage that only shows destruction, and alarmist fundraising billboards of aid agencies in public places in Europe have frightened off potential visitors.

Instead of more aid, we should ask donor governments to facilitate more trade. For this we don’t have to look beyond our immediate neighbours. India and China are the locomotives that Nepal should hitch its wagon to. Europe and the United States can help by lifting tariffs, redeploying aid agencies to help promote Nepali products in their countries, as GIZ has done with Nepali tea. Nepal’s private sector is more than capable of stepping in if governments open their doors.

The path ahead for Nepal is clear: we need to invest in infrastructure and encourage post-quake reconstruction through grants and soft credit for massive job creation. The only obstacles are weak political willpower, poor delivery, and a culture of aid dependency.

Read also:

Deconstruction before reconstruction Editorial

Needed: A Marshall plan Editorial

Living off the land Editorial

How not to reinvent the wheel Bihari K Shrestha

25 June Donor Summit Om Astha Rai


The 8th summit

Monday, June 15th, 2015
..................................................................................................................

After seven Nepali women got to the top of Mt Everest in 2008 and finished climbing the seven highest peaks in seven continents last year, they thought they had run out of challenges.

But when Nepal was hit by an earthquake on 25 April, The Seven Summits Women Team immediately put their knowledge of mountains and experience in managing logistics in remote areas to good use for relief and rehabilitation work.

WFP relief operation at Dolakha


The WFP’s Richard Ragan and member of the Seven Summits Women’s Team, Chunu Shrestha, at the Remote Operations Base warehouse in Charikot on Saturday. Photo: Kunda Dixit

Asha Kumari Singh is from Mahottari district in the plains, but knows Rasuwa district intimately ever since she spent two months here in 2007 for a mountaineering training course on Langtang Glacier. So, when the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) asked if she would like to be a field officer in Rasuwa for relief distribution, she readily agreed.

“I may be from the Tarai, but I am at home here and have many friends,” Singh said just after returning from delivering food and roofing sheets to the devastated village of Gatlang on Monday. “But my parents are more worried about my safety now, than when I was climbing Mt Everest,” she laughed.

Another mountaineer from the team, Chunu Shrestha, is based at WFP’s Remote Operations Base in Charikot where she helps assess the need in remote villages of Sindhupalchok so supplies can be dispatched by helicopter, road, or porter.

“It’s not just about loading a helicopter and sending it off,” Shrestha told us in Charikot on Saturday, “you have to know the specific need in every village. Some villagers are disappointed when you bring them sanitation kits, they want food. Others don’t need food, they want tin roofs.”

Other team members Shailee Basnet and Maya Gurung who have been working in Maya’s home village of Bhotenamlang of Sindhupalchok to distribute emergency relief, rehabilitate schools buildings and get classes going again. Another team members, Sushma Maskey is coordinating from the WFP office in Kathmandu.

Relief delivery mission at Dolakha

Mountaineers Pema Diki Sherpa and Nim Doma Sherpa about to go off on another relief delivery mission in their home district of Dolakha last week. Photo:  Jana Asenbrennerova

Two other team members, Pema Diki Sherpa and Nim Doma Sherpa have been assigned to supervise WFP logistics in their home district of Dolakha. The homes of their families in Simigaon has been destroyed, as have the school and monastery. But when we met them last week both were acutely aware that the need was greater in other villages, and they were ready to take emergency supplies to the village of Lapilang.

“Climbing the seven peaks and making Nepal known all over the world gave us a sense of personal fulfillment,” said Pema Diki, “but helping in earthquake relief is a different kind of satisfaction, it is like we are helping soothe our motherland when she is in pain.”

Read also:

High five Nim Doma Sherpa

They climbed another mountain Matt Miller 


Deconstruction before reconstruction

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015
..................................................................................................................

Nine years after the end of the conflict and seven years after the first election to an assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution, the four main political parties finally came to an agreement late Monday night on the last pending element of the peace process.

Ostensibly, the deal involved a compromise on an 8-province model for Nepal’s future federal structure. If it was simple as that, the great wonder is that it took so long for them to hit upon that formula. Which means it was never only about the constitution only, but about getting to power, controlling state resources, and taking all the credit.

This week’s nocturnal compromise involved the NC-UML giving up its stand on six territorially-designated provinces, and the Maoist-Madhesi alliance letting go of its insistence that eight future provinces be ethnically demarcated conclaves. They met half-way to allow a commission to decide on boundaries and future federal legislatures and also how to name themselves. It is disingenuous that they have bargained as if it was a fish market about an arbitrary number for provinces without figuring out what those provinces are going to look like or what they are going to be called. However, it was probably the only compromise possible at the present time.

In a sense, what the four parties cunningly did was pass the buck on the remaining sticking points on the constitution to someone else somewhere to resolve later. It is the tragedy of Nepal that it needs a major disaster or a violent street uprising to shake things up. This time the ruse of the need for a national unity government for reconstruction gave a sense of urgency that lifted the deadlock on power-sharing.

All four main political parties got what they wanted from the deal. The NC and the UML had a gentlemen’s agreement that Prime Minister Sushil Koirala would make way for the UML’s KP Oli as soon as the constitution was agreed upon. The ailing Oli was impatient to become prime minister, but for that Koirala had to step down and to do that the constitution had to be passed first.  Koirala needed a graceful way to step down, and wanted to bequeath a historical legacy to bolster his stature at the upcoming party conclave. “Let’s go for eight, then,” a downcast and evasive Koirala is supposed to have said at the four-party meeting on Tuesday morning.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the UCPN(M) missed being at the centre of things, and by dangling carrots in front of Oli assured him of backing for prime ministership if it was going to be a government of national unity that included his party. Bijay Kumar Gachhadar of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (L) is in it only because he has an eye on a key portfolio in the national government. In doing this, Dahal and Gachhadar dumped 28 members of their 30-party alliance proving that this was never really about federalism or ethnic autonomy.

If one is to try to see the glass as half-full, then this is a step forward. A national unity government will be formed next month after the CA does the paperwork on the constitution. Oli may not be well, but he is more decisive than Koirala, and can hopefully inject  a sense of urgency into the reconstruction process. We want to be pleasantly surprised, but given their past record on governance and transparency (the lack thereof) we are not holding our breath on the new government suddenly become an epitome of efficiency and honesty. The same old discredited persona are going to be in charge, the thoroughly corrupt all-party mechanism that governed VDCs and DDCs are now going to on the national stage. It is a given that distribution of compensation for earthquake survivors is going to be a repeat of the inequitable way compensation for conflict victims was handed out.

Dolakha after earthquake

Photo: Kunda Dixit

This week in Dolakha we saw the enormous task of rebuilding. Of the 59 hospitals and health posts, 53 are destroyed. All 363 schools are damaged. Nearly two months after the quake 80 per cent of the inhabitants of Charikot live in tents. On Chaighyant St buildings look like a pile of Lego blocks. The famous Maoist dictum that there has to be deconstruction before reconstruction has a whole new meaning in post-earthquake Nepal, and not quite in the way Pushpa Kamal Dahal intended.

One way to ensure accountability is to announce local elections right away. That is the only way relief and rehabilitation budgets will be better spent so that everyone benefits and jobs are created in the process. Campaigning for that election itself may be a way to spur candidates and parties to be more responsive to the needs of the people not just in the 14 quake-hit districts but in the rest of the country.

Read also:

Constitution deal inked Om Astha Rai

Political tectonics Anurag Acharya


 

himalkhabar.com            

NEPALI TIMES IS A PUBLICATION OF HIMALMEDIA PRIVATE LIMITED | ABOUT US | ADVERTISE | SUBSCRIPTION | TERMS OF USE | CONTACT