Nepali Times: What kind of memories of Nepal do you take back with you?
Jan de Witte: When I arrived here in 2000, the insurgency was not so visible. There was an elected parliament and local bodies. All that has disappeared. In a short period of time the entire architecture of the state has crumbled, we now have to rebuild it. If you look at the 15 years of democracy, the Maoists moved out because they were unhappy with the way the parliamentary parties were working and now the monarchy has made its move citing the same reason. A democratic system is not possible without active and strong political parties. There is lots to improve within the parties like the dynasty mindset so that fresh people get the chance to prove they are accountable to the people.
What do you consider SNV's most successful areas?
The most successful has been the renewable energy program which has built 120,000 biogas reactors benefiting many families and the environment. Ultimately, the country benefits from the Clean Development Mechanism and Nepal can trade its carbon and re-invest it in more biogas.
What has been your reaction to recent developments in Nepal?
We need to realise that things are not just changing in Kathmandu but also in the districts. We will need to assess how the power relations will look henceforth. We will need to see if it is still possible to work with people outside district headquarters. We will have to see if the power will move from the CDO and LDO to the security forces. Our head office has doubts if we can operate as we did in the past.
Why should your headquarters have doubts?
Most donor agencies who have been working under the operating guidelines are very clear about what they do: they do not side with one or the other party. They have been working for the poor people of Nepal and all of their programs have been approved by the central government. There has been a shift in the policy of ministries and they have asked us to work with the community based organisations. We understand that situation because there are no local bodies working at present.
Has the idea of working with community based organisations been successful?
There was an understanding with the previous government that projects should be implemented through non-state actors. But the problem is that the money for such projects has to be paid through the government channels. That is how the local bodies come into the scene. There have been quite a number of good initiatives about the local development funds. Donor agencies have been holding a series of meetings to discuss the current situation.
What has been the outcome?
Many are in a shocked state. Most are in a wait and see mode. Some may have expected a change in the government as they thought things were not moving the way they should. But this is quite a change in a constitutional monarchical system. Let's give time to the present government and see what it does.
What has your head office said?
They are curious about what will happen and they also want us to be flexible so we can continue to reach the people without getting into any political problem. For the time being, we have slowed down our works and are waiting to see how the work environment develops. As long as the safety of our staff and our objective to reach the people are guaranteed, I think we will continue to work.
How important are factors like human rights and democracy for the continuity of your activities?
They are very important. They are the bases of systems in Nepal and also of many national laws and international conventions. That is definitely a condition to be able to work in a country. Safety of the staff is very much connected with it. People's access to information is equally important. But right now, the most disturbing element is the state of emergency and the curtailment of civil liberties.