Now is the time for Nepal to prove itself a successful Asia-Pacific democracy which can also deliver on the people’s economic aspirations. It is time to leave politics aside since the Second Constituent Assembly-Parliament is finally in place though it has yet to deliberate on a host of national issues starting with the country’s constitution. Sushil Koirala from NC has been unanimously elected Nepal’s 37th Prime Minister and appears serious on writing the Nepali Constitution vetted by the Nepali people, though no one has any clue on its content, structure, form and timeline. It is also time to start rethinking and to focus on NEPALI DEVELOPMENT as with the Nepali Constitution.
The international community’s development voice, particularly strengthened by the recent two day visit of Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID’s Administrator, seem to want a concrete “new” Nepal Government initiated development business plan where the latter takes initiatives to lead all-round participatory public-private initiatives, unheard of in Nepal before. The focus shift seems to be from politically stabilizing Nepal to making it a more vibrant people oriented democracy that has also an overarching economic happiness component built into it especially for those trapped in poverty. This development sutra seeks to focus on the Nepali people’s development aspirations whereby they serve as the innovative springboard of ideas.
So what if the fragile NC-UML coalition decided to toast one another before pulling up 10 cabinet ministers’ names each for the Nepal Government ? According to close observers it was like “O.K bhai, let us share everything 50:50, let us work as buddies to write the new Nepali Constitution as mandated by the Nepali people which is our sole responsibility”. In short yester year’s political thinking. Was this correct? Dead wrong! The Nepali people voted the two largest parties, NC and the CPN-UML, back to Singha Darbar because they wanted steadfast democratic adherence, economic progress, peace and a sense of overall personal security tied down to concrete economic performance results. There is no way NC and UML can renege on this and other unfulfilled promises made to the Nepali people who voted them to power in the first place.
It seems it is not only Nepali people who are asking for a road map of current progress, namely a concrete Nepal Government initiated development business plan. The international donor community is too. It has been four months since Nepal successfully conducted the Second CA Poll on November 19, 2013. It was supposed to usher in a new era of development and economic progress for Nepal as the international community supported the Nepali people’s democratic aspirations then as now. The recurrent Nepal visits of British Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan to Nepal to discuss Anglo-Nepal development ties and its potentially powerful future is just an example of how a close G-8 friend helps Nepal with its economic and democratic commitments. The Anglo-Nepal relationship has a 200-year old rich history that spans continents and cultures. The other good illustration of a friend calling in with sensible advice and good offers of bilateral assistance is of course USAID’s Administrator Rajiv Shah who during his recent two day Nepal trip met key political, business, NGO and other leaders and repeatedly emphasized the need for Nepali economic growth that can involve multiple partnerships – the government, civil society and the private sector - so that development’s impact is maximized and the people benefit most.
Raj Shah (as he is known to close friends) in his Nepal visit highlighted an important aspect of the Obama administration’s commitment to promote innovation, science, technology and partnerships with the Nepal Government. From Kathmandu, Raj announced more than $100 million in U.S. aid commitment to Nepal over the next few years. Such as, US$ 70 million for Community Resilience Program for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, US$ 20 million support to the National Early Grade Reading Program, US$ 4.1 million for Business Literacy Project to be operated in twenty Terai and lower hill districts; and, US$ 10 million for a partnership between USAID, DFID and the Nepal Government to better access family planning services for some of Nepal’s most excluded households. He also pledged US$ 500,000 to the Innovative Early Warning Flooding System to help protect communities from flooding in the Mid- and Far West regions.
In the highly competitive Nepal aid sector, where donors often vie with one another for a strategic hold on Nepal through geographically focused projects, there is often an built-in foreign policy component that seeks to increase a country’s political prowess in this sensitive trans-Himalayan corridor that has immense potential as a free economic trade zone between India and China. For instance, in the case of Nepal’s two immediate big neighbors, geo-strategic access to Kathmandu power centers solely focused on long term harnessing of Nepal’s hydro electricity potential besides preserving their own political and security objectives is well known. However for the U.S. and G-8, Nepali development enthusiasts consider it highly commendable that Rajiv Shah had a different message to give, one where donors selflessly proposed supporting the Nepal Government in its own plans based on concrete development policies that would help the Nepali people utmost, not solely based on their individual foreign policy thrusts, which often vie with India and China elsewhere in Asia.
Speaking to the Kathmandu media recently, Raj said, “We believe strongly that the days when the World Bank or USAID and other development partners simply paid for large infrastructure projects are over. There is a new model of development that needs to be pursued in which countries themselves create a plan for the future.” Dr Rajiv Shah’s visit could have come at no other opportune time, since the current government’s future is tied to successfully drafting a new constitution, and has neither made any visible effort to live up to the people’s economic aspirations by unfurling new economic policies or development plans as initially promised. Thus, what the Koirala led government will do in the coming months in providing a development response solution to the international donor community will impact on its image abroad and also influence the future of Nepali livelihoods particularly in the rural areas. This probably is the reason why Rajiv Shah from USAID has urged the Nepal Government to come up with policies that encourage private sector investment that also boost the agriculture and energy sectors.
As Raj again stated to the Nepali media, “This government has a unique opportunity to establish a vision for economic growth and development. They can help end Nepal’s extreme poverty, solve Nepal’s energy crisis and double or triple Nepal’s food production…The world is watching to see how aggressive this new government would be in seizing this opportunity. I am making this visit now because now is an urgent and special moment…. My biggest single takeaway is whether it is the members of government or leaders of private sector, everyone is looking right now to the new government to see how able it will be to prioritize economic development and growth….The decision the government makes in the next few weeks to months will show its seriousness and determination.”
During his Nepal visit, Shah also presented the USAID Pioneers Prize to the Nepal Government for a significant public health achievement, namely simple application of a low-cost antiseptic, chlorhexidine, which has lowered the risk of death in newborn Nepali babies by 23 percent. The Ministry of Health led project is one of seven to receive the award globally, honoring excellence in the use of science, technology, and innovation to solve development challenges.
Rajiv Shah speaking for Nepal’s oldest development partner, the United States, made it clear that ‘partners like the US will bring all of our tools and capabilities including our own companies and capacities to invest in Nepal’s future” although he was also of the opinion the Nepal Government has to make the “right decision about pursuing certain types of reforms.”
Nepal’s strong bilateral relationship with the United States started with an assistance agreement signed on January 23, 1951 which quickly laid Nepal’s first road systems, a working telephone exchange system (phones included!), eliminating malaria from the Terai, enabling agriculture using terrace farming such as in the in the hilly regions, increasing universal literacy rates, and reducing child mortality. The U.S. has also significantly contributed towards peace and national reconciliation through strengthened public diplomacy and a proactive working partnership with all democratic political parties in Nepal to achieve long term national peace and geopolitical stability. Similarly, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter through the Carter Center’s visible presence in Nepal, and his own numerous high level visits, had helped guarantee the impartiality of Nepal’s first and second Constituent Assembly Polls. Carter is deeply revered by all Nepali people for helping promote Nepali democracy within the country and publicizing its results abroad.
In context, USAID in Nepal is also blessed to have an experienced new mission director, namely Beth Dunford, who brings with her concrete leadership experience having worked with the likes of late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, whom everyone misses at the U.S. State Department, by providing crucial strategic direction and implementation guidance to reorient development programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan in support of the U.S. President’s counterinsurgency objectives. Beth also served as a Team leader for Afghanistan on the U.S. Central Command Assessment established by now retired Army Gen. David Petraeus (who led the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and who was later promoted to CIA Director by President Barack Obama.)
The Nepal Government has many challenges at the moment and it still ranks in the last quarter of the global Human Development Index with a highly visible percentage of people still living in poverty. Sixteen hour load shedding is common in Kathmandu though the country has 83,000 MW hydroelectricity potential, something economically rising China and India are visibly interested in to meet their own future energy and power sector needs. But the major challenge for Nepal still remains taming its ideologically polarized political parties which have been unable to forge a united development agenda for the country or write a concrete constitution since the last successful one promulgated in 1990.
At the same time, Nepal recently took over the chair of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation in Myanmar and is preparing to host the next SAARC Summit in Kathmandu later this year, all portending it is willing to take the diplomatic leadership challenge within South Asia and move forward with laudable constructive international aid assistance. It would be equally wise on the Nepal Government’s part to also adapt constructive international advice such as Rajiv Shah’s who made it amply clear: For democracy to triumph in Nepal the government must also be able to come up with concrete development policies and plans that are people oriented. This in turn must be matched by public accountability and good governance. Coincidentally, the first Nepal Economic Summit that recently concluded in Kathmandu under the active leadership of Suraj Vaidya from FNCCI also emphasized an environment of policy stability that would enable attracting foreign investment to Nepal. The Nepal Government must clearly understand that Nepalis live in an increasingly globalized economy hinged between the world’s two fastest rising economic giants, China and India, but is also considered a reliable strategic friend of the U.S. and G-8 for decades. This is why its government must be complacent to the changes happening around the Asia-Pacific neighborhood every day and fine tune Nepali development to suit the country’s democratic image abroad. One reckons Sushil Koirala and his cabinet will pay close heed to this message.