In the past month, there have been several opportunities for local communities to meet their elected local representatives to hold dialogues – providing a glimmer of hope for Nepal and our development aspirations.
The first was a gathering of all youth volunteers of Ward 16 from Patan, and the second was a hearing of the residents of Handigaon, the ancient neighbourhood of Kathmandu that dates back to the Lichhavi period nearly 1,000 years ago. In Biratnagar, all elected representatives of Province 1came together to discuss pressing problems that federalism needed to resolve.
As expected, a portion of the time in each of these gatherings was spent on venting frustration, and playing the blame game. The people who were in power once and are now out of it, were naturally the ones who were most critical and eloquent. The ones in office, minced their words and made excuses for inaction. That aside, the proceedings provided rare insight into the current state of governance in Nepal.
The representation of the public and their elected representatives was notable because it is the partnership that can finally break the stalemate that has frustrated us in Nepal for so long. NGOs and civil society groups have tried to fill the space left by poor governance for the past three decades.
A few minutes into each gathering, it was immediately evident that there is a trust deficit and that is where the real investment will be needed in the short term.
The general feeling is that politicians are there to take people for a ride, and despite last year’s elections, are not really accountable to anyone. They still used goons to extract and win infrastructure contracts, while the tax payer waits for promises that are never kept. It would do well, therefore, to identify and deliver some ‘low hanging fruit’ in each constituency with the sole goal of just building trust for now.
The consultations also exposed that there is not yet a constructive opposition. Nepalis have understood the word ‘opposition’ to mean oppose for the sake of opposing. Instead, it would be much better if they took a stand to say: “We are watching, we shall share and keep the people informed, we shall make sure there is no corruption on the procurement process.”
It may take many more years before this cultural shift actually happens even though Nepal urgently needs oversight at all levels. The people’s aspirations have risen. Nepalis today see the whole world through travel, study trips, work and the social media. They know what world class sports facilities mean by simply watching the World Cup.
They know about trains and airports while working abroad. They know about rules and laws and enforcement because they have paid the price of not abiding by them in a foreign land. There is little room for elected office holders to distract people from their aspirations. The people know what they want, and how to get it.
The consultations also made it clear that everyone needs to learn and master new skills to move this country forward. Many still believe, thanks to donors, INGOs and development partners, that trainings are only effective if they happen in exotic foreign lands. Nepal has the infrastructure and the capacity to conduct it’s own training here for politicians, administrators and stakeholders. And we may not need expensive foreign consultants as trainers, we have enough Nepalis who are more familiar with the country’s problems and its solutions.
The most positive aspect of the consultations was that people are more than willing to meet their political leadership half way. Respect them, build trust, ask nicely and people will do their part. Most Nepalis want to join the global community as equals.
In the Patan meeting, participants said there is enough work in the city, no one need to go abroad. At Handigaon, conservation of the ancient Lichhavi was seen as a path to prosperity through tourism. In Biratnagar, Province 1 is determined to be the number one province. The glass is half-full.
Anil is President of Siddharthinc
Photo: HANNAN LEWSLEY