Jul 7, 2011

A new deadline

By Yubaraj Ghimire

Five weeks have gone by since the term of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly was extended to complete the peace process and to bring out the first comprehensive draft of a new constitution. In the first fortnight of the extended tenure, a task force headed by Maoist leader Prachanda went to great lengths to iron out differences between the three major political parties, but the efforts have been frittered away in an  increasingly polarised political landscape.

The task force had suggested that Nepal adopt the French model of government, with an executive president directly elected by the people. But this has been rejected outright by the Nepali Congress, a votary of the Westminster model. Nilambar Acharya, chairman of the constitutional committee that is to prepare the draft based on agreements reached by political parties to be later adopted by the House, has warned that completing his job by the deadline of August 18 will be impossible if major issues are not settled at least by July 14.

Meanwhile, President Ram Baran Yadav, in his address to the House on government programme and policies on July 3, asked political parties to work relentlessly to deliver the constitution by the new deadline. He went on to promise that the government is committed to an ambitious development agenda and promoting the hydro-power sector. But in a country where political parties are now seen more as enemies of peace, stability and development, the president’s speech is likely to be treated as ceremonius lip service rather than as a promise to be taken seriously.

Here is one reason for such disillusionment. The government has not provided security to the India-aided Upper Karnali hydro-power project that was abandoned after the project office was destroyed two months ago. Foreign investors, especially from India, China and the US, are keen to put up the capital, provided there is a conducive atmosphere for it. But neither the government nor the political parties seem serious about this.

Popular anger and frustration are growing, especially since the House, which has been extended twice already, is unlikely to deliver the constitution on deadline. So much so that there are accusations that the big political parties are influenced by foreign funding. Almost taking cognizance of this mood in Nepal, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), a major donor in matters of peace process, democratisation and security, hinted that it would no longer fund non-governmental organisations  ssociated with political parties.

The DFID’s warning comes nearly two months after it stopped aid to the Nepali Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, which has been agitating for ethnicity-based provinces when a federal government comes to power under the new constitution. NGOs, with some notable exceptions, are being seen as fronts for political play. There are more than 50,000 NGOs in the country — said to be averaging 12 per village — and together their funds are considered to be bigger than the proposed national budget of 381 billion Nepali rupees for the financial year beginning mid-July. The biggest beneficiaries of external funding are believed to be NGOs with links to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), which heads the coalition government. The two other major parties — the Nepali Congress and the Maoists — too have NGOs with overt or covert affiliations. With no regulatory laws or mechanisms in place, even ministers and advisers to the government have in the recent past headed NGOs dealing with democratic rights, human rights, anti-corruption campaign, security sector and empowerment. Ironically, despite the donors raising the issue of corruption in government, the lack of transparency in financial dealings has made them hugely unpopular and controversial of late.

With the discontent becoming all pervasive, the three major political parties are contemplating forming local governments, an institution that ceased to exist in 2001. Local governments, they say, can be  formed on the basis of votes polled in the election to the Constituent Assembly held in April 2008. There is no need, they insist, to hold fresh elections.

Power by any means — at the national as well as at the local level — continues to be the motto of the parties. And they pursue that in the name of peace, constitution and economic prosperity.

(Courtesy: Indian Express)