Democracy means trusting people, respecting their views, and honoring their rights

Democracy means trusting people, respecting their views, and honoring their rights

By Kul Chandra Gautam

When UNDP started producing national human development reports, predictably, Nepal produced one of the first and among the best national HDRs.

If we could be half as effective in producing results, as we are in producing reports, the people of this country would indeed be very well served.

Our ability and agility in producing such reports indicates that Nepal has the latent capacity to rise to the occasion to prepare good programme proposals and attract donor interest and support.

I sense an enormous reservoir of goodwill towards Nepal in the international community. But I also sense a certain frustration with the endless political squabbling, rampant corruption and bureaucratic inertia in development administration.

The key obstacle for Nepal’s development is therefore not the lack of resources or solidarity of the international community, but the need to keep our house in order in terms of good governance.

As we make progress in good governance, I have no doubt that adequate resources can be mobilized for essential investment.

Development is a complex business, and I do not want to offer any simplistic solutions or prescriptions for Nepal’s advancement.

Pending the improvement of the security situation, resolution of the political crisis, improvements in good governance, and large-scale investment in physical infrastructure – all of which will take time, I would urge Nepal to concentrate and accelerate its efforts in the immediate future on 2 specific areas of development.

First, invest heavily in basic education.

I was surprised and distressed to learn that according to the analysis contained in the progress report on the MDGs, if current trends continue, Nepal is unlikely to reach the goal of universal access to, and completion of, primary education even by the year 2015.

I would urge that this ought to be one of the goals, which Nepal must aspire to achieve, against all odds.

Basic education, particularly of girls, is unquestionably a key to significant poverty reduction. It gives a young woman a sense of personal empowerment and self-confidence to make decisions that affect her life.

An educated girl tends to marry later, is more likely to space her pregnancies, will seek medical care for her child and herself when needed, will give better childcare and nutrition, and will ensure that her children attend primary school – all important factors in preventing the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Education is also likely to enhance a woman’s income-generating capacity and will embolden her to claim her rights and those of her children. There simply is no other investment with the broad range of positive multiplier effects as girls’ education.

Chances of big time corruption are infinitely smaller at that level than in large-scale development projects involving contractors and commissions.

In proposing the doubling of such allocation, I would suggest that the additional funds be used to institute a system of incentives for villages to upgrade their infrastructure and basic social services with measurable indicators.

For example, one could institute a system of classification of all VDCs of Nepal into 3 or 4 categories based on some of the measurable indicators of the MDGs duly adapted to Nepal’s reality. These could include percentage of girls enrolled in primary school or female literacy, access to clean drinking water, contraceptive prevalence, infant mortality rate, etc.

Encouraging a healthy competition among neighboring villages and districts to upgrade themselves from one category to the next using such indicators could greatly accelerate the pace of rural and national development. There are some good examples of such programmes in other countries, e.g. in Thailand and Indonesia that Nepal could learn from.

Using direct development grants to all VDCs to encourage them to promote goal-oriented, indicator-based development planning and implementation could be a very special way for Nepal to pursue the Millennium Development Goals.

This would also be a meaningful way in which relevant UN agencies and other donors could support Nepal’s efforts to promote community-based, results-oriented development outcomes.

For far too long, a disproportionate amount of political power, the power of patronage and control of resources has remained in the hands of the elite in Kathmandu, other major towns and district headquarters. Let us be daring enough and trusting enough of our local communities and devolve more power and resources, in a planned manner to these communities.

Let us not be afraid that local communities might make mistakes, might waste some resources. Haven’t we done that, big time, in Kathmandu and the district headquarters?

Democracy means trusting people, respecting their views, and honoring their rights. Let us build a strong democracy in Nepal from the villages upwards, by devolving more rights, responsibility and resources to our local communities.

(The author is a high UN official. During his last visit to Kathmandu, the author made a presentation at a program organized by NCWA. Excerpts only have been printed. Ed.)

Source: Telegraph Weekly