Reconstruction and Reconciliation: A Way Forward for Nepal A draft proposal for discussion

By Kul Chandra Gautam

March, 2003
Reconstruction and Reconciliation A Way forward for Nepal The recent cease-fire agreement and the beginning of negotiations for the settlement of the eight year old armed conflict in Nepal is an occasion to begin planning for a massive post-conflict reconstruction and development programme. The insurgency and political turmoil have severely damaged Nepal’s already fragile development infrastructure.
Reconstruction will be a Herculean task. It must address the root causes of poverty, inequity and social injustice. It must be developed in ways that will instil a disillusioned people’s confidence, that will allow the Maoist insurgents and other disaffected groups to play a meaningful role in local development and national reconstruction, and that will enjoy the support of the international donor community.

While the Nepalis have to devise a new political and constitutional order and commit themselves to ensuring good governance and honouring human rights, the international community will need to provide generous support, as it has done in other post-conflict situations, for reconstruction and development of this tattered nation. Major Challenges to be tackled: Insecurity is the biggest challenge for peace and development in Nepal at present. And there seem to be 3 dimensions to Nepal’s insecurity.

First, there is the obvious insecurity caused by the Maoist insurgency. The Maoist movement that initially championed certain populist causes and enjoyed some popularity among the poor and the oppressed, seems to have degenerated into a violent movement. It is accused of inflicting wanton destruction of the country’s infrastructure and brutal treatment of innocent civilians who dare to defy its demands or instructions. Its tactics of extorting money from innocent citizens, including civil servants, businessmen, teachers, and sequestering foodstuff and shelter from ordinary villagers through intimidation has alienated the general public. Its recruitment of children as combatants and use of women and children as human shields in combat has been widely condemned, including by the international community.

According to Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission, reputable international organisations, such as Amnesty International and many Nepali NGOs, government forces too have often resorted to similar atrocities against innocent civilians who are suspected of being or sympathising with the Maoists. Such practices whether committed by the Maoists or by government forces, are a violation of people’s human rights and a contravention of the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which apply to all parties in conflict, and are unacceptable whoever commits such violations. The second dimension of Nepal’s insecurity is closely related to the first one – and is considered by many to be its root cause. This relates to human insecurity, caused by lack of basic social services. A nation cannot be secure when a large segment of its population is chronically malnourished, sick, illiterate and feels there is discrimination and injustice. Nepal’s efforts to reduce poverty have had mixed results, with large segment of the population mired in chronic poverty, while a small segment of the urban elite is able to acquire wealth widely perceived to be ill gotten. A third dimension of insecurity underlying the above two and that is undercutting ordinary people’s faith in the country’s leadership is the phenomena of rampant corruption and bad governance.

UNDP’s Nepal Human Development Report 2001 identified the persistence of poverty and the crisis in governance as the twin obstacles to Nepal’s development, with the latter being the major cause of the former. The misuse, waste, non-transparency and insufficient accountability in the use of public resources are the hallmarks of weak governance – with direct impact on poverty reduction efforts. The people of Nepal and its international development partners have become deeply disillusioned by such poor governance, and especially the propensity of political leaders and bureaucrats to use their position of power and authority to extort bribes and misuse development funds for personal gain with seeming impunity. While the level of corruption and inequality in Nepal may not be much worse than in many other countries, it seems to breed a very high degree of cynicism and mistrust of government. According to a recent public opinion survey, corruption ranks even higher than poverty and Maoist violence as a major cause of people’s dissatisfaction. All these 3 forms of insecurity must be tackled with equal vigour. A lasting solution to the Maoist insurgency and people’s disenchantment with the government requires progress on all these fronts. Accordingly, when negotiations resume, it would be vital for all parties to find common ground in 3 key areas:

a) political reforms, b) socio-economic reconstruction, and c) good governance. Political reforms:

Currently there is a three-way political conflict in Nepal, involving the monarchy vs. the political parties vs. the Maoists. A conducive atmosphere for peace talks requires there to be a rapprochement, first between the King and the major parliamentary political parties, and then with the Maoists. While there maybe differences of views on the most desirable interim political arrangements, the constitutional propriety of such arrangements must be beyond reproach. It would appear that Nepal’s current political system under the 1990 constitution has all the trappings of a modern, progressive democracy.

It has a constitutional monarchy, a multi-party system of parliamentary democracy with the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government with requisite political freedoms for the people. It would seem that the problems lie, not in the form of government or the constitutional arrangements, but in their implementation in practice. It can be argued that in practice, the current political system is not adequately serving the best interests of the people, especially the poor and the down-trodden, and people who have historically suffered discrimination and injustice, including women, the dalits and certain ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities.

Practical arrangements need to be made, including certain constitutional provisions for affirmative action to ensure that the rights of the poor, the vulnerable, and the underprivileged are effectively promoted and safeguarded. Examples of such affirmative action might include: – reservation of a certain percentage of seats in the legislature for women, and/or a requirement that all political parties increase the percentage of female candidates from the current 5 % to 10 % in the next round of elections, and progressively higher percentage in subsequent elections, – transformation of the upper house of parliament into a more meaningful body for the representation of different groups that are currently under-represented in the lower house of parliament, consideration of introducing a mixed proportional representation system in national elections, instead of the current winner-take-all system, – greater and more explicit efforts to ensure that a progressively larger number and percentage of appointments in the executive branches of the government are drawn from communities that are disproportionately under-represented, – deliberate efforts to ensure that development programmes are targeted on a priority basis to benefit historically underprivileged and deprived groups and regions, and that a solid monitoring system is devised to monitor progress in this regard.

While many such changes could be introduced through amendments to the present constitution and appropriate legislation, the CPN (Maoist) have made a case that such changes would acquire greater political legitimacy and acceptability if these were made through the mechanism of an elected sovereign Constituent Assembly. The idea of a Constituent Assembly is not just a recent Maoist demand, it is also one of the unfulfilled commitments made by King Tribhuwan and his political allies at the dawn of democracy in Nepal following the historic revolution of 1950. Provided the major gains of the 1990 people’s movement are safeguarded, the path of a Constituent Assembly maybe be considered a viable option to bring about political change through the democratic process of the ballot rather than the bullet. If the path of an elected Constituent Assembly is chosen, Nepal might consider following the example of countries like Namibia, South Africa and East Timor where such an Assembly was later transformed into parliament following the promulgation of a new constitution. This would help avoid the high cost of multiple elections in a short span of time that Nepal cannot afford.

The current political discourse among most parties in Nepal focuses excessively around the appropriate role, powers and prerogatives of the King in a truly constitutional monarchy. This issue needs to be resolved through unambiguous constitutional provisions to help restore the status of monarchy as a respected, non-controversial, institution fostering national unity. There is a need for political discourse in Nepal to focus on the truly pressing issues that are vital for the peace and prosperity of Nepalis going beyond the current excessive preoccupation with the role and powers of the King. Many of the political demands of the Maoists can and ought to be accommodated as part of such affirmative action and constitutional arrangements.

In return, the Maoists must forsake some of their doctrinaire or ultra-nationalistic demands that citizens in a democracy or objective observers from the international community in today’s world would consider undemocratic or infringing on people’s civil rights and freedoms. As a relatively small and impoverished country, Nepal needs the goodwill, solidarity and support of the international community.

All true Nepali patriots, including the Maoists, need to be mindful of the need to ensure that the country is seen by both its own people and its friends around the world as being in the respectable mainstream of a progressive, democratic nation in the 21st century. Poverty Reduction: A radical rethinking is needed on the socio-economic development approach in Nepal, as the current system of development planning is not producing the results that the Nepali people expect and deserve. After nine 5-year development plans spanning over four decades, and despite generous amounts of international cooperation, and relative peace and tranquillity in the country for most of this period, Nepal’s socio-economic development is not commensurate with what the people and the donor community have a right to expect.

Many countries of Southeast Asia, which started at a similar level of development four decades ago, have far outstripped Nepal in their development performance. Nepal can and ought to do better. Because poverty eradication and empowerment of people are the declared aims of the government as well as the key demands of the Maoists, a focus on these objectives can provide the essential common ground for peace and reconciliation in the country. A credible effort in this regard would also evoke the solidarity and support of the international donor community, which has become increasingly disenchanted, with the mismanagement of development cooperation in recent years.

A major complaint in this regard is that development programmes are concentrated in the capital city and a few other major towns either by design, or by default. It is widely perceived that even the resources meant for rural development tend to revert back to officials, merchants or contractors in the cities or district headquarters through kickbacks, leakage and patronage. This seems to be the case, or certainly the perception, particularly with respect to many mega projects of infrastructure development. Among the development activities that seem to go directly to local communities with minimum leakage is the provision of direct grants to village development committees (VDCs) that was started in the mid-1990s as the “Let Us Build Our Own Village” programme. Until recently, this programme allocated Rs. 500,000 (US$ 6,250) to each of the approximately 4,000 VDCs in the country, or a total of Rs. 2 billion (US$ 25 million) per year.

The funds were managed by the local VDC, an elected body of people’s representatives, and were used for a variety of local development activities ranging from construction of schools, health posts, local roads and trails, drinking water supply schemes, to occasionally payment of teachers’ salaries. These funds were used very effectively by some VDCs to encourage matching in-kind or labour contribution by local communities and as matching funds for certain development projects funded by external donors, UN agencies, NGOs and private sector contributors.

It is generally acknowledged that good results were being achieved through the use of these resources which amounted to a very small percentage of Nepal’s national budget, and a small amount even compared to Nepal’s ODA receipts. It is doubtful that any other development expenditure of such magnitude reached so many villages and benefited so many people in Nepal. Even if there was some leakage and inefficient use of some of these funds, a much higher percentage of these funds reached and benefited ordinary people than almost any other comparable investment.

Prior to the dissolution of all elected local government bodies in mid 2002, the multiparty system generally ensured a pretty good system of checks and balances at the local government level. Everybody knew virtually everybody else in a VDC, and it was practically impossible for a local leader to siphon off resources without being known by rival leaders. Chances of big time corruption are infinitely smaller at that level than in large-scale development projects involving contractors and commissions.

When elected local governments are re-established, Nepal should consider progressively quadrupling the VDC grant to Rs. 2 million (US$25,000) per village or a total of Rs. 8 billion ($100 million) per year for the whole country, as a bold step towards accelerating poverty reduction, creation of employment and provision of basic social services. This would still amount to a modest 11 % of total national budget or 21 % of the development budget, leaving a substantial percentage of the budget for other development activities. A well designed, credible package of such reconstruction proposal could be funded through a mixture of national budget and increased international cooperation.

Even the whole package of $100 million a year for a country of 24 million people would be a proportionately small amount compared to what the international community is providing for many post-conflict reconstruction programmes, e.g. in Afghanistan, East Timor, Mozambique, etc. Even compared to current level of ODA for Nepal, this would only amount to about 25 percent of what it already receives every year. In proposing the quadrupling of such allocation, we would suggest some significant modification in the purposes and manner of utilising these funds, including the introduction of 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 measurable indicators such as the percentage of girls enrolled in primary school or female literacy, access to clean drinking water, contraceptive prevalence, infant mortality rate, etc. Some of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), duly adapted to Nepal’s realities, would be ideal candidates for village development indicators for such a programme. If properly designed and executed, such programme could attract considerable international support, as the donor community is fully supportive of the MDGs.

This programme could be developed in ways that would promote a healthy competition among neighbouring villages, ilakas and districts to upgrade themselves from one category to the next using the agreed indicators of MDGs. To ensure economies of scale, and encourage projects that reinforce broader area or regional development, part of the allocation could be set aside by mutual agreement among neighbouring VDCs for ilaka-wide projects.

A system of rewards and recognition could be built into the monitoring and evaluation scheme to encourage VDCs to accelerate their graduation from one level to the higher category. To facilitate good monitoring, the programme components and funding allocations under this scheme would be fairly standardised and comparable across all VDCs. However, additional programmes could be developed to give particular priority to those regions and communities that are disproportionately disadvantaged, such as the mid- and far western development regions which are characterised by high levels of poverty, low human development, and deep gender disparities.

Special incentives could be provided for civil society organisations and the private sector to participate in such schemes. New modes of social mobilisation could be introduced to make this programme more effective, drawing on best practices from different parts of Nepal and other countries. There are some good examples of such programmes in other countries, e.g. in Thailand and Indonesia that Nepal can learn from. In Nepal itself there are good examples of local community based activities worth replicating, such as the UN supported participatory district development programme and decentralised action for children and women.

To ensure that such a poverty reduction scheme operates smoothly and avoids some of the pitfalls of current development administration, one could institute a system of multi-party supervisory or evaluation committees at the district or regional level. Some of the Maoist leaders as well as respected non-partisan civil society activists might be given specific role and representation in such bodies. 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.

This programme is not a substitute for other on-going sectoral programmes, and major national or regional infrastructure development projects. Those too must be continued, strengthened and made more pro-poor and sustainable. Besides, Nepal must continue to create an investment climate that is conducive to greater private sector participation in development and to attract foreign direct investment. But this programme of poverty alleviation, reaching out directly to local communities and empowering them, can and must be made the cutting edge of a major post-conflict national reconstruction programme that becomes part of a new era of peace, reconciliation and dynamic development in the country. Promoting Good Governance:

Weak governance is, of course, part of underdevelopment and poor managerial capacity and inefficient administration are typical problems faced by least developed countries like Nepal. These are challenges to be tackled over time. What is urgent and unacceptable is the practice of using political power and position in government as a sinecure. Far too many political leaders of all political parties have been tainted with allegations of corruption. It has become accepted and expected norm to have to bribe officials even for processing routine, legitimate official transactions. The recent spate of investigation and actions against senior officials by the Commission for the Investigation and Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is believed to be the tip of the iceberg. Besides being unjust and burdensome, having to offer kickbacks turns citizens into accomplices in corruption. Pervasive corruption also tarnishes the image of honest politicians and civil servants with integrity – – and there are many of them — who suffer the indignity of being perceived as crooks. The cancer of corruption requires surgical removal from Nepal’s body politic.

This must be a point of common ground in the negotiations between the government and the Maoists. Incidentally, the Maoists must recognise that their practice of extorting money from civil servants, teachers, private schools, etc. is also a form of corruption. In fact, many businessmen, government officials and even politicians are known to offer “protection money” to the Maoists. The Maoists cannot claim a higher moral ground if their policy and practices too reinforce and perpetuate such culture of corruption. Some bold measures are needed to combat corruption as a national disease. Stricter enforcement of the provisions requiring senior government officials to periodically declare their property is one such measure.

Making such information available for public scrutiny might be another measure. There is a need to strengthen the CIAA by giving it more power and resources, and to implement its verdicts more scrupulously. Consideration should also be given to opening some regional branches of CIAA. Provision should be made to disqualify politicians convicted of corruption from running in elections for a certain period. Similarly, civil servants convicted of corruption should be dismissed.

Businessmen found to have given kickbacks should have their business licenses revoked for a certain period. There is a need for a national debate and dialogue on combating corruption involving civil society organisations, including the bar association, the chamber of commerce, etc. with a view to launching a campaign for transparency and accountability and against corruption. The Maoists have, on occasion, stood vigil against corrupt officials and emboldened poor people not to pay bribes when they go to government offices to seek services. Constructive way should be found to promote citizen participation in such vigilance against corruption. Another dimension of good governance that merits priority attention is the respect for human rights and humanitarian principles by all sides at all times.

As called for by the National Human Rights Commission, the Government as well as the Maoists should commit themselves to honour the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which reads: “In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: ” 1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed ‘hors de combat’ by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

a). violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

b). taking of hostages;

c). outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

d). the passing of sentences and carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognised as indispensable by civilised peoples.

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict. The parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention. The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.” There is a tendency by both the government and the Maoists to downplay their culpability in the violation of human rights by their cadres, and to exaggerate violations by the other side.

But there is credible evidence by independent organisations of massive violations of human rights by both sides. The impunity with which the government troops commit human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention, “disappearances”, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings, are particularly deplorable. Training courses should be organised for the police and military personnel on basic human rights and humanitarian principles. Training materials on these subjects should be made available to the Maoists as well.

Respect for recognised human rights, humanitarian principles and the provisions of the Geneva Conventions should be binding on all parties on a non-reciprocal basis. Parties should be asked to make unilateral as well as bilateral declaration denouncing violations of human rights and humanitarian principles. Even when peace comes to Nepal, it is likely that people who have lost their loved ones and who have suffered from violence will not be able to easily forgive and forget the pain, injustice and indignities they had to endure during the dark days of the insurgency.

The desire for revenge and to settle scores will be understandably very strong. Like in other war-torn countries Nepal too might need to set up mechanisms of “Truth and Reconciliation commissions” to help heal the wounds of the conflict. The support of the United Nations could be helpful in setting up such mechanisms as well as to help monitor and prevent further human rights violations, and to foster a climate of respect for human rights and humanitarian principles. Invoking International Support: Ultimately, the Nepali people must solve their political and ideological differences by discussion and negotiations among themselves.

However, if there is a deadlock in negotiations due to mistrust and animosity or for whatever reason, among the negotiating parties, some kind of impartial international mediation or facilitation might be helpful. In this context, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has offered that, if requested, he would positively consider the use of his good offices to help achieve a peaceful solution to the ongoing armed conflict in Nepal. Furthermore, he has agreed to deploy appropriate resources of the United Nations system to explore with the government as well as with other interested parties ways of delivering assistance to deal with the root causes of poverty and social inequities which are aggravating the difficult security situation of the country. Nepal should consider taking advantage of this offer of the United Nations, or of other friendly countries and/or other respected and neutral international bodies, institutions or individuals, who can help the Nepali parties to overcome any impasse in their negotiations.

As a least developed country coming out of a prolonged and destructive conflict, Nepal will need massive infusion of international support to rebuild its already fragile development infrastructure and provide basic services to its people. As Nepal’s record of utilisation of international support has been considerably blemished, and given continuing distrust among the Nepali parties, it might be useful to form a group of highly respected and highly placed international “Friends of Nepal” to guide the process of preparing and implementing a massive programme of post-conflict reconstruction and development of Nepal.

Working with a group of Nepali professionals, known for their integrity, competence and political neutrality, such a group could help put together a development package and help mobilise international support. It might also play a role in providing some empathetic international oversight in the initial period of programme implementation as new institutions and modalities are being developed to overcome the weaknesses of Nepal’s current development administration.

(Mr. Gautam is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author in his personal capacity, and not necessarily those of the United Nations or UNICEF. )