By Kul Chandra Gautam
In the focus on constitution-writing, let’s not forget about the economy, including reconstruction and development.
The people of Nepal have voted for radical change by sidelining old, established parties, and opting for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The party has now a historic opportunity to deliver better governance, infrastructure and basic services, as well as greater social justice, than either the other political parties or the previous royal regimes, which squandered their chances to do so. To achieve that they may adapt an ambitious long-term reconstruction and development plan that includes all key stakeholders. Focusing on an sensible economic agenda would help to establish the Maoists as a progressive force for change and would help all Nepalis in the long term.
The people of Nepal have voted for radical change. By sidelining old, established parties, and opting for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the people have given the Maoists the benefit of the doubt. The party now has a historic opportunity to show that it can effectively deliver better governance, infrastructure and basic services, as well as greater social justice, than either the other political parties or the previous royal regimes, which squandered their chances to do so.
Like the people of Nepal, the international community is also giving the Maoists the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, respecting the verdict of the Nepali people, the international community has pledged to work constructively with the Maoists both in formulating a new constitution, and in supporting reconstruction and development efforts.
In their election manifesto and post-election statements, the Maoists have pledged to prioritise the bringing-about of an “economic revolution”. For most Nepalis, the Maoist promise to usher in an economic revolution probably had greater appeal than did their political and ideological offerings. The worldwide experience of countries in post-conflict transition suggests that, for peace and democracy to be sustainable, ambitious and visible reconstruction and development activities need to be planned and implemented in order to create jobs and give hope to the country’s restless unemployed youth.
In Nepal, too, as the newly elected Constituent Assembly begins to draft a progressive new constitution, it would be wise for the Maoist-led government to begin to draft an equally ambitious and progressive National Reconstruction and Development Plan (NRDP). As with the constitution, it would be best if the drafting of the NRDP followed a collective, consultative, multi-party approach. This would inevitably be under the leadership of the largest political party, the Maoists, but also drawing on the ideas contained in the manifestos of other key political parties. Also like the new constitution, Nepal should aim to have an NRDP that enjoys broad-based national support, no matter which party comes to power in periodic elections.
Ordinary people of Nepal would be significantly reassured if they see that the newly elected politicians care as much about helping to meet their basic needs as they do about who gains political power and how they run the government. Indeed, it would send a powerful message if the new government of Nepal embarked on a serious parallel exercise of drafting an economic master plan that would be ready at the same time as the new constitution.
What might be the key elements of an ambitious new NRDP? The CPN (Maoist) election manifesto already contains some specific ideas over the short, medium and long terms. The CPN (Untied Marxist-Leninist) has likewise developed a very detailed 20-year ‘Vision Nepal’ plan. The Nepali Congress and other parties have also offered some strong ideas. The NRDP should draw on the best of all of these ideas, as well as on the experiences of other post-conflict countries that have been able to mobilise massive amounts of international support – and produce good results.
Drawing on these, there are 10 key elements at the core of an ambitious long-term reconstruction and development plan for Nepal:
- Relief and rehabilitation of internally displaced people and victims of conflict, as an immediate ‘peace dividend’.
- Rebuilding and upgrading of the infrastructure destroyed during the conflict.
- Massive expansion of basic social services, with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as key parameters of success.
- Targeted interventions to ensure more-balanced regional development, and to reduce disparities and exclusion.
- Some major flagship projects of infrastructure development in transport, communication, hydropower and tourism.
- Strategies to engage young people in nation building, and to provide them with forums, not necessarily linked with political parties, for their views and voices to be heard. Massive expansion of sports for development, for example, would be a fun way of engaging the young and the restless.
- Security-sector reform, eventually leading to the downsizing of the Nepal Army, reallocation of the military budget in favour of development, and deployment of the Nepal Army and Maoist combatants for development, disaster relief and peace-keeping purposes.
- Land reform aimed at making the agriculture sector more productive and efficient.
- Special efforts to protect Nepal’s fragile environment, including from the impact of climate change, and to preserve the country’s natural resources and cultural heritage.
- Creating a conducive environment for public-private partnership and the encouragement of private-sector development and foreign investment.
To enjoy broad-based support nationally, the planning process for such a programme needs to be steered by a high-level multi-party National Reconstruction and Development Council (NRDC), preferably headed by the prime minister or a senior leader. It would be also desirable to have two reference groups, to advise the National Reconstruction and Development Council. First, a national stakeholders’ committee, comprising representatives of the private sector, civil society, academics/scholars, as well as representatives of key marginalised groups, some of them drawn from among members of the Constituent Assembly. The second group would be made up of representatives of the donor community – UN agencies, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, bilateral organisations and international non-government organisations – which would serve as a sounding board.
While the ownership and leadership of the development of the NRDP must be firmly in the hands of Nepalis, it would be important to ensure that international associates feel a sense of partnership in its development. And, since Nepal is likely to require significant international support for its economic transformation, it would be wise to find ways to consult with donors and development partners in this process.
To enjoy international support and solidarity, Nepal’s reconstruction and development plan must conform to internationally agreed-upon norms of human rights and humanitarian principles, and must be synergistic with the ongoing process of peace-building. Such a reconstruction and development plan must also stand on the solid platform of the Millennium Development Goals, and must embrace gender equality, disparity reduction and good governance as crosscutting themes. It should try to match the people’s aspirations, with sensible economic policies that are both affordable and sustainable over the long haul.
In the true spirit of Nepal’s new democracy, in preparing such a plan the people’s participation should be ensured through a variety of consultative mechanisms. Public hearings should be organised with different constituencies, particularly in areas outside Kathmandu.
In Nepal’s current hyper-politicised atmosphere, it will be important to guard against development policies being formulated merely on the basis of populist slogans. The Maoists will need to ensure that their radicalised trade unions, student unions, the Young Communist League, etc, do not put undue pressure on the government, industries or employers to take decisions that are economically unsustainable and inefficient. On the other hand, other political parties too will need to restrain their supporters from undermining sensible policies adopted by the Maoists.
While the international community is likely to show much goodwill and solidarity for Nepal’s development, the new government certainly cannot expect a blank cheque from the international donors. The Maoists will need to be especially mindful that what sells well with their cadre may not necessarily sell well with either the Nepali people or the international community. A litmus test will be the degree to which rule of law is followed, checks and balances are honoured, and politics are not allowed to unduly influence administrative and economic decisions.
In the current euphoria of their election victory, the Maoists must correctly understand the nature of the people’s verdict. It is not, by any means, a popular endorsement of their ideology. Nor is it an expression of people’s acceptance of the use of violence, intimidation and extortion as justifiable political tactics. On the contrary, the people have voted for the Maoists with the hope that putting them in power will make them forsake such tactics, and allow the people to breathe in peace.
Focusing on an ambitious and sensible economic agenda would actually help to redeem the Maoists from their controversial past, and to establish them as a truly progressive force for change. That would be good for the Maoists, as well as for all Nepalis in the long term.
Source: Himal Magazine, May 5, 2008