Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Our roles in crucial test

Yuba Nath Lamsal
It is almost certain that the Constituent Assembly will deliver a new constitution. Nepal will get the new constitution written by the elected representatives of the people within a few days. The Constituent Assembly has unanimously adopted a proposal expressing its commitment to promulgate the constitution on September 20. Although their past tract records gives us a little room to trust the political parties and their members in the Constituent Assembly that they would really live up to their promises. However, this time, they are serious and they appear more committed and serious to deliver what they have promised.
It is true that the remarks and commitments of the political parties and their leaders have least matched with reality in the past. Many of their commitments concerning the constitution making have been breached. Right from the beginning, the commitments of the political parties and their representatives in the Constituent Assembly have never been met. The first Constituent Assembly failed to deliver the constitution within the promised period of two years. Instead, the Constituent Assembly extended its tenure for another two years, which was against the initial promise made to the people that they would give the country a new constitution within two years after the election was held. But, even after the extension of the tenure of the CA for two additional years, the elected Constituent Assembly failed to live up to its promise instead it saw its demise at the last minute. The dissolution of the first CA necessitated another election for the second Constituent Assembly election. As a result the elections were held in November 2o13, which saw different equation in the CA.
In the first CA, the Maoists had been the single largest party with more seats than the combined strength of the second and third largest parties namely the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. However, the November 2013 election produced different kind of power equation with the Nepali Congress emerging the largest party, although it still was short of even simple majority let alone the two-thirds required for the passage of the constitution. The CPN-UML emerged as the second largest party only with a few seats less than the Nepali Congress. The Maoists fared poorly with third position in the CA but its strength and number of seats are far less than that of the second largest party. Despite the change of equation in the CA, the ruckus continued which prolonged and delayed the constitution writing process. During the election for the second constituent assembly held in November 2013, all political parties had promised to the people that they would give the country a new constitution within one year after the election. However, they failed to live up to their promises and could not deliver the constitution in one year. Now it has become almost two years since the elections were held. Coming to this time, the parties appear to be more serious in delivering the constitution. Although different parties had their different standing on some key issues, the devastating earthquake that caused untold miseries in Nepal brought the major parties closer and together to tackle the challenges facing the country including the political crisis as well as the one posed by the earthquake. This was reflected in the common and collective resolve to overcome the numerous challenges facing the country. The key parties signed a 16-point agreement which stated their common and compromised position on some key issues and accordingly deliver the new constitution.
As per the 16-point agreement, major political parties had promised to deliver the constitution by mid-August, but it got delayed due to some conspiracies hatched both at home and abroad. Despite plots to derail the constitution writing process and fail the ongoing political process of Nepal, the key parties appeared determined to give the country a new constitution under any circumstance institutionalizing most of the agendas and achievements of the Jana Andolan II and ensuring political stability in the country. As a result, we will be able to get the new constitution within a few days, possibly by September 20.
Despite their lackluster performance and power-centered and partisan attitude demonstrated by political parties in the past, which unnecessarily delayed the constitution-writing process for more than eight years, the key parties namely the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist have finally realized their responsibility and acted in a responsible manner taking the national necessity and interest at the top of their agenda. Even now some ethic groups and Madhes-centered parties are trying to obstruct this constitution making process, which some attribute to the instigation of some external forces and powers.  However, these sinister designs are not likely to succeed as key parties are committed to this process and overwhelming majority of the country has backed the process initiated by the major political parties. The country indeed is in need of a new constitution and the current political transition in the country must be put to an end by delivering a new constitution from the Constituent Assembly. This will not only settle the decades-long agenda and issue of the constituent assembly but will also give an amicable outlet to the political crises facing the country. As far as the genuine concerns and disgruntlements of some ethnic groups and people are concerned, they can still be addressed by effecting some amendments in the constitution. Heaven will not fall even if their concerns are not accommodated in the constitution at present because there will still be rooms for amendments in future to accommodate the genuine demands of the disgruntled groups and parties. Moreover, given the situation of the country and political equation in the Constituent Assembly, concerns of all groups and parties are not likely to be addressed and accommodated. Moreover, the present agitation in Terai is clearly seen as instigation by external forces and this should be immediately halted in order to safeguard out national unity, sovereignty and independence. It is the duty of every patriotic Nepali to foil such kinds of sinister designs and maintain our national unity at the time of this national crisis. Against this background the key political parties have demonstrated unity and firmly stood against external conspiracies, which is praiseworthy. Nepalese people are strongly behind them as the promulgation of the new constitution is the need of hour in Nepal, to which every responsible citizen and genuine friend of Nepal must extend constructive cooperation. This is the time the role and intention of all including political parties and every citizen are in serious scrutiny and crucial test. We need to contribute from our respective side to this process and help the country steer out of the political quagmire.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

What has gone wrong in Nepal?

Something must be wrong with Nepalese politics as this beautiful country is always mired in instability, uncertainty and chaos for more than a decade. It had been thought that the end of the Maoist insurgency would bring about lasting peace and stability in Nepal. But the situation after the Maoist insurgency was brought to an end has not significantly improved and the fluid situation and uncertainty continues to prevail even now when the Maoist insurgency has become history.
 Politics, of course, is always in the driving seat anywhere in the world. It is the politics that sets tone of every sectors and aspect. Thus, politics needs to be cleansed so that its fallout will be positive in all other sectors. The situation we are facing today is because politics has gone haywire and politics has slipped into the hands of criminals and goons. Our politics is no longer in the control of politicians and political parties. Politics has been criminalized and crimes becoming politicized. That is the reason why politicians lament over the death of goons and criminals.
Politics in Nepal is so dirty and rotten that it has spoiled all other sectors. Given the scale of corruption under political patronage and nexus between criminals and politicians, it requires huge commitment and courage from all sides and sectors to clean our politics. Political parties are the main actors in democracy. If the parties themselves are not in good position and order, politics always gets perverted.  Leaders are the ones who need to set example and show the best way to the people. When leaders themselves are corrupt and they always run after power, position and money, it is useless to expect good results from them and their parties. In such a scenario, democracy always comes under threat and people become apathetic to politics and political parties. Out of this situation, either ultra rightist nationalists or left extremist elements and military dictators take advantage and tend to seize power. This has happened in many of the developing and the least developed countries in different parts of the world including in our own neighborhood.
Nepal’s politics is in bad shape as political parties and their leaders get often preoccupied in their own personal and partisan interests rather than working for the broader national interest. It seems as though they have lost their decision-making power and are seeking advice and prescriptions from the external forces and powers. What can be worse than this? This is the making of their own as they never accorded priority more to their own interests rather than the country and the people.
Now the national politics has been polarized into two camps. One is trying to deliver a new constitution and end the present state of political instability and transition. In this front, there are four major parties including the two ruling parties—the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML and two opposition parties namely the UCPN-Maoist and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik). The other bloc is doing its best to fail the constitution-making process and push the country into another round of conflict. In this bloc are both rightist and ultra leftist parties. Some Madhesi parties and ethnic groups are spearheading the protests against the constitution-making process in the name of opposing the federal model proposed by the four major parties. In reality, this is not the protest against federal model but against the entire political process so that Nepal would continue to remain mired in instability and transition. It is their well-orchestrated design backed by some ill-intentioned external forces to not let Nepal come out of the transition. As our political forces are not united and are being guided by others, Nepal is slowly becoming a playground of external forces. The present protests being launched in the name of opposing the federal model, is not at the hands of our political forces but being pulled and pushed by forces from across our national border.
We have already wasted eight long years in the name of writing a new constitution from the elected Constituent Assembly. This is because political parties failed to rise above their partisan and personal interests. Parties and leaders accorded more priority to power rather than giving an amicable and suitable solution that would bring about peace, stability and co-existence in the country.  The parties tried to incite one group against the others, which created the present situation in Nepal. At this time, constitution is the number one priority of the country and all political parties must be united to give the country a constitution. But they are delaying and derailing this process despite the efforts being made by four major political parties to live up to their promises made to the people during the last election held in November 2013.  All political parties, big or small, had promised to give the constitution within one year. They had also promised that they would do it whether they win or lose the election. Given the present power equation in the Constituent Assembly, no single political party has the majority to deliver the constitution. Thus, they have to make compromises. Although late, the four major parties that command more than three-forth majority in the Constituent Assembly, have decided to deliver the constitution  based on the compromise. However, a small minority comprising some fringe Madhesi parties and ethnic groups backed by external forces as well as external powers and rightist reactionaries are trying to scuttle this process.  As their strength is insignificant they are not in the position of influencing the constitution-making process in the Constituent Assembly. Thus, they are trying to create trouble and disturbances in the streets. As a result, they have enforced general strikes in several Terai districts. In the name of peaceful protests, they have allowed people to carry fatal weapons and resort to violence and attack. The recent incident in Tikapur, in which eight security personnel on duty were brutally killed, is its example. Thus, this is the making of the people who do not want to see peace, stability and democracy in the country. But unfortunately, our own political parties and groups have become their stooges and are acting at their behest that has ruined the fate of our country and the people.  
Now we should not go back and further delay the constitution making process. The initiative taken by the four major parties is praiseworthy and it has to be given continuity. If there are genuine grievances, they can be addressed through mutual talks and negotiation. But deliberate efforts to scuttle the constitution-writing process should be countered and foiled. Constitution is the desire and demand of the people and no one has the right to block and delay this process. Moreover, the constitution can always be amended in future through due constitutional process and if there are any grievances and reservation, they can always be changed and improved in future through due constitutional processes. Thus, the constitution-making process should not be obstructed under any excuse.

Nepal expects to be AIIB’s first customer

Yuba Nath Lamsal
When Chinese President Xi Jinping mooted the idea of establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Indonesian capital Jakarta on October 3, 2013, it instantly sent ripples worldwide. The proposition was greeted with both enthusiasm and perplexity. While it was baffling for some Western powers particularly the United States, the developing countries took it as a new opportunity. Washington’s skepticism is natural as AIIB seems to be a rival multilateral financial institution, which is apparently a rival to the US-led World Bank.  However, Chinese authorities insist that AIIB does not seek to compete but complement with the World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions.
With the signing in the Articles of Agreement by 50 out of 57 founding member nations on June 29, 2015, the AIIB has formally come into being.  The Articles of Agreement state that the AIIB aims to invest in areas of infrastructure construction in the developing countries, which are desperately seeking foreign investment.  These resource-strapped countries are struggling to build large infrastructure projects leap forward in the development but lack resources and money to finance them.
Against the background of infrastructure gap and resource crunch in the developing countries, the AIIB will fill that gap and step in to help the brethren in the developing world in areas of infrastructure development.  Thus, the AIIB will be a clear and better alternative for financing in the developing countries. In other words, AIIB will be the first multilateral development bank of the developing countries, managed by the developing countries and for the infrastructure construction in the developing countries. By this it implies AIIB is the bank of developing countries, for developing countries and by developing countries.
In the beginning, it triggered curiosity in Asian countries as to what AIIB really meant in practical terms because not many details had been immediately available. Many of the Asian countries including Nepal were, therefore, in the ‘watch and see’ mood.  With more details slowly starting to trickle in, Nepal has been exceedingly enthusiastic to work with the AIIB and seek its meaningful support for the construction of some of Nepal’s mega projects.
 Construction of huge infrastructure projects in Nepal has remained a pipe dream over the years. One of the world’s least developed countries with poor resource base, Nepal has not been able to manage huge fund from its internal resources for mega projects like hydro power plants, highways, airports and railway networks that cost billions of dollars. There are already over a dozen big projects awaiting funds from outside investors including multilateral financing institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. However, not much progress has been achieved as most funds from these institutions come with strings attached, which often make the recipient country uncomfortable to accept.  Moreover, the assistance that has so far come from these institutions has either been limited to financial sector reforms or in areas other than big infrastructure construction projects. In certain circumstances, Nepal accepted funds from these institutions with harsher conditions as there was no better alternative. Against this background, Nepal has taken AIIB as a better alternative and expects its funding will be free from conditions and will give more leverage to the recipient country for the best utilization of the assistance based on the needs and local conditions.
Nepal is more enthusiastic, if not jubilant, not merely because the AIIB has come into being at the initiative of its next door neighbor but because the establishment of the AIIB has marked an evolution of a new alternative fiscal mechanism in the international arena. Nepal wholeheartedly accepted the request to become a founding member and signed its Articles of Agreement along with other 49 countries from across the five continents laying a formal and legal ground for the AIIB. Although meticulous details are yet to be devised, the new multilateral lending institution has been finally set up creating new options, new opportunities and more leverage for the developing countries in the international financial decision-making system. 
Nepal is desperately in need of investment from abroad including from private as well as public sectors, for which it has adopted investment friendly laws and policies. However, not much foreign direct investment has been forthcoming in Nepal to fund big infrastructure projects, which is mainly attributed to Nepal political instability as businesspeople and institutions from abroad do not normally risk investing in politically volatile country and zone.
Nepal is currently undergoing the process of writing a new constitution aiming to institutionalize peace--the process started way back in 2006 after the government and Maoist insurgents signed a peace deal. The Constituent Assembly, which was formed through an election held in November 2013, is in the final phase of delivering a republic constitution. The promulgation of the new constitution is expected to pave the way for more investment both from within and outside the country because the new constitution will ensure peace and stability in the Himalayan republic sandwiched between China and India
Already stung by resource crunch to finance its infrastructure projects, the April 25 massive earthquake of 8.1 magnitude on the Richter has posed even more challenges for a resource strapped Nepal. The government’s post-earthquake needs assessment report puts earthquake damages at US$ 6.69 billion and estimates to require about US$ 10 billion for the reconstruction of the damaged structures including public buildings, heritage sites, roads and bridges. In the international conference held in Kathmandu in June this year to raise fund for reconstruction, donors pledged US$ 4.4 billion leaving Nepal to manage the rest of the amount. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi  promised 3 billion RMB  grant to Nepal  for the period of two years between 2016 and 201, in addition to 1.7 billion RMB committed last year to be spent on ‘five major areas namely, infrastructure, livelihood for people living in mountains, cultural relic renovation, disaster preparedness, and health’. Besides Wang has hinted more may be forthcoming in the form of loan possibly through AIIB.
Encouraged by positive gesture from Chinese authorities, Nepalese officials and leaders are hopeful of getting fund from AIIB at the earliest to rebuild structures damaged by earthquake, perhaps becoming the first customer of the China-led new multilateral financial institution. According to Nepalese finance minister Dr Ram Sharan, ‘Nepal is eagerly waiting formal operation of the AIIB to approach for funding to rebuild infrastructures damaged by recent earthquake’. But it remains to be seen how soon the AIIB will come into operation to ensure the realization of Nepalese dream of getting fund for its reconstruction.