Nepali Times
"We salute the Nepali people..."

Posted on 21 May | 8.30AM NST

Nepali Times: What is your assessment of the recent political changes in Nepal?
Lucie Edwards: We thought Thursday was a very special day. In many ways the proclamation closed a very difficult chapter for the fight for democracy but also opened another chapter for a new Nepal that would be based on a new system of parliamentary government and the process for negotiation of peace. It was a very exciting historic moment for the country, but it will clearly be a challenge for Nepalis to take it forward. The Nepali people have shown incredible determination and will to govern themselves and that is something we salute. The new government has a lot in its plate. I was able to participate in the meeting the finance minister had with the foreign donors this week and there\'s a huge task getting the economy back on its feet with the agenda of support for the actual process of peace building and creating a new democratic constitution. There is a very long term social agenda in terms of women, dalits, poor people and so on. We believe we\'ve just begun a conversation with the donor group and the government of Nepal about their priorities and about what can done in all those areas. We are very pleased with the priority on inclusiveness, but we will wait to hear from the people and government of Nepal about what their priorities and the needs are in the weeks and months ahead.

What can we expect in terms of future Canadian aid?
We have always believed aid should be dictated by the people and government. In our case, because of the events of the last few years, aid has gone directly to community projects and not to the government. In the last couple of years another priority has been projects specifically for peace building in Nepal. For example we have provided funding for OHCHR and supported a number of grassroots efforts for community reconciliation. There will be a real need for community and social development in the next few years and we hope to be able to support that.

How come after 20 years of diplomatic relations you still don't have a resident embassy here?
The model that we\'ve used in much of the world has been to have a regional mission that support a number of smaller offices. We have offices specifically to do development and also to support other programs in Kathmandu. We can't have offices everywhere we would like to have but this seems to be an good compromise. The model has proved itself in Nepal.

More and more Nepalis are going to Canada for higher studies, how can you help streamline this process?
There\'s been a major effort put by the Canadian universities, which in Canada are heavily independent from the government, to encourage more international students from South Asia. It's now possible for students to work part time and during the summers and in most cities to continue after they graduate and to work for up to two years in Canada to pay up their debts and gather practical experience. So they are now pretty much on the same basis as Canadian students. Canadian universities are generally less costly than other international universities, it makes quite an attractive package. As the economy picks up here, you will find Canadian universities coming here to market education opportunities just as they are doing elsewhere. We\'re terribly worried about the proliferation of these organisations that call themselves agents. What the people of Nepal need to understand is that they do not need to apply through an agent to study in Canada or to apply for student visa once you have received approval from the university or college. Everything on Canada is very easily available on the internet. People can do their research and find out all the information necessary on the internet completely free of charge.

Is Canada looking at continuing its support for hydropower development in Nepal?
Canadian companies have been involved in Nepal for a long time in the construction of hydroelectric projects. I know there are many plans that have been in government filing cabinets about additional projects that can be built but the problem has been security. If people can work safely and effectively in those valleys, given the terrific interest at the moment for renewable safe energy, I think there will be terrific interest in hydropower. Canadian companies will certainly be interested in working in Nepal again. You\'ll have a very good market for your electricity and this is a tremendous opportunity for Nepal.

Your advice to the Maoists?
I pray that the Maoists see their future as a democratic activist political party that is working through democratic means to speak out for the poor and for the people who have found themselves voiceless in Nepal before. It would be good for Nepal if they become a strong leftist political party. We need that voice, we don\'t need an insurgency, we don\'t need violence.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)