Nepali Times
Guest Column
Hard work, hard choices



I had the privilege of visiting Nepal two weeks after Jana Andolan II and witnessing first-hand the excitement. Two months since the transition, however, I already see some old patterns setting back in.

In the absence of leadership, the people's energy is focused on gaining immediate benefits for themselves. Groups, from organised labour in private businesses and schools, to even the civil service are demanding more for themselves, expecting the New Nepal to bring payoffs to them.

Political leaders have been unable to counter such demands because they have not articulated the new vision and defined the new compact. The people's movement was able to bring down the old regime but without leadership of vision and action, it will not be able to construct a New Nepal.

If the leaders fail in this critical moment, the state is bound to fail under the weight of excessive expectations alone. Surely the people of Nepal deserve leadership from their politicians to ensure that Nepal embarks upon a path towards a new future. In this unique moment, even the age-old social barriers to inclusion seem surmountable. A new future is no longer a dream, it has become possible.

However if this chance is wasted, the mobilised energies of the people could not only dissipate but, worse still, feed into a vicious cycle of violence and destruction. Nepal would rapidly fall back into the old orbit defined by the old dynamics. Seizing a rare, historic moment and turning it into the beginning of a new future requires a clear vision and sustained action. A clear vision enables collective efforts by citizens and sustained action reinforces their belief in the attainability of the new future.

The political transition has naturally raised expectations. The people now believe durable peace is around the corner and a more democratic political system is in the making. They expect their daily lives to get better as well, and quickly. More jobs, access to better government services, improvements in roads and other infrastructure, and simply freedom from insecurity are their key demands.

What Nepal needs is a new compact between the state (and political leaders who run it) and the people. Such a compact must focus on moving the country toward a peaceful, inclusive and prosperous country, in short, a New Nepal. Equally important, the nature of the relationship must change. The old compact was an extension of the patronage relationship between the feudal lord and his subjects.

The new compact must become a true partnership between a democratic state and its citizens. Yet, no political leaders, or for that matter civil society leaders who were credited with mobilising the people in April, seem to be talking about the need for realism and the obligations-as well as the rights-of the people.

Who is going to pay for all the good things the state is now expected to deliver? A state that raises only 13 percent of GDP in revenues cannot be expected to deliver many things. The cuts in the palace budget and the security forces will not enhance the financial means of the state to deliver public services. Most countries that have succeeded in breaking out of the trap of low revenues and low services have achieved a national consensus to raise the state resources to 20 percent of GDP or more. This demands much greater willingness on the part of the people to contribute to the common cause.

The euphoria of April 2006 alone cannot attain a New Nepal. It requires hard work and hard choices. And it will not happen overnight. This is what the political leaders of Nepal should be talking about. If they are afraid to do so, they should step aside.

Common people, especially the poor, understand the budget constraint, for they face it every day. They often have to make harsh choices, such as between feeding a hungry child and sending another to school. If they are given a convincing vision with a clearly articulated implementation plan and shown determined actions by the state to achieve it, they will be willing to wait.

Dr Ashraf Ghani, currently Chancellor of Kabul University, was finance minister of Afghanistan during 2002-04. He visited Nepal for a rapid assessment of the country situation at the invitation of the World Bank.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)