Jorg Frieden, the Nepal representative of Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) spoke to Nepali Times about the difficulty in the delivery of donor-assisted projects post-February First and development priorities.
How does SDC perceive the attacks on aid workers by the Maoists?
Fortunately, across the country, physical attacks have remained an exception. Both parties to the conflict and especially the insurgents have, however, frequently threatened and put aid workers under pressure in order to obtain tactical or material advantage. These are against our Basic Operational Guidelines and they constitute a major challenge for the continuation of development work in rural Nepal as SDC and all other agencies give the highest priority to the security of their staffs, who are, in their vast majority, Nepali citizens. However, we have come to the conclusion that the best way to ensure the security of development work is to strictly respect the principle of impartiality, be ready to speak to all stakeholders, be accountable and transparent. The tentative enforcement of these principles has improved the quality of our development activities and their acceptance by the rural population.
How has the collaboration with government evolved since 1 February?
The direct collaboration, as well as the security situation, has not changed much. Strengths and weaknesses of the government have remained basically the same. Programs and projects have however been affected by the numerous changes of personnel that the new government has conducted over the last months. The major problems have arisen from the deterioration of the overall environment: censorship and restriction of media freedom have made more difficult a serious assessment of risks and opportunities. The pressure exerted on human rights activists and democratic parties in the districts has made more difficult the communication with all stakeholders and the search for practical solution to projects' implementation problems. The appointment of the monitoring commissions has weakened the local authorities further and has started rolling back the decentralisation of state responsibilities crucial for peace and development in this country. We feel very sorry to see that (February First) has divided the country drastically and the government is trying to sort out the problem with military solutions, which is definitely not a good sign.
The Swiss government sponsored the human rights resolution in Geneva in May, are you satisfied with the outcome?
We are pleased that the government renewed its commitment to fully respect its international obligations and accepted, in a comprehensive memorandum of understanding, the presence of the international monitors reporting to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We are satisfied by the positive reception given by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to this mandate. The work of the international observers-if really accepted by both parties to the conflict and effectively implemented- will mean the end of impunity for the perpetrators of abuses as well as for their commanders and political masters. We believe that accountability to the international law will progressively improve a situation on the ground that has remained appalling.
The Lamosangu-Jiri road built with Swiss assistance is seen as an example of well thought-out development aid. Twenty years later, what are the lessons?
The road served as an example of how mountains roads should be built. It was a model and the road helped improve the economic condition of the local population to some extent. The Khimti hydropower project and now, maybe Upper Tamakosi are possible because the road already exists. There may have been some negative impact but to mitigate the problems, the Integrated Hill Development Project (IHDP) was implemented to harmonise people for the road so that they could take advantage of the new possibilities arising from it. Since the road was built we have been involved mainly in community forestry, soil management, trail bridge building, district roads, rural health and so on. And the road has played a major role in accessing and developing the entire area.
How do you see a future commitment in road sector from SDC?
We have shifted our concerns from the expansion of the strategic network to the construction and maintenance of rural roads. Through the District Road Support Program (DRSP) and with SDC's know-how and budget, the construction of green roads in six districts east of Kathmandu has been sustained for five years. DRSP, with its know-how will now expand to 18 additional districts and support the implementation of a large ADB financed rural infrastructure project.