Nepali Times
Guest Column
Why, when and how?


Nepal's resurrected parliament must complement its stipulated objectives with milestones, targets, timelines and comprehensive roadmaps that outline both costs and benefits.

The overarching goal should be heightened public awareness that sets a precedent of informed decision-making through accurate and timely information.

Balancing the alleviation of street anger with discrete, achievable objectives is not an easy task. The recently initiated peace talks bring another dimension of complexity. With an indeterminate time-frame and a mandate partially derived from a constitution that is practically nullified, the current government is challenged with placating the general public, an irate civil society, an armed insurgent group and its own constituent parties. In the meantime, the government must also continue to deliver on a full range of governance functions that includes the maintenance of law and order.

Much like a private enterprise undergoing an organisational overhaul, the measure of success for this government will be the rate at which it meets the expectations to which its mandate is inextricably tied. This is all the more reason for the seven party alliance and the house to move beyond 'quick wins' and serve up a strategic platform that addresses the state's underlying deficiencies in a structured, visible and measurable capacity.

For example, the declaration of a secular state could hav fared better with full disclosure in terms, acceptable to both the Hindu majority as well the multitude of religious ethnicities. For what reason was the secularisation of Nepal a priority?Was the move designed to demonstrate that armed insurrection need not be a requisite to progressive change? Was it enacted to emancipate downtrodden constituencies and enhance social equality? Was it a symbolic extension of the roadmap to permanently disempower the status of the royal institution? Was it all of the above?

Having declared Nepal a secular state, what are the practical implications of this change? Is the list of public holidays to be expanded to include Ramadan and Christmas? Will Hindu holidays be limited to Dasain and Tihar? Will law dictate a holiday scheme that permits a fixed number of days off, irrespective of religions affiliation? What is the timeline for such changes to go into effect?

Is the deletion of 'royal' from the army where the intended reform ends or will it be supplemented by a systematic revitalisation of the military? If the latter, what are the concrete steps, and how and when will they be implemented? What measures are the political elite taking to accommodate and wield the military as a legally sanctioned instrument of state power?

On the topic of setting expectations, now is as good a time as any, to pre-emptively address the inevitable increase in fuel prices. The past witnessed attempts at winning political favour by artificially deflating the price of fuel. Funds to be spent on repairing vandalised infrastructure could be saved by outlining the rationale behind why national fuel prices must mirror world prices. A simple yet apt explanation of the magnitude and timing of what is sure to come, could alleviate politically motivated civil unrest.

This rationale applies equally to the on-going negotiations with the Maoists, elections to a constituent assembly, Bhutani refugees and ethnic discrimination. Surely, this government knows the varied social and political agenda from which it derives its legitimacy?

Empowering people through accurate and timely information is crucial to democratic governance and to the perceived success of this resurrected parliament. The more information that is shared with the public on what is realistically possible (versus ideally attainable), in what time-frame and through what mode of operation, the more measured public frustration is likely to be.
Given the context of recent political transformations, the sympathy of the population-at-large will likely remain with this government for some time, but not indefinitely. The unique circumstances under which it is operating provides both extraordinary challenges and opportunities.

Success in managing risks against rewards requires visionary planning, timely execution and above all, a consistent public message that unambiguously depicts the possible, the probable, the 'why' the 'how' and the 'when'.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)