Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
"The people have been orphaned."

Excerpts from a radio talk program with Sanjay Adhikari of the UN's Participatory District Development Programme (PDDP), the newly-nominated DDC chairmen of Kathmandu and Humla, Bikram Thapa and Jeevan Shahi, and Kiran Bhandari of Kantipur newspaper.

Jeevan Shahi: Nothing is happening in the districts, the people have been orphaned. The government had to step in to provide relief to the people, it had to act. In the two years since the DDCs were dissolved I have been in my district trying to do my best to push projects we initiated, like the Hilsa-Simikot road, or our nutrition programs. The people's needs don't wait for the politicians to get their act together.

Of course, the best option would be for us to stand in local elections and obtain the peoples' mandate. But there is an extraordinary situation in the country, and we have to ask ourselves how we can provide basic services to the people. Are we going to wait for an ideal democratic process to be restored, while the people are facing an emergency because of the breakdown of services?

There has been a lot of donor pressure on the reinstatement of local elected bodies since the days of Sher Bahadur Deuba. Since bureaucrats could not run the local bodies properly, the donors' stand is that if elections are not possible, let's at least bring as many of the previously-elected officials back to run the VDCs and DDCs.
We all know things are bad, we can't go to the villages. I am from a district which is best known for food shortages. I believe that despite all obstacles, we can get small things done for the people. But despite the security situation, we can't give up, we have to try to do what little we can. We will start rebuilding, trying to work with whoever is there on the ground. We can never stop trying, we can't let our country self-destruct.

Bickram Thapa: I am accountable to both the people, and to the government. A representative once elected, if he isn't a convicted criminal, is still accountable to the people and it is petty to argue that we are not responsive to the peoples' needs just because we were not elected. Unless we get over the power struggles and look at how we can deliver development, nothing is going happen. The government is saying, ok it is impossible to hold elections now, let's at least get some development moving, why not help them? I agree, nominating representatives to local bodies is not the best solution, but under the circumstances it is the best the government can do. But if we are doing this only to show the donors that something is happening, then I'm not very happy with it.

Kiran Bhandari: The process is important. It is important whether a representative is elected or not. If you are not elected, there is no accountability towards the people, you are accountable to the person who nominated you. The situation on the ground is that outside the capital and some districts, development has ground to a halt. We all know this is because of the Maoist insurgency. But after 9/11 the world is moving towards US-led militarisation and Nepal is also affected by it. The government is trying to get the DDCs to work and automatically get the VDCs activated, but I don't think the VDC chairmen are in a position to go back to their villages.

Sanjay Adhikari: We have to look at what are the alternatives in the current political scenario. You have to see this as the best option, under the circumstances, to bring relief to the people through a participatory process. This is better than the vacuum that existed last year. Even if they are nominated, the representatives are local people who are still accountable to the citizens of the villages and districts from where they are. We are concerned about how support from the donor community can be most effectively used during this period of deficient political decision-making. The questions should not be about whether or not it is possible to get work done to reduce poverty, but about what we can do concretely to deliver development to the grassroots where it is needed most.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)