Youths in Politics

Ujwal Thapa likes to call himself a Nepali farmer, political activist and an entrepreneur. He is the chairperson of Nepal’s youth-led political party Bibeeksheel Nepali, which he led in the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections from Kathmandu-5 representing the Bibeksheel Nepali Party and its election symbol dog. He finished 5th out of 28 candidates. Thapa has successfully initiated several start-ups and is among the co-founders of Entrepreneurs for Nepal, a platform that inspires Nepali entrepreneurs to network and coordinate; and Nepal Unites campaign, an active citizenship campaign among many other involvements.

As political situations in the country is going astray, we tried to get views from the young politician regarding the current situation of dishevel. Here is an interview of UjwalThapa with Nasib Malakar:

Political parties are trying to make an impression on the future voters. We have an incompetent administration and political class, obsessed with the control of resources, but helpless in its lack of urgency in providing for needy rural people during the recent earthquake. Many genuine victims received nothing, while district-level politicians and administrators gave the money to local supporters. How do you think control regarding the distribution of RAHAT can be governed among the parties?

First of all, every single political party of Nepal needs to understand this: they are in the sole business of “saving Nepali lives”.  So all political parties should have a clear protocol that when disaster of this magnitude happens, they are to go to the nearest hospital or disaster area, build a help desk and start helping! Second, they should utilize their network to become a bridge between those willing to help and those who need help. Finally they should organize themselves to protect those who are helping and reassure citizens and inspire positivity in them. Political parties have to rise beyond haamromaanche or find themselves completely irrelevant in the 21st century world and Nepal.

How are you conducting relief programs at your level?

By partnering with ordinary people inside and outside Nepal, Bibeksheel Nepali party reached over 300 areas in 17 districts already. We mobilized 200+ medical, psychological and public health teams and 1500+ volunteers to protect Nepali lives. We have been helping citizen volunteers, different organizations, group and the government so that the aid reaches where it is needed. Our earthquake relief taskforce is currently connecting hundreds of organizations and citizen groups to work hand in hand so that we can fill the gaps where the government has not been able to reach.

An investigation by members of parliament found that 70 Village Development Committees (VDCs) have received no relief, although most or all houses there were destroyed. These VDCs are administrative units, each covering several square kilometers and including around 1,000 households, and many thousands of people. Can you explain the failing of the government in equality of the distribution of the goods?

Governance in the 21st century is all about ‘local’. This glaringly missing local Governance (last local elections was held 17 years ago) has brought more misery to Nepali than the earthquake itself. Unless we have accountable (elected) local government, these and more villages will suffer the brunt of it, not just now but in the continuing future.

Dalits and other minorities have been neglected in relief support. Monitoring reports indicate that some supplies are being distributed according to recipients’ social status rather than their needs. All in all people feel injustice in distribution of relief, isn’t this going to lead to protest and political instability in the country?

We have always made a clear policy to start distributing relief to the needy. That is why we focused on old people, women and children as they are the most vulnerable. Playing with caste and favoritism while saving lives is evil. If this persists in Nepal, we may have more deaths from Nepalis fighting with each other than the earthquake disaster itself. It is up to the leaders for Nepal to ensure that we uproot this evil with the positive efforts of the positive network of youths of this country.

What possible plans do you suggest the government can make in terms of compensation and relocation of people who are migrating to Kathmandu, from Sindhupalchowk and creating  slum areas as well people who were rescued from Langtang and can’t return  back due to danger of landslides?

On this issue, our government should have a clear policy/plan/directive, “ We won’t give you fish but we will teach you how to fish!” Hence compensation and relocation has to be tied to dignity of the person and their dignity can only be retained if the family is allowed to find a way to sustain themselves independently in the near future. Lets not turn Nepalis into beggars but rather into opportunity creators.

How transparent is the regulation of money spent in relief work that is being conducted by the government? How are you pressurizing the government towards the proper use of funds?

Government’s transparency has not been acceptable because government is the guardian of citizens. Hence, it has to show by its example!  Organizations and citizens themselves are straying because of the government example. To make sure this gets rectified, Bibeksheel Nepali party and its network has started an accountability taskforce to monitor and become a watchdog to ensure proper relief effort. We hope to become an example ourselves and by doing so inspire others to be more transparent.

Can you say something about  government regulation of safe construction of buildings and its violation?

Our Government has failed in ensuring safe construction and retrofitting of buildings across Nepal. Every single adult in Nepal knew a big earthquake was coming soon. Nepal Government is the default guardian of Nepali people. Hence it holds responsibility to remind and engage people to build and retrofit safe homes in cities and villages all over Nepal. That is why going forward, we need an independent “Nepal Reconstruction (Resurgence) board” that can facilitate reconstruction and build and implement policies that not only focus on safety but also look at the geology and other factors including proper urban/rural planning and proper access to those areas.

Can you explain the failing of the government in managing international rescue operations? There was not enough transport capability, especially helicopters which even though offered by different nations were rejected by the government. Was this act justifiable?

A leadership that doesn’t prepare is not a leadership. A leadership that only doubts the intention of people who try to help cannot govern effectively. A leadership that sends conflicting messages to the world sends the signal that Nepal is weak. Leaders manage and delegate, not dictate. That involves some things such as  simply storing 1 million paals (tarpulin) in some government institution. The fact that these tiny preparations didn’t happen is unacceptable for Nepal and its democracy. Hence the need for 21st century relevant leadership in Nepal.

The donors were providing over $1 million a year to Nepal before  the  disaster, around 70 % of it was channeled through the government system. This may change because of the lack of transparency. Can you say something about this?

Friends of Nepal (donors) have to realize they should work with the Government of Nepal who is the guardian of Nepal. They should also put strict accountability measures and track the progress and link aid to concrete results. They should make accountability and transparency the top priorities of them giving aid. They should empower Nepali citizens to hold their leaders accountable. They should ask that their aid be tied to accountable leadership at local level because the government of today is non-existent in local level where it matters most. Democracy is local.

Foreigners and NGOs are not working through the government. When it comes to children’s issues or rebuilding in the long term, how do you think these kind of private initiatives should be monitored?

Foreigners and NGOs should work in partnership with the government under the leadership of government agencies . Leadership doesn’t mean acting autocratic. It is about facilitating change by using the strengths of NGOs and particular foreign expertise efficiently and effectively. NGOs and foreigners should be held equally accountable by the laws of the land while have the freedom to use their strengths without hassles.

How differently would your party have addressed to the problems post earthquake if in the government?

First thing we need to understand is earthquakes doesn’t kill people. Our lack of preparation kills people. Hence, we would implement our earthquake disaster tackling Bibeksheel 5R strategy which involves, 1) Rescue 2) Relief 3) Rehabilitation 4) Reconstruction 5) Resurgence. More on it at www.leadnepal.com/earthquake.

This  strategy’s aim is to build engaged and locally empowered citizenry, accountable institutions, strengthened institutions and transparency into every fabric of Nepali society. Our government would function under a ‘servant government’ model that acts humbly  and uses the iteration process (improve as you go) during crunch times to manage all who want to help at once. We would welcome the help of the world and act as the connector - facilitator between all those who want to help. We would open our government machinery and push much needed reform to improve its service delivery. Side by side, we would activate our accountability mechanism so all help are easily and readily accounted for. “We are here to solve your problems not create one for you” would be our moto to all those who help Nepal (i.e. manage the process with tact and diplomacy).

We would immediately enact and empower a Nepal Reconstruction (Resurgence) board whose specific aim is to reconstruct a self reliant Nepali family, village, city and the country. We would immediately hold local elections to install a legitimate local government so that its the villagers, city and ward /toles and their local representatives who decide how their neighborhood and livelihood are going to be made. Every aid that comes in, we would separate a portion to specifically support building entrepreneurship (small business) in Nepal so that more jobs are created for the affected and by the affected.

In the end, our government would ensure that it’s Nepalis who shall rebuild Nepal (with the help of friends of Nepal) and make it a shining role-model of how a calamity was transformed into an engine for prosperity!

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