John Narayan Parajuli

Dahal’s redemption

In Analysis, Maoists, Nepal, Prime Minister, Uncategorized on August 4, 2016 at 7:09 pm

Here’s a five-point roadmap for Prachanda to redeem his legacy
By John Narayan Parajuli

Aug 3, 2016- If all goes well, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prachanda, the Chairman of CPN (Maoist Centre), is set to become Nepal’s 39th Prime Minister on Wednesday, his second time in eight years. His first inning as prime minister in 2008, after leading his party into an unprecedented victory in the first Constituent Assembly elections, failed to live up to public aspirations. Hubris, lack of administrative experience, and politics bogged him down heavily, giving him little room for manoeuvrings. But he did gracefully resign when he lost majority status. Since he came above ground in 2006, Dahal, whose nom de guerre means awesome, has gone from being described as awe-inspiring to awful in 10 short years.


As Prachanda prepares for his second inning, he is said to be mindful about not repeating his previous mistakes that gave him a bad reputation. His priority this time, he says, will be delivery and that he would put together a small and efficient Cabinet to achieve that. This is a fine aspiration, but given that he will be presiding over a coalition government, he will not have much leeway in deciding the size and composition of his Cabinet. Therefore, Prachanda will need to have clarity of thought about what is realistic and achievable.
The challenges

Thematically, there are five key points that Prachanda will have to push in the next nine months: 1) expanding the acceptability of the constitution by reaching an accommodation with the Madhesi parties and thereby driving the constitution’s implementation forward; 2) concluding the peace process, particularly by making the transitional justice process credible so that Nepal is not seen unwilling or unable to deal with atrocities of the past–and avoiding more colonel Lamas in the dock in foreign courts; 3) addressing head-on the issue of lack of proper governance, including the delay in reconstruction, by instituting an accountability mechanism at all levels of the administration; 4) giving infrastructural development push some traction; and 5) continuing the recalibration in Nepal’s foreign policy while remaining sensitive to the genuine concerns of both India and China.

Each of these five key areas would demand that Prachanda put together a competent team of advisors, not just partisan hacks, to help him rapidly adopt policy options that can be implemented within his first 100 days. On the acceptability of the constitution, a trilateral task force is already fleshing out a plan of action. This task force should be given continuity until all issues related to restructuring of local bodies, demarcation of provincial boundaries and electoral constituencies are addressed.

Time for an overhaul

In credibly dealing with the transitional justice issue, Prachanda will have to put together another task force of experts, victims’ representative and the outgoing attorney general Hari Phuyal, who has already done substantive work behind the scene. On this issue, however, Prachanda risks being influenced too much by his own fear psychosis and that of his party members. As a result, the bills related to transitional justice may get watered down, leaving both the victims and the international community deeply unhappy. Prachanda should be able to say that if doing the right thing means going to jail, he is personally prepared for it. That kind of statesmanship can bring even the most reluctant party officials in line.

The third issue of governance is linked to the failure of all prime ministers. Prachanda will have to adopt a two-pronged strategy: empowering the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) while pursuing legislative reforms to institute an accountability mechanism that rewards and promotes civil servants based on performance. He would require a much more active PMO with the right combination of civil servants and political appointees with expertise. Most prime ministers are fond of hoarding powers and rarely delegate authority. If Prachanda is smart, he should appoint someone like Gagan Thapa as minister in-charge of the PMO to get the whole machinery rolling on a day-to-day basis to deliver on government priorities. He should also appoint as his chief advisor someone like Barshaman Pun, who is pragmatic and thinks outside the box. At some point, the public will expect the next prime minister to speak and act on protests surrounding the issue of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority’s overreach that has paralysed the administration and cowed politicians and lawmakers into silence.

Regaining reputation

The fourth issue of infrastructural push would also require another set of management experts, who would be given the authority to become the prime minister’s eyes, ears and hands to ensure that gaps in policy and implementation are addressed. Big projects often fail because the project managers come from civil service with no prior experience of handling such projects and no sense of accountability. Someone of Radesh Pant’s calibre, who has already proven his mettle at the Investment Board, can be the prime minister’s infrastructural czar–chief advisor and enforcer on infrastructure development.

On the fifth priority of foreign policy, depending on how active the in-coming foreign minister will be, Prachanda should consider appointing a special envoy who would assist both the prime minister and foreign minister and continually engage the two neighbours as Nepal’s ties with India and China enter a new chapter in the aftermath of the blockade. In India, under the Modi model, the current foreign secretary S Jaishankar doubles as foreign secretary and special envoy to the prime minister.

Prachanda certainly has his task cut out on multiple fronts. His success will depend on his choice of his staff and advisors early on to handle day-to-day affairs. He will have to appreciate the value of teamwork and understand that a prime minister by himself can get very little done. He will have to learn to take a leap of faith, delegating authority to his staffers and ministers. He is often said to take his family’s advice on matters where clearly they have no expertise. Whether or not Prachanda regains some of his lost reputation will depend on his decisions and actions in next few days and weeks. Unlike the cliché, it is highly unlikely that he will be third time lucky.




Reconstruction and its elusive grand narrative

In Analysis, Development, Nepal Earthquake, Reconstruction on July 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

By John Narayan Parajuli

If you are wondering why Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction is slow to start, here is a list of reasons.19032016111758reconstruction-1000x0

Mar 19, 2016- When the earthquake rattled Nepal April last year, there was a body of readily available information on how to conduct post-disaster reconstruction. The vast body of literature derived from similar tragedies in Haiti, Pakistan, India, Philipines, among others, was supposed to make the post-earthquake recovery relatively straightforward. Yet, it hasn’t. ‘Nepal shouldn’t become another Haiti, and we should build back better’ had become a leitmotif among humanitarian and development actors. In fact ‘Lessons for Nepal’ became clichéd headlines inthe many articles that appeared in various platforms and blogs. These were well-intentioned messages that had to be reinforced, yet almost a year down the road, very little of it seems to have actually been practiced, even by organisations that were preaching it in the first place. Here is why:


  1.  Preaching is easy: Most organisations who preached lessons bring in very little technical expertise of their own to actually operantionalise it on the ground. Most likely they are making a business case to pitch their tent in the crowded market of humanitarian assistance.


  1.  Only picking the low hanging fruits: Everyone wants to do the soft part, very few are willing to do the heavy lifting on the ground. If you were to look at brochures and flyers of aid agencies, you can see guidelines, framework and strategy mentioned umpteenth times as achievements. There are very few hard numbers that show the magnitude of assistance benefitting communities on the ground.


  1.  Very little critical thinking on best practices from other countries: Best practices are overrated. They don’t necessarily factor into the local context and rather bring in templates that don’t work in the geographical terrain or cultural setting of another country. Once a template doesn’t work, agencies go about a frantic improvisation spree. And this doesn’t always bode well.


  1.  Honesty isn’t the best policy: No one wants to admit to their mistakes. Instead attempts are made to cover up mistakes with more mistakes.


  1.  Checklist approach: Activities are so routinised that work becomes a checklist. Often in the echo chambers of planning and strategy meetings, officials forget that their work is supposed to benefit the public and merely a tick-box exercise does not necessarily guarantee that the victims are getting help.


  1.  Compulsion to be seen as doing, not actually doing: There is an unhealthy competition among agencies to be seen as doing something. There is constant peer pressure to churn out stories of assistance and in turn remain visible. Asa result, often they get sidetracked from the real reason they are doing what they are doing.


Going back to the leitmotif, it seems the government has internalised one lesson from Haiti well: Don’t let international agencies bypass the government. Consequently in its zeal to not become another Haiti, or so it says, the government of Nepal has boxed itself into an impossible situation of trying to control every dollar and every process—something it doesn’t have human resources or the capability to do. So here we are almost a year later, still confused about the basics while the experts and the agencies continue to preach over airwaves and through print to communities for whom the earthquake wasn’t the only disaster they have had to endure. Of course, not everything has been a failure.


The government decision to distribute monetary aid during the initial response did help injecting much-needed cash to get families going. The Rs 15,000 cash given directly to affected families for temporary shelter and intial expenses, and the Rs 900,000 and Rs 450,000 to worst affected and affected Village Development ommittees respectively for food, shelter and transportation did make a lot of difference. It is clear that cash handouts work; it also allows communities to take their own initiative to pick up the pieces. The only missing part of the puzzle here is the government’s ability to provide assistance in helping community gain access to the technical know-how on safe reconstruction. Instead of playing a role where needed the most, the current approach is patronising andamounts to the government trying to spoon-feed communities on reconstruction, except that it doesn’t have the ability to do so. Building back better is ideal if it isn’t limited to just rhetoric, but it is villainous to force affected communities to suffer in the hope for an elusive grand narrative.
First published in The Kathmandu


Nepal enters crisis mode as constitution talks fail

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm


The failure of politicians in Nepal to agree a constitution prompting the prime minister to call fresh elections is the biggest setback for the country’s fledgling peace process since the decade-old Maoist insurgency ended in 2006.

The two developments on Sunday have dashed the hopes of millions of Nepalis who elected the assembly in 2008 to write Nepal’s first democratic and inclusive constitution.

While the prospects of Maoist-led conflict returning to Nepal is slim – given that many former rebels have either been discharged or integrated with the army – it is not impossible that the country could slide into communal violence.

Fears of such a development are increasing because of the growing mistrust between different groups as to whether states in a new federal system should be formed along ethnic lines.

This is the key reason why parties failed deliver a constitution on Sunday and allowed yet another deadline to finalise a deal to lapse.

‘Legal nightmare’

Matters are likely to be made more complicated because the announcement by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to hold elections on 22 November also seem to have further polarised Nepal’s various political parties.

The interim constitution has no provision for fresh elections. In such a situation, political consensus among all parties would be crucial. With no elected body, it will be a legal nightmare to draft laws necessary for holding elections.

Opposition parties have accused the prime minister of ignoring their advice to extend the life of the constituent assembly as an interim parliament.

They argue that this could have been done through a constitutional amendment rather than rushing to announce polls without ascertaining any legal and constitutional basis for doing so.

Five parties, including the second and third largest party Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, have already petitioned Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav to challenge the prime minister’s decision.

With the dissolution of the constituent assembly, the opposition parties are insisting that the prime minister has automatically lost his job. They are calling for a new political arrangement based on consensus among political parties.

It is not immediately clear if the opposition parties would boycott the polls if they are held.