Interview with David M Malone, Canadian Ambassador to Nepal

Interview with David M Malone, Canadian Ambassador to Nepal


David M Malone, is Canadian Ambassador to Nepal and Bhutan, and Canadian High Commissioner to India. Prior to this, he was Assistant Deputy Minister in Canada's department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. A PhD from Oxford University with a thesis on decision-making in the UN Security Council, he also served as an Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN, where he chaired the negotiations of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.


David, who is here for a few days in Kathmandu on his regular visit, spent a few minutes with Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post talking over issues relating to Canada's concerns over Nepal's peace process and his individual observations.




Q: How do you assess Nepal-Canada relations?


David: We have different ties with every country in Asia. With Nepal it's based on a couple of factors. First, many Canadians have visited Nepal as tourists and virtually all of them take back to Canada very positive memories of Nepal. So, this creates knowledge of Nepal and Canada which is very positive one. Second, our aid program has been active in Nepal for the last 35 years. It is the most important element of the relationship. There are other areas as well. The Canadian business people have done business in this country. Once there is political stability in Nepal I am quite certain that there will be more Canadian investors.


One very serious problem for Nepal at the moment is, in a region where all the countries -- Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, India — though all with many problems, are growing quite fast, Nepal is not growing at all. In fact it may be shrinking. When you have growing population and the economy is not growing, this is something that should worry every Nepali and every Nepali politician deeply.


Q: Do you foresee that Nepal will be able to restore peace?


David: I hope so. It depends entirely on the politicians. You don't waive the magic wand and hope the stability infused. Stability in democracy results from compromises made by different powerful parties represented in the parliament or not represented in the parliament. The habit of compromise is the most interesting thing about ancient parliament that parties that swore they'd never support this or that measure one day end up supporting them because they think something else is even more important.


I think Nepal is not there yet. The habit of compromise is not deeply ingrained. What is deeply ingrained is a sense amongst the people and they're right because they have not received their due and they are increasingly angry, willing to demonstrate, disrupt the economy, which sets them back further, of course … but perfectly a logical expression of popular unhappiness. The answer is the responsible politicians who are prepared to make compromises necessary to serve the people rather than their individual interests.


In the West, the system took too many centuries to evolve. It did not happen overnight. Our democracy is not perfect, we have lots of problems, but the quality of the problems is not so severe as the quality of the problems of Nepal.


So, am I hopeful? Yes. Am I optimistic? I'll be optimistic if the elections take place on the 10th of April, if the results of the election are accepted by the losers. Elections are very worrying for politicians because they are unpredictable. So, the outcome of April 10 is tremendously important. If we have another postponement of the elections the international community will be ready to give up on Nepal. Nepalis seem to take international support for granted. But actually no; there are many such countries around the world. So, a government like the Canadian government has to choose which country to invest its money in support of peace process.


Q: How is Canada helping Nepal restore peace in this situation?


David: We are trying to do it in a number of ways. First, our aid tends to target people rather than the government and large institutions. But one large institution we admire very much is the Election Commission. Through the UN fund we have been supporting the EC directly. They are doing very well and for them the postponement of the elections last time was deeply frustrating and by the way quite a lot of money was wasted. But mostly our aid in countries like Nepal and India is very people-centric. It is very difficult for a distant country like Canada to imagine, then plan and then implement a development program that would help some poor Nepalis.


When we think there is a good project worth supporting we support that. We have not wanted to hinge all of our support to the election process because there are many people who continue to be desperately poor in this country and who continue to need as much support as they can get.


Q: Do you think the losers will accept the election results?


David: I don't know. I certainly hope they accept the results. That is the basis of democracy. But the alternatives for a party that is not keen on accepting an outcome are unattractive also. What you do? Do you create violence? That's a risky strategy. Do you withdraw to the hills and resume the war? Not easy, once you've been part of a government.


So, that fact makes me quite optimistic. The study of what goes on in other countries is useful because insurgencies are rather alike. I am very much hopeful that Prachanda and his colleagues will see what support they have could be further eroded by strategy of non-acceptance of the results because my sense is the people here want the elections. The people here will accept the outcome of the elections and will expect the parties too accept the outcome of the elections. So, in that sense I am very optimistic.


Q: You have experiences of working in a federal structure. What do you think of the demands of the different ethnic groups for autonomy and right to self-determination?


David: It is very complicated. And it takes a lot of time to think about and negotiate. With Quebec, its current status in the federation of Canada is the very slow evolution over many years. It's easy to say a region is autonomous but what is the content of autonomy? In what way a region is autonomous? Does it deliver all the programs? Does it raise its own taxes? Does it stop asking the centre for more money? None of these has been thought about yet. And in Canada it took us a great deal of time to think about these things.


Quebec is much more like every other Canadian province than it is different from them. The parliament of Canada has recognized Quebec as a nation because of its cultural identity, which is largely French. But if you look at the practical arrangements that govern Quebec, they are very similar to the ones that govern Ontario. What Quebec gets from Ottawa is pretty same as what Ontario gets.


So, I sympathize with the people of tarai because they have been marginalized for a long time. And nobody listened to them for a long time. But I think frankly there is no magic constitutional solution to their problem. If a new designation within the new Nepali federation, that is somehow distinct for the tarai, helps them psychologically that's good. Does no harm. But the people in the tarai and rest of Nepal need to think about the practical arrangements involved because they are the ones that affect development and growth.


So the business in Canada of building our federation has been nearly as much a boring business than as it has been an exciting business of visionary leaders. That's why I say it is slow. So the people who think that the Constituent Assembly will be able very quickly to solve all of Nepal's problems -- NO, I don't think that is true. But it is important that they start.


One problem in Nepal -- and not just Nepal -- is that the people whose voices have been ignored historically think that the only way to attract attention is to have bandas, to have blockades, to disrupt traffic. That does not work.


Q: Do you think Nepal should opt for the federal structure as this seems to be a very small country to be suited for a federal structure?


David: It seems small to you because you live next to China and India. But a country of 24/25 million people is big. One of the most successful federations, Switzerland has only over six million people. So I don't think size determines whether a federation is successful. Whether Nepal should become a federation is something foreigners should not actually even offer advice. It is something the Nepalis have to think about. It is clear that the past did not work well for Nepal. Whatever the arrangements in the past, you don't want to go back to them. But for the arrangements in the future Nepal, it has to come up with its own model. It won't be the model of Switzerland, Costa Rica or Westminster. And whether it is federal or not is much less important than the basic political understandings that are reached amongst the various important communities and those don't have to be organized along federal lines at all. So I say a well-designed New Nepal is going to take some time.


Q: You are also the ambassador to Bhutan and India. Why do you think is Bhutan reluctant to accept the Bhutanese refugees who are languishing in Nepal for the last 17 years?


David: That's a question you would have to ask a Bhutanese, not me. What I can tell you though is when I am in Thimpu I raise this. I do mention that we will now accept 5,000 of these people -- I am sure they will be very good immigrants, so I am not worried about it -- but indirectly, Bhutan has created real cost for Canada as well as for Nepal. For us our response to the plight of the people in the camps was not at all political. In Nepal, the issue has been much too political frankly, not enough thought about the people -- great deal of hostility towards Bhutan. So our approach was strictly humanitarian. But having a bad relation with neighbors is a terrible policy.


Q: Don't you think that Canadian government's offer to take in 5,000 Bhutanese refugees would encourage Bhutan to go ahead with its policy of ethnic cleansing?


David: I think there is this risk. We have also mentioned that. But we don't want the fact that we were taking these people to provoke such actions. What the result will be I simply don't know.


Q: India has been obstacle to this refugee crisis. How do you analyze this?


David: I cannot really comment what India is up to. So it would be actually much more complex what India is doing in Bhutan. It is the policy of Bhutan that we have criticized. We have made clear to Bhutan that we don't want the resettlement of these refugees to trigger a second wave of refugees. I know we have been listened to, more than that I cannot say.


Q: Do you have any aid program in Bhutan?


David: Very limited. Because Bhutan, unlike Nepal, is developing very fast. It grew at the rate of 12 percent last year. It is not going to need aid for very long. It supplies hydroelectricity to India which India pays quite a lot for and it has found a model that allows it to grow rich keeping its own traditions. We have been involved in Bhutan in educational works. It was Canada that started secular modern education in Bhutan. Since the early 1960s we have tried to help develop secondary and university education in Bhutan.


I think Bhutan is very close to the point where it will not need foreign assistance anymore.


Q: As you mentioned earlier that Canadian companies would be interested in investing in Nepal. What could be the areas of attraction for them?


David: Provided there is political stability, there are many areas that would interest. For example, a number of Canadian engineering firms have been very good at developing hydroelectricity and have done a lot of work in India. We are very good at some aspects of infrastructure, if, for example, Nepal decides developing rail road, it is an area where we are doing a lot of business.


We are a big mining country: it is very likely that Nepal is full of mineral wealth. I don't think Nepal has been very seriously surveyed yet. But once it is surveyed, it is going to be very rich at that point. Probably Canadian mining companies might demonstrate a big interest. We are quite good at agricultural processing too.


Nepal is advanced in video making and filming and the likes. It is also an area Canada is quite advanced. BPOs and call centers in India are beginning to move out because salaries have increased fast enough in India. And that will make place for lower salary scale like Nepal. So there is a great deal that can happen here.


Everything that happened in Bangladesh and India can happen here. But none of them can happen here without political stability. And also politicians need to take economy seriously. In Canada we have quite competitive politics but our politicians try not to do anything that would damage the economy. They don't call for street demonstrations; they use other ways that can make their unhappiness known.


So I hope the Nepali politicians will take the economy of Nepal to heart, accept that the lack of growth in this country is their responsibility and that they have to do better in the future. That is what the Nepalis deserve from them.

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