Where Crisis Begins at Birth

By Scott Kraft, Los Angeles Times (Dec 30, 2009)

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- When the power went out that night, Dr. Ibrahim Thorlie was operating on his fifth patient of the day in a maternity hospital with a shortage of antibiotics and running water. His colleague was doing an emergency Caesarean section in the next room. In the corridor, a bucket on the floor held a stillborn baby.

Thorlie turned wordlessly in the darkened room and lifted his gloved hands. Sweat beaded up on his forehead like dewdrops. A nurse reached into the surgeon's pocket and pulled out his penlight, a pas de deux they clearly had performed many times before.

An aide was dispatched to start the generator and, eventually, a few low lights flickered on in the operating rooms. The rest of the hospital remained dark.

The power had failed two nights before, but no one on duty knew how to operate the generator. So Thorlie had awakened the deputy health minister, who woke the minister of energy, who contacted the electrical substation and got power restored. (The substation, it turned out, had taken a bribe to divert electricity to another neighborhood.)

It was an all-too-typical week at Princess Christian Maternity Hospital, which takes on the most difficult cases in a nation of 6 million people.

Told of those events the next day, Sierra Leone's first lady, Sia Koroma, a trained nurse, sighed. "It's hair-raising, but it's true," she said. "And that's one of the government's best hospitals. The others are worse."

Living standards are improving across much of the world these days. Free markets in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe have transformed those regions into economic powerhouses. A high-tech revolution in India has lifted millions of people into the middle class and the quality of health care has improved in the unlikeliest of places.

That tide has mostly bypassed sub-Saharan Africa. More than $1 trillion in foreign aid -- a major chunk of it from the United States -- has been pumped into Africa over the last half-century. Yet, on most of the continent, people are poorer and less healthy than before.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, world attention has been focused on the danger posed by disintegrating states such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. Some lesser-known developing countries, though, also are incubators of strategic threats, including terrorism, narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, small-arms trade and public health crises.

West Africa is of particular concern to world health officials. With shortages of medicine, trained doctors, reliable electricity, clean water and basics such as sterilized gloves, countries often lack the means to identify and deal with new disease threats.

"As we turn over more and more rocks in more and more places, we find more passages for disease," said Dr. Scott Dowell, director of global disease detection at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Most aren't going to be the next HIV or SARS, but it's pretty hard to tell which ones will and which ones won't."

Sierra Leone is one of those nations where decades of foreign aid have failed to lift the fortunes of the people appreciably. The country is a charity case: 60 percent of its public spending comes from foreign governments and nonprofit organizations. Since 2002, it has received more than $1 billion in aid.

Yet it has the second-highest rate of infant mortality in the world, behind Angola; even Afghanistan ranks lower. The United Nations says 1 in 8 women die giving birth in Sierra Leone; the rate in the United States is 1 in 4,800. Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 41 years; in Bangladesh it's 60.

A decade-long civil war in the 1990s drove people from the countryside into the capital, Freetown, and today a city built for 250,000 is home to 10 times that number. Tens of thousands of people camp out in shacks on a lush mountainside with views of the Atlantic but no clean water or electricity.

The war compelled thousands of the most educated Sierra Leoneans to go into exile in the United States and Britain. They make annual visits home, where they are known as the JCs, for "Just Comes," and are both envied and resented. A few have moved back, some to cash in on their contacts with government ministers who oversee the country's diamond and gold reserves.

The country managed a democratic election in 2007, but widespread corruption makes international donors wary. President Ernest Bai Koroma, a businessman who fled to London during the war, has cracked down with mixed results. After a judge accused of bribery was arrested recently in his chambers, lawyers pushed for rules to prevent police from arresting judges in the courthouse.

A few months ago, a 6,200-ton shipment of donated rice from Japan disappeared soon after arriving in port. When $10,000 disappeared over the summer from a project to alleviate child poverty, the director threatened to pull the plug if the money didn't reappear. It did. But the director, Fadimata Alainchar, says that, "People here are in it for themselves, and it's difficult to see that changing."

The sorry state of the country's roads has limited development. In the capital, cars and SUVs inch along narrow roads swarming with pedestrians. There are no traffic lights.

Outside Freetown, the major thoroughfares are rugged tracks of dirt and chunks of concrete. On one of those roads, a 63-year-old man named Jonathan Harding was using rocks he dug from the countryside to shore up a turn washed out by heavy rain. He once worked on a highway maintenance crew, but was fired for accusing his boss of corruption. Now he gets by on tips from passing motorists.

Even traveling to Freetown from its international airport is daunting. The distance is only 10 miles, but by land it takes at least four hours. A ferry is quicker, but often out of service. Water taxis make the journey, but frequently capsize. Most travelers use a private helicopter service, which charges $70 each way. Vintage Russian-made helicopters, carrying 18 passengers each, complete the journey in a tense, thundering seven minutes.

There are a few signs of economic life. Wealthy businessmen and government officials keep two nightclubs, Old Skool and the Office, thumping until dawn, with Playboy videos on flat-screens, top-drawer Scotch on the shelves and parking lots filled with Lexus SUVs. Large mansions are going up on the outskirts of the capital.

Michael Kargbo, a Sierra Leonean who ran a construction company in New Jersey before returning five years ago, says he has $1 million in construction projects under way, and his crews are building homes for government officials and the business elite.

"Most of the guys in power today are guys I either went to school with or knew in the States," he said, pausing at the site of a two-story hillside home under construction. As he spoke, Koroma's motorcade, escorted by soldiers with sirens and flashing lights, sped by. From his Mercedes, the president waved to Kargbo, who smiled and returned the greeting. As the motorcade disappeared, Kargbo said, "Business is good and getting better."

For some people, perhaps. But the country remains a political tinderbox. Tens of thousands of former child soldiers, who were forced into militias that killed, raped and hacked off the limbs of victims, have melted back into society. Some, like Lamin Bangura, who became a rebel fighter at 12, now drive motorcycle taxis, known as "okadas," in the capital.

"We used to steal, but now we can make a living," said Bangura, 27. A dangerous living. Okada drivers are harassed by policemen seeking bribes and taxi drivers who resent the competition.

But large numbers of those former rebels are unemployed, and their anger, combined with their military training, poses a threat to political stability.

"We have been stigmatized by society and the government turns a blind eye," said Kabba Williams, 24, a college student who leads a group of onetime child soldiers lobbying the government to create jobs. "If there is a war, and someone is looking for mercenaries, they can find them right here, unfortunately."

The most immediate crisis, though, is health care. The country has only two pediatricians, and Thorlie is one of four obstetricians. All work at Princess Christian.

Doctors Without Borders set up clinics in Bo, the second-largest city, during the civil war. Now it's time to begin pulling out and move to other countries in crisis, but Jan van't Land, the local director, says he's worried.

"We're in a difficult situation," he said. "If we leave, who would take over? It might create another crisis."

When Koroma took office in 2007, his wife, Sia, launched a global effort to draw attention to the public health crisis. An oil industry chemist before the war, she started a career in nursing during the couple's years in London. Her evangelical work has brought some help, but she acknowledges that progress has been slow.

"We are faced with so many problems -- illiteracy, poverty, youth unemployment and the need for gender empowerment," she said. "I'm trying to be an advocate for women and children, because they are the most vulnerable."

The first lady's office in the hilltop presidential lodge recently was filled with donated items, including sewing machines and farm tools. Outside, next to the first couple's empty swimming pool, a dozen hospital beds were stacked under an awning. The health are system needs a lot more than a few beds, though.

Government salaries for doctors range from $100 a month to $200 for specialists; experienced nurses earn $80. The salaries are among the lowest in the world; doctors in Ethiopia, Liberia and Nepal make more than four times as much (notice where we are ranked).

To supplement their salaries, doctors negotiate payment with patients before treatment, and at the end of each day they share that money with nurses and aides. If the patients don't pay, the doctors give the nurses money from their own pockets. Otherwise, Thorlie said, they won't show up for work.

"It's the worst thing in the world for a doctor to have to discuss payment with his patients," said Thorlie, who has been chief of medicine at Princess Christian for 25 years. "If two people come to me with a fever, and one agrees to give me 10,000 leones (about $3) who do I treat first? This situation is bad for us, and it's bad for patients."

In practice, he says, he and his doctors treat all patients, paying or not. "But for those who can afford to pay, they should pay," he said.

That sentiment has put him at odds with the Ministry of Health.

"Our policy is free medical treatment, and we have to enforce that policy," said Sheiku Tejan Koroma, appointed health minister in March. "We know that our salaries are the lowest on Earth and we need to increase them. The problem is that we don't have the money." But, he added, "This is a corrupt system we've inherited and they are more interested in their salaries than in their fellow man."

The health minister was an engineer at Texas Instruments in Dallas when President Koroma (no relation) asked him to return to Sierra Leone. His wife and three children stayed behind because he wasn't sure how long he would last. "My kids e-mail me that they want to buy expensive shoes, but I only make $500 a month," he said. "I told the president: If we don't make progress, I'm out of here."

Early this month, the health minister was indicted on charges of illegally awarding contracts.

Princess Christian Maternity Hospital is a sprawling concrete structure behind a guarded gate on one of Freetown's busiest downtown streets. Stray dogs roam the dirt courtyard, and windows in the hospital wards are cranked open to the outside air.

Thorlie, who presides over a staff of 12 doctors, wears a pressed dark tunic and a perpetual expression of weary stoicism. Although many of his colleagues left for lucrative jobs in the United States and Britain, he decided to remain in his home country. "If I didn't stay," he said, "who would?"

He was speaking in his office, where he relaxes by listening to country music. Jim Reeves' "Not Until the Next Time (Will I Cry All Night for You)" was playing on his computer.

Thorlie has grown increasingly frustrated with the Health Ministry. He had a heated argument with a ministry official recently over a proposal to outlaw home births to help reduce the infant mortality rate.

One of the obstetricians at Princess Christian, Dr. Kamson Kamara, was an emergency room doctor in Oklahoma City earning $120,000 a year when he decided to return to help his country, in a job paying $2,400. His wife, a dentist, and two children remain in Oklahoma.

The difference between his old job and this one "is the difference between earth and sky," he said, sitting in the doctors lounge between surgeries. A hospital aide knelt on the floor wiping splattered blood off the doctor's shoes -- and off a floor lamp that Kamara brought from home to use in the dimly lit operating rooms.

"It's really pathetic," he said. "People are dying here and it's getting worse every day."

Two nurses appeared and Kamara reached into his pocket, giving each a few bills of the local currency. "I have to keep them happy," he said. (LA Times)

Nepal's fate after May 28, 2010 Constituent Assembly deadline





With the deadline for the Constituent Assembly looming and parties getting deeply polarised, more and more Nepalis are asking: What if the May 28, 2010 deadline for drafting the constitution is not met? 


While many stress that it is still possible to draft the new constitution in the remaining five months if the parties come together, others suggest that it is time the parties sought common constitutional or political alternatives just in case they don’t.


Various interpretations are offered and scenarios analysed.


To some, the Interim Constitution has defined CA’s tenure, which will be “two years from the date of its first meeting,” there is no provision to extend the term -- except in case “the task of drafting the constitution is not completed due to the proclamation of a State of Emergency.”


Given the provision, the only legitimate alternative to securing a safe transition is to forge a new political understanding for a constitutional amendment, and this is where most of the constitutional experts seem to agree on. But opinions are highly divided in case the parties fail to generate a two-thirds majority in the CA for a constitutional amendment for term extension.


Nepal Bar Association Chairman Bishwo Kant Mainali says the president can’t be the saviour in case parties fail to either draft the new constitution or amend the existing one on time. “The parties cannot simply stay idle and say that the president will be there to handle the situation. If the CA dissolves, not only the government but all the institutions including the president, would be automatically stand dissolved, creating a state of complete statelessness.”


President’s legal advisor and senior advocate Surya Dhungel does not buy this argument, for “this interpretation fails to see the constitution in totality.”


“The Interim Constitution has guaranteed the president’s continuity until there is a new constitution in place,” argues Dhungel, pointing at Article 36 (c) on “Term of the president”, which states that “the president shall continue in office until the new constitution is promulgated by the CA.” He, however, also suggest that the best way would be to draft the constitution within the time.


Even when there is agreement over the president’s continuity after May 2010, there are sharp disagreements over whether the president can act as an alternative authority. The reason: Article 36 (c) speaks only of the president’s tenure and not of his authority. “Continuing tenure does not mean gaining executive power,” says Gobinda Sharma Bandi, a constitution expert, drawing up the instance in 2002 when Speaker Taranath Ranabhat continued to remain speaker even after the dissolution of the House. “The president cannot exercise power, and if the parties think of him as an alternative, that would be totally unconstitutional.” Bandi also suggest that the parties can amend the constitution through an ordinance if in case the Maoists continue to obstruct the House. “Amending the constitution through an ordinance would be undemocratic but still it will be legal and will be a better option than going for a presidential rule, which will be totally illegal.”


To many, arguments based on interpretations of the constitution alone are not the solution and the focus, according to this school of thought, should be on finding solutions within the given timeline.


Advocate Bipin Adhikari, an expert who subscribes to this school, says the only alternative the parties have at their disposal to avert the impending crisis is to go for a ‘framework constitution,” which contains the basic provisions agreed by all parties in the CA – should a “complete constitution” not come out on time.


“This issue is more political than legal,” says Adhikari. “Idea of framework constitution is an internally accepted way to handle any transitional phase.”


Proponents of this idea maintain that since there are only three more concept papers to be submitted the parties can easily adopt a “framework constitution” within the remaining time and continue to build on it later. There is no point, says Adhikari, in trying to find out ‘excuses’ for unconstitutional adventurism through “meticulous legal interpretation.”


INTERVIEW with SD Muni: India's chessboard politics is no longer relevant in Nepal

INTERVIEW with SD Muni: ‘India’s chessboard politics is no longer relevant in Nepal


THE KATHMANDU POST, SEP 15 - SD Muni, considered to be one of the India’s foremost experts on Nepal, is a familiar figure in political circles here.  Having completed his PhD on Nepal’s foreign policy in 1972, he taught for over 30 years at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and published a number of books on Nepal, including one on the Maoist insurgency in 2003. He is currently Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He was recently in Kathmandu on a research visit, during which Aditya Adhikari and Pranab Kharel met him to solicit his views on Nepal’s current political crisis, India’s policy regarding Nepal, and his views on perceptions towards him in Kathmandu.

Q: What are causes of the current problems in the peace process?

Muni: What has gone wrong is that once the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections took place, the basic consensus eroded. The elections were seen more as one for Parliament than for a CA. It was seen as a power exercise; the question was who would get to lead. Very unfortunately, the power sharing arrangement couldn’t be worked out. I still don’t buy that the principles [of the peace process] have been thrown out; people still talk about them, at least. What has really driven the parties apart from each other is the differences over power sharing. This happened because nobody expected the Maoists to get the number of seats that they did. Unfortunately the numbers they got were large, but not large enough to get an absolute majority. The interim Prime Minister G.P. Koirala refused to hand over power for four months or so, largely because he was thinking of ways to keep the Maoists out of power or under control. The Nepali Congress, in particular, was sure that it would remain in power. If the Maoists had gotten 50 seats less than they did, perhaps they would have managed to keep the Maoists on the fringe. The power arrangements still haven’t been settled since then.

Q: Do you feel that the process can’t move forward unless this arrangement is settled?

Muni: This is my fear. Politicians being politicians are wedded more to power and patronage, than to changing societies. In any case, the NC and the UML are not committed to an agenda to change society. And the Maoists are unduly, seriously committed to one. They don’t want to compromise on what they think should be the vision for the country. They have been very inept in understanding the reality that their emergence has not been digested, nor been reconciled to by the others. It is as much their responsibility to take others along, as much as the others responsibility to see that the Maoists get their feel in the politics of
Nepal. Mainstreaming is not simply laying down arms. The Maoists need to feel a stake in the new system, which the other parties aren’t allowing them. Unless you have a stake, you can’t care less.

We have all been saying that the Maoists shouldn’t have opened all the fronts. They are total novices in managing the power components of a democratic political structure. They have never done it before. The vision that they developed in 10 years, they wanted to complete in a year. They antagonised the judiciary, the media, and the Army; that doesn’t work in a democratic structure. And I think they’ve gotten the shock of their lives.

Q: So you think the Maoists made a mistake in trying to sack (former) Chief of Army Staff Rookmangud Katawal?

Muni: Whatever General Katawal did was not all right. He needed to be put in his place. On the three or four counts on which he was asked to provide an explanation, he did not do it in a proper way. More than that, he went around town making political statements. If the same situation had arisen in
India, the Army chief would go, not the cabinet. A very undemocratic precedent has been set. The political parties argue that if they hadn’t stopped the Maoists, they would have taken over power, but that is frankly all bullshit. If you’re saying that by integrating 5,000 people into an armed force of 100,000, the 5,000 will take over the entire Army, you’re talking rubbish.

Q: Do you have views on how the peace process could be brought back on track?

Muni: Today you have a very unfortunate situation. I am very worried about it. Anybody who is concerned about
Nepal’s stability, security and progress should be worried about it. This situation is almost akin to the situation of 1994, when the Maoists had a minority group of 9 in parliament, but were nonetheless the third largest party after the NC and UML. These two parties united to suppress the Maoists and keep them on the margins, which drove them to 1996. If elections had taken place in 1994, and the Maoists had contested them and won some seats in parliament, at least the people’s war resolution would have been delayed. This situation exists today: the two mainstream parties have joined hands to marginalise them. But they cannot repeat the old story. There are solid reasons for that.

Q: What are the reasons?

Muni: Everybody is talking of two options. First, drive the Maoists to the wall. If need be, unleash the Army on them, with the help of
India or the US. To my mind, this is a non-option. If India thinks the Maoists can be eliminated, then they should have been eliminated by 2005. What India or the US can do at best is provide arms, training, and political support. The fighting will have to be done by General Gurung’s men. In this situation, the Maoists would go to the international community as the people bring wronged, not as people wronging others. On the other hand, the Maoists say that they can go back to war and take over. But if they could, they would have taken over. Why did they talk to the political parties? Because they knew that the gun was not succeed in capturing the state and retaining it.

The other option is to evolve and recreate the consensus that is broken down. This is the only option left if
Nepal is to be stable. Nepal must finish the task which it has taken. Many political leaders here are saying that we made a mistake in bringing the Maoists along. That is nonsense. Look at the Maoist organisation. It is an elite, educated Brahmin leadership, leading the marginalized Janajati, Madhesi, Tharu, and Dalit people. The bulk of the Maoists are a group of people who have felt that the Nepali state has been exploitative for years. This leadership has given them hope. You can throw this leadership out. You can eliminate Baburam and Prachanda either politically or physically. But these groups, which consist of over 40% of your population, have risen. Can you address this militarily?

Q: How is the Indian foreign policy establishment looking at
Nepal right now?

Muni: There are two things I want to say. One, this
India factor, which everyone is obsessed with, is exaggerated and is a result of the lack of unity in the political centre in Nepal. To give an example, King Mahendra was very clear about what he wanted to do. He couldn’t care less about India. For ten long years, there was no Indian interference, except for supporting what the King was doing. This was possible because the political centre in Nepal was united and focused. Also, the political centre was united on April 21, 2006, when Mr. Karan Singh came here and King Gyanendra passed the first declaration, which the political parties refused to accept. India wanted the declaration to be accepted by all the parties, tried its best to have it accepted. But it could not. After that, India did not want UNMIN in Nepal. But UNMIN came to Nepal. The real problem is not in India; it is here. India, as well as China and the US, will have their own strategic objectives here. They can become successful only because you are porous. If you are not porous, it won’t work.

India is a huge country. On Nepal itself, there are diverse stakeholders. Many people don’t know this, but I will tell you a story that I saw unfold very closely. In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi took a certain decision and said that the trade treaty had not been renewed, therefore only two outlets [at the Nepal-India border] would be kept open.  This created lots of problems here. In India, there were four sets of people that I know of that went to Rajiv Gandhi to say that what you’re doing is wrong. These groups included the Shankaracharyas, who said don’t do this because Nepal has a Hindu monarchy; old princely houses, who have matrimonial relations with the Shahs and Ranas here; the Army chief, General Sharma, who said that his Gurkha soldiers were suffering; and the business community, who went and said they were being affected.

So the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has a
Nepal policy. The Defence Ministry has a Nepal policy. The parties in which these old princely houses have good representation - the Congress, the BJP - have a Nepal policy. The actual policy that emerges is a synthesis depending on who is strong at what point in time. In addition, a major concern overriding all this is India’s security interest.

I have been writing that there is a new
Nepal in transition. India, because of these various players, has been playing a kind of chessboard politics - placing people in different positions who can serve its interests. This chessboard politics is no longer relevant in Nepal. I think India should reorient its policy to the larger people’s interest. If you do this, then you will have a Nepal that is stable and progressing, and in the long run would cater to all Indian interests.

Q: Some people here accuse you of being prejudiced in favour of the Maoists.

Muni: I am very angry at these accusations. People here do not know my background. I heard yesterday that they still call me a RAW agent. I started working on
Nepal in 1967. I have written four books on Nepal. I first came here in 1968, when B.P Koirala was being released. Girija Koirala took me to the Koirala niwas in Biratnagar; we flew together. That established our first relationship. Many people in Nepal don’t know this. They only know that Baburam Bhattarai was a student in JNU. They do not know that I was Sujata Koirala’s local guardian in Delhi. They don’t know that we were about to admit Prakash Koirala into JNU as a student. They don’t know that B.P. Koirala visited my house in JNU three or four times, and I must have visited him half a dozen times. They don’t know that Pushpalal and Sahana Pradhan - at that time she was not a politician, she was a teacher - visited my house for dinner in the 1970s. They don’t know that Rishikesh Shah and I were great friends. They don’t know that in 1990, Rishikesh Shah and I were at the forefront of articulating the views of the first Jana Andolan. I was not a politician, so we didn’t come into the movement like Yechury or D.P. Tripathy or Chandrasekhar, but we intellectually tried to challenge the monarchy. I was committed to democracy. It is because of this that the palace started to call me a RAW agent. They wanted to discredit my academic credentials.

Yes, I have been a republican. I was one in 1968, in 1991 and in 2005. If by that, you derive only the conclusion that I am a Maoist, please go ahead.

Q: What are your current academic focuses?

Muni: I have just finished a book
India’s Foreign Policy: The Democracy Dimension. India has joined the International League for Democracy. We have been at the forefront of promoting democracy all over the world since 2002, since the Community for Democracy was established. I thought we should analyse how India’s policy on the ground has worked in favour of democracy or against it in other countries. The only area where India has been very active is in the immediate neighbourhood, from Afghanistan to Myanmar. That’s what the book is about. There is a lot about Nepal in it. The book will come out next month. The book is being published by Cambridge University Press, India.

The other book I have finished is SAARC: The Emerging Dimensions. This is an edited volume. The third book that is in progress in
Singapore is on South Asian perceptions of Rising China.


(Original link: http://www.ekantipur.com/news/news-detail.php?news_id=300260)

INTERVIEW with Maoist leader Pampha Bhusal: 'No political party is willing to stay out of government'

INTERVIEW with Maoist leader Pampha Bhusal

'No political party is willing to stay out of government'


THE KATHMANDU POST, DEC 22 - Pampha Bhusal, a Central Committee member of the UCPN (Maoist), is also a member of the Constituent Assembly’s Committee on Determination of Forms of the Governance of State. She is also currently focused on the protests that the Maoists are holding in the name of civilian supremacy. Aditya Adhikari and Pranab Kharel spoke to her about the disagreements in the Committee on Forms of Governance and what her party expects as a result of the ongoing protests, which seem to have entered confrontational stage.

What is the state of the debate between parties in the Committee on Forms of Governance?

Bhusal: Various parties have different proposals on forms of governance. We are proposing a president directly elected by the people who will be both heads of government and state. This has changed somewhat from the time when we were going to [CA] elections. We had said then that, in addition to a president, there would be a prime minister with some powers. But our own experience has shown that two separate power centres should not be allowed to exist, as this gives the opportunity for foreign powers to interfere in our politics and bring in instability. The primary reason why we want a powerful president is to avoid instability and allow his or her programmes and policies to be implemented.

Second, the powerful institution of the monarchy, which was the head of state, has just been dislodged. It is important to install another equally powerful institution in its place. We also think that there should be a consensus government, where the president will form a council of ministers consisting of all political parties based on their proportion of seats in the legislature-parliament.

The CPN- UML initially wanted a directly elected prime minister, and a ceremonial president elected from the House. The Nepali Congress wants both elected from House. The Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) wants the president to be chosen from the House but to have executive powers. We were discussing these four models and made great efforts to reach consensus. When we couldn’t we decided to complete the process through voting. At the last moment, the Nepali Congress and the UML agreed on a joint proposal. The UML agreed to the NC’s model of the distribution of powers and mode of election of the president and prime minister; the NC agreed to support the UML’s position on the electoral system to be adopted.

Then the voting process started. There was first voting on our proposal. There were 18 votes for and 20 against. For the joint proposal of the NC and UML there were 16 for and 21 against. On TMLP’s proposal there were 3 for and 31 against.

The chairperson of the committee read out that since the Maoists’ won the most votes, though without a majority, their proposal would be accepted as the official one. And that the other proposals could be registered as notes of dissent. While he was reading from the proposal, an NC member in the committee, Prakash Sharan Mahat, snatched the paper from out of his hands. Some tension arose, but we decided to be calm and agreed to reach a conclusion based on examples of what had happened in other committees and also to get the advice of the Chairman [Nembang].

But the chairperson [Sambhu Hajara of NC] hasn’t called a meeting so far, some of our committee members have gone to
Copenhagen and the process remains incomplete.

What kind of election system has your party put forward?

Bhusal: The kind of election system we have proposed is a fully proportional one regarding quotas provided to various ethnicities, castes and women but everyone is to be directly elected through multi-member constituencies. At every constituency, there will be seats separated for members of various groups. For example, if there are two seats in a constituency, one for men and another for women, the public will compulsorily have to vote for a man for one seat and a woman for the other. This will ensure fully proportional inclusion, while avoiding the problems of a proportional system as we saw during the CA elections. We saw then that because those elected from the proportional side of the electoral race were not directly elected from a constituency, there were problems regarding their accountability to the electorate. Our system avoids this flaw. 

Why do you insist on having an all-party government with no provision for an opposition?

Bhusal: What we have seen over the previous years is that no political party is willing to stay out of government. Even right now, in direct violation of the mandate provided by the people, we have a prime minister and ministers who lost elections. We’ve had three prime ministers since the elections because everyone is interested only in power. Will these problems of [political] culture be remedied simply by drafting a new constitution? It will not.

Also, the current transition phase will take some time to complete.  It will take eight to 10 years to take the nation into sustainable peace. For these reasons, we need a consensus government, with each party holding ministerial portfolios according to the proportion of votes they have in the legislature, until the transition is complete.

The Nepali Congress and others say that having a directly elected president will lead the country into authoritarianism.

Bhusal: What could be more democratic than having a directly elected head of state and government? How can it be claimed that a president who is elected directly from the people will be authoritarian whereas a prime minister who lost from two constituencies is not?

Moreover, there will be checks and balances on the president. He or she will have to choose a Cabinet from all parties in the legislature. The president will have to seek the ratification of policies through the legislature. International treaties or agreements of national importance will have to be passed by a two-thirds majority. On some major issues, there will even be a need for a referendum. The president, therefore, will not have unlimited powers.

Why has your party decided to intensify protests?

Bhusal: We are very clear: we want civilian supremacy to prevail and the president to rectify his unconstitutional move of revoking the order of an elected government to sack the Army chief. That is all. If today we are allowed to discuss the president’s actions in parliament, we are ready to give up all protests.

But the more you protest, the more the ruling parties will harden their positions and refuse to compromise.

Bhusal: It’s not a matter of what they want and desire. We have asked to use a right given in the constitution. Does the president have the right to become the new king? Is it democratic to not even allow a discussion about the president’s actions? This is only a new form of authoritarianism. If we have to, we will fight against this for the next 10 years.

These are the same people and powers that while in government in the 1990s did not see it possible to establish a republic or a federal state, declared us as terrorists and placed prices on our heads. But they were forced to accept republicanism and federalism. Right now they have gone back to the time when they declared a state of emergency and declared us terrorists. But that has failed. We were able to topple Gyanendra, the Supreme Commander of a 100,000-strong Army. So we are not so worried about these people in government. At least Gyanendra is living in a dignified manner in Nagarjuna. A situation may come when these people, because of the crimes they have committed while in government in the past, may have to go live in Nakkhu.


(Originally printed at: http://www.ekantipur.com/2009/12/21/Oped/No-political-party-is-willing-to-stay-out-of-government/304843/)

Litmus test for govt: Army Maj. Gen. Toran's promotion could have repercussions

Litmus test for govt: Army Maj. Gen. Toran’s promotion could have repercussions




THE KATHMANDU POST, NOV 28 - The international community, concerned over the culture of impunity in Nepal, has been closely observing Maj. Gen. Toran Jung Bahadur Singh’s case as a ‘litmus test’ to correct its human rights records.

Singh, a senior Nepal Army official, was implicated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of serious human rights abuses, specifically for his role in the disappearance of 49 detainees from Bhairavnath Battalion, in 2003-04.

OHCHR has recommended Gen. Singh’s suspension pending  investigation by a civilian authority. Rights defenders say if the government fails to take action now, it will lose a golden opportunity to set a healthy precedent, not only for
Nepal but for the entire South Asia region, where impunity is a shared concern.

They observe that the government’s vacillation over the NA proposal to promote Singh as the Army’s second-in-command has only deepened the international community’s suspicion whether the Army is committed to right its human rights record. An alliance of 11 donor countries, which have strong leverage with the UN, has been pressing the government to set an example by initiating action against Singh.

OHCHR-Nepal chief Richard Bennett says ignoring the international community’s call could have serious ramifications for
Nepal. “The consequences could range from sending a general message that NA is not serious about changing the culture of impunity to adverse impact on UN missions,” says Bennett. Nepal is the fifth largest contributor of troops to UN peacekee-   ping missions and participation in them provides huge personal incentives for Nepalis.

Bennett is also of the opinion that NA’s institutional integrity should be preserved, but for that, he says, the institution needs to be accountable. He maintains that OHCHR recommendations are not made out of ‘personnel vendetta’ against either Gen. Singh or anyone else, including the Maoists.

The UN has delivered some strong messages already. Some senior NA officials, including Gen. Singh and Gen. Dilip Rayamajhi, have already been denied entry into UN service in
New York, because of their tainted human rights records. “This keeps the NA listening to us,” says Friderick Rawaski, Coordinator of Accountability and Rule of Law Project of OHCHR-Nepal.

Other adverse impacts could include jeopardising NA’s military ties with influential UN member-states, as the
US and UK, have both gone on record against Singh’s promotion.

For their part, NA officials say they will accept any ‘fair’ decision of the government but action against any NA official has to follow ‘due legal procedure.’ 

As much as Gen. Singh’s case, human rights defenders cite another landmark case. NA’s continued failure to take action against Maj. Nirajan Basnet, charged for the murder of Maina Sunwar in Kavre, stands out. Much to human rights defenders’ dismay, Maj. Basnet has been deployed in a UN mission in
Chad, in what is seen as NA’s gross oversight of his human rights record. NA’s defence is that Basnet was sent after a court martial acquitted him and that no action can be taken against any of its official unless the charges are proved through a credible investigation.

“That’s a pretty lame argument,” said an international human rights worker based in
Nepal. “The onus is not on the UN but on the NA to demonstrate that it’s committed to protecting human rights. And it can do that by recalling Maj. Basnet, without the UN having to intervene.”


(Originally printed at: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2009/11/27/top-stories/Litmus-test-for-govt/2462/)

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