Legitimate concerns

The Nepal Development Forum (NDF), a consortium of 23 bilateral and multilateral donors, is scheduled to conclude its two-day meeting in the capital today. Two years ago, the NDF had met in Nepal, making an annual aid commitment of US$500 million for five years, depending on such factors as good governance and aid use. In November 2003, in the statement accompanying the World Bank board discussion on Nepal’s poverty reduction strategy, the donors had emphasised their support for its implementation. But they had also laid down conditions necessary for them to continue development aid — restoration of democracy, resumption of the peace process and the adoption of immediate steps to improve the human rights situation.

The government, on its part, has reiterated its "commitment" to restore the democratic process through elections, has said that its door is open for a dialogue with the Maoists, and has spelled out its human rights commitments.. The five political parties have been agitating for putting the derailed democratic process back on track, taking the initiative for talks with the rebels, and the formation of an interim government to facilitate these processes. At least in theory, there is a large degree of convergence of goals and commitment of the three sides — the government, the donors and the parties. But they differ greatly over what constitutes the fulfilment of these objectives and commitments and how these should be achieved. This explains the ensuing conflict of stands.

The parties have boycotted the NDF meeting on the grounds that it has no relevance as it is being organised by a government which is "illegitimate, unrepresentative and unaccountable." Though the donors have not complied with the parties’ request to postpone the meeting, they met their representatives on Tuesday. They have warned that failure to address the issues of restoring the democratic process, resuming the peace talks, protecting human rights will "severely undermine" their development aid. Their concerns for proper aid utilisation and for democracy and human rights are legitimate. In the event of non-fulfilment, they may reduce or even suspend aid. Judging by the statement — issued on behalf of Canada, the European Commission, and eight other European countries, including Britain, which has, on this matter, departed from its earlier policy of going along with the US — it becomes necessary that a monitoring mechanism and a time-frame fixed for meeting the three major conditions are put in place. The donors also need to show that they make these warnings not just for public consumption. However, it will increasingly be diffcult for Nepal to continue getting aid from European countries if it does not mend its ways.