The German Development Service (DED) has been working in Nepal for more than 35 years, providing personnel and contributing more than US $2.5 million each year to the country, primarily to boost local governance and democratic participation.
DED director general Dr Jurgen Wilhelm recently visited Nepal to gain a better understanding of the situation in a country where development work has been severely hampered by nine years of conflict between armed Maoists rebels and the state.
In an interview with IRIN, Wilhelm raised particular concerns about local governance in Nepal and emphasised the importance of local municipal elections scheduled for February 2006.
QUESTION: DED’s main focus in Nepal is to strengthen both NGOs and local government bodies. What challenges do you face, especially when development work is becoming difficult in the current situation?
ANSWER: At the local level, there’s a precondition that we must have elected officials to be accountable for their actions. With elected people in government, there will be confidence among the people that policy is in good hands and they can trust their elected personnel.
Then DED can come in and try to improve the quality of the administrative staff and infrastructure. But so far there are no elected personnel and only bureaucrats posted in villages by the government. This is why I am keen on the announcement of local elections.
Q: DED says its work in the field of local governance is becoming difficult. Does this mean you are withdrawing your support in that sector?
A: Yes, that is very true, because as long as there are no elected officials, we will withdraw up to 10 people in different areas. But if there is a positive outcome - hopefully fair and internationally acknowledged local elections next year, we will be ready and willing to improve our engagement in a very short period of time.
Q: DED has been providing US $5 million for development activities in Nepal every two years. Will the same level of funding continue?
A: As it is quite expensive to send our people from Europe, this will mean DED will reduce its engagement in fiscal terms … to less than US $1 million for the time being.
Q: One of your key goals is to build the capacity of NGOs. Do you see a change in the role of NGOs, especially given the current conflict?
A: Yes, indeed. Whenever there is a non-democratic situation in a country, NGOs and civil society become more and more important. That is why we will concentrate our cooperation only on engagement with NGOs.
Q: Development workers are seriously concerned about the government’s introduction of a new code of conduct for NGOs, which they say will control their programmes. Has this affected the NGOs that work in partnership with DED?
A: It has so far not affected our cooperation, but we will look into this very carefully once the government implements it fully. German taxpayers expect the personnel they are sending to have a positive impact in this country. But if there is no chance for DED staff to work for development in this country, we will withdraw our people.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and many other countries are really waiting for our personnel. We have had a big impact in Nepal for the past 35 years and would love to continue. But when the conditions change tremendously, we have to think about the consequences.
Q: The role of local government bodies is reported to be diminishing in remote areas. Most government officials are not working in villages where they are needed most. Are you concerned about this?
A: Democracy has its basis in the local area. When municipalities and local bodies are not working efficiently and effectively, this means not only a lack of democracy but also a lack of acceptance by the population in the country’s system as a whole.
There will be less efficiency in the economy, agriculture and so forth, because who can govern a country solely from only the capital city? You must have people working outside the capital but this can be achieved only when they are people who have been elected and not appointed.
It has been a proven reality for more than 50 years of international cooperation that when no basic democratic structure exists, the country will fail.
This is why the communist and socialist countries have failed. Privatisation, democratisation, an open economy, participation, a fair and open press and democratic opposition are all necessary for fruitful development in any country. There is no alternative to democracy, whether you like it or not.
Q: You met with representatives of key multilateral aid and humanitarian agencies. What were their main concerns?
A: The international community is concerned about the situation in Nepal and we strongly ask the government, the king and all the parties involved to try to find a way out of the current unsatisfactory situation.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions