Nepal offers good working atmosphere for FES

Annette Schlicht is a Resident Representative of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Nepal Office. Schlicht is a political scientist trained at Free University of Berlin. Before coming to Nepal, she had served in FES offices in East and West Africa. She worked in the field of education for sustainable development in Germany. She is now leaving Nepal to work in Berlin-based FES office. She talked to The Rising Nepal on FES’s philosophy and works in Nepal. Excerpts.asss

Would you like to highlight the areas where the FES is working in Nepal?

FES has been working here for the last 24 years. During this period, Nepal went through quite turbulent phases. So, FES programmes have also changed during this time while some features have stayed very much the same. The FES is focused on three principles - promoting social democratic thinking and social justice, and creating platform for people to discuss current political issues. We have a network with social democratic parties throughout Asia. People from social democratic parties meet and exchange their ideas and challenges. Our important principle is social justice. We have official representatives of the German Trade Union Federation. So, we work on the trade union issues such as internal restructuring in almost 99 per cent of the countries where the FES is operating. We work at national, regional and international level.
Similarly, the FES offers platforms for like-minded people to discuss on current political issues to build bridges between different political ideologies, the people from different political parties and trade unions, the people from the countryside and urban centre, the people of young and older age, and also between the men and women.

Why is Nepal in priority of FES?

FES Nepal is one of the important offices in South Asia, next to FES India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We have been promoting democratisation process in Nepal for a long time and we will continue to do this in the years ahead. Also, Nepal is very good place for different reasons, for example to conduct regional activities on trade unions and other areas. This has also benefited Nepali trade unions as they are involved in them. I think we are grateful to have such good working conditions in Nepal because government and the foreign ministry have been very helpful toward us, which is not the case in all the countries where we work. Nepal office will be responsible for raising gender issues in the whole region. This is also the sign that FES headquarter is giving importance to FES Nepal office.
I came from the biggest country of the European Union where people always tend to look at themselves and their own affairs. But in Nepal, the people always have to look at their neighbouring countries and world to understand what is national situation is. This changing perspective was very important for me. This is also important for the foundation to work.

Would you like to share your experiences while working in Nepal?

I feel very happy and privileged to work in Nepal. We had accompanied a very important phase like elections in 2017 and implementation of the constitution. One of the major programmes the FES is carrying out here is civic education programme. In course of running this programme, I had a chance to visit almost half of all the districts of Nepal. There are different compositions of ethnicities, classes and castes in the various parts of Nepal. But actually some heated political discussions in the centre are not reflected in the other parts of the country. People are very much informed, they are very much down to earth, and they simply want services provided to them by the government. They have a very clear understanding over what is possible and what is not. The only thing they want is services to be delivered.
During my visit to different factories like plastic, jute and steel factories, I realised that the working condition is very terrible there. There are all kinds of hazards such as noise, dust and toxicities. The occupational safety has to be improved in both the formal and informal sectors. On the other hand, the factories have problem in getting skilled manpower. As soon as they get trained, they go off or they go to the foreign countries for employment. This is really difficult to run the factories, because the knowledge goes along with them. You have to again groom the manpower. This is some of the problem in economic development of the country.

As a political scientist, how do you see Nepal’s experiment with federalism?

As per my observation, there is a big impatience toward the system of decentralisation. Of course, there are problems in institutionalising it. Challenges lie in service delivery, division of power and finance at different levels. But on the other hand, the system is totally new for Nepal. It doesn’t have a tradition of decentralised political system. In some point, it is also important to have some patience towards the idea of the system. There is also a lacking of initiative in political parties. They need to make people understand of it - its current problems and what they are working for it. No political party can defy the idea of federal system because the system has already been institutionalised by the constitution and it’s a joint endeavour. Decentralisation is a political culture so it takes time to take root. Political leaders should also listen to the people and their problems and try to explain things properly.

Would you like to share Germany’s experience of federalism?

While talking about Germany and Nepal, the situations between them ares completely different from each other regarding the decentralised governance system. There are also some other issues such as the separation of powers, the independent judiciary and the legacy of the Maoist insurgency which need to be resolved urgently. This is the right time to resolve the issue of transitional justice permanently. The government and the opposition parties should come together to find a good solution acceptable to the conflict victims.

Nepal government has recently unveiled social security scheme. How much does it help realise social security of people?

Nepal government has taken a big step by introducing two important laws in 2017 - Social Security Law and Labour law- to provide affordable and equitable social security system. However, the principle problem in Nepal is that the informal sector is bigger than the formal sector. Almost 90 per cent workers are engaged in informal sector, without the sufficient economic base. This is the big challenge. Nepal has to work from different aspects. Promulgating the law is the only the beginning. The country should create such condition under which good and equitable labourers can be generated. There is also a requirement to see where all these taxes come from, and need to fight against corruption and control the abuse of money. This will help the government meet the ambitious goals of social security schemes.

Social democracy is the foundational value of FES but it is going through a deep crisis. What is your take on it?

Social democracy is in crisis throughout the world but its value is not in crisis. In fact it’s very current and very important. Probably the gap has become too big between the politicians and the working class, which is the most important basis of social democracy. I think rightist populists have been cashing in on this and there have been probably not enough convinced social democrats who are taking this kind of discussions. There is a gap between academicians on the top, who can lead very high level discussion on what social democratic value is.

(Interview is based on conversation with TRN’s Ritu Raj Subedi and Arpana Adhikari)

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