“We want to be more than a development partner. We want to be a political partner”Interview with Veronica Cody, EU ambassador to Nepal, who is wrapping up her three years of tenure in Kathmandu and leaving for Brussels.
Nepal and the European Union share a long-standing friendship and partnership. The EU has been supporting Nepal financially and technically in the different development efforts. It also has significant support in the social sectors like education. This week Veronica Cody, EU ambassador to Nepal, is wrapping up her three years of tenure in Kathmandu and leaving for Brussels on Saturday. Binod Ghimire from the Post talked to Cody on different issues from the EU’s support, human rights and her three years of stay in Nepal. Excerpts:
How do you assess your tenure in Nepal?
In this respect, I don’t want to be overmodest or over self-congratulatory. We have been able to enhance bilateral dialogue, which is an extremely important step. Second, is the support to the government’s priorities in rural development, agriculture and education. We have been successful in increasing access to education both for the girls and boys. What we need to do more is enhance the quality of education, increase student’s retention rate, train the teachers and enhance the curriculum.
I arrived at an interesting time in the history of the country when it was having three tiers of general elections. The merged ruling party achieved a big success, and Nepal, after a long span of time, got a stable government. I take this as a very positive step for the country, as stable government allows for better long-term planning. Stability means a greater prospect to look at the economic growth. The Nepal government has announced that it will graduate from the Least Development Nation by 2022. It seems like Nepal is in the beginning of a road to prosperity towards the goal of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. Similarly, projected economic growth too is very optimistic.
I think what was very nice about my stay was, we have been able to enhance the political dialogue with Nepal. For instance, before I came we would have high-level political meetings every two years. We have accelerated it and now we meet annually. That is very important because Nepal is changing very much and developing so quickly that we would miss many things meeting every two years.
That is also important because we want to be more than a development partner of Nepal. We have been a strong development partner and will continue to be but we also want more than that. We want to be a political partner. We want to see Nepal becoming a regional actor, becoming a world actor.
We also believe there are many issues that concern Nepal and also concern us. Climate change is one. Nepal’s vulnerability to climate change is particular. Another issue is human rights and increasing focus on democracy.
You have travelled across Nepal meeting the most marginalised communities. Do you think enough measures have been taken to uplift these communities?
I visited three different communities and I had very mixed feelings. I met the people from Tharu community, which was extremely positive because these have been the people who once were bonded labours. They were freed but without resources. We got together with local partners to implement ‘right to earn a living project’ that supplies the community with poultry, supports in organic farming, tailor working, stone carving, mobile and electronics repairing. Those from the Tharu community were doing well. The Badi and Kuspaidiya communities were less secure because they were extremely poor. I noticed these communities were mainly composed of older men and women and there were less younger people who would actually earn and contribute to the community. These communities need more help in accessing the local service delivery as many of them are ill-informed about the facilities the government provides.
There have been complaints from the provincial and local governments that the federal government is working with a very much centralised mindset. What is your view?
Implementing federalism would be a very big challenging task even for very developed nations, as it is extremely difficult to satisfy the entire nation. For a country like the size of Nepal and its position in terms of development, it’s a huge challenge. Still a lot has been done towards decentralising the financial and human resources. Even in my country, Ireland, centralisation is a problem. So, I am not shocked to see the practice in Nepal. Federalism is an evolving process and it takes time for its full implementation.
Nepal has achieved remarkable progress in social sectors where the EU has supported for a long time. But, there is fear that the pandemic could take away the progress made so far. Has the EU assessed the impact Covid-19 could leave?
There are many surveys being undertaken on the socio-economic effects of Covid-19. It is very clear that the most vulnerable people are going to suffer the most. Those working in the informal sector are laid off from their jobs. The women have suffered more than the men, as more women are engaged in the informal working sector. We have already announced a package of $75 million to boost the economy that will go in agriculture and tourism with due focus to women and marginalised communities.
The Nepal government on different occasions has requested the EU to lift its air safety ban on Nepal. How has the EU been responding to the request?
The progress has been made and Nepal is heading towards a positive direction. Nepal recently drafted new legislation to split the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal into two structures, one will be looking at the administrative works while other will manage the service delivery. This has been our one of the recommendations which is a big step forward. We have been told that the legislation will be endorsed by the upcoming session of the parliament. Then probably there will be the visit of the experts from both the sides to discuss the way forward. It will be followed by the training of the officials from the regulating agencies. I hope I come back to Nepal next time on European flight.
Human rights have always been a focus of the EU? How have you found Nepal’s human rights situation ?
Nepal has a very progressive constitution. The provision about 33 percent women representations in all the state machineries is very important while the Nepal government too has taken different measures to address the concerns of the marginalised communities. However, problems do exit. The discrimination and violence against women persist and the caste-based discrimination is still prevalent despite legislation in place. I would like to see more women representation in the business, public arena and in government agencies. It takes time but it shouldn’t take a very long time.
What is your assessment regarding Nepal’s transitional justice process?
Some steps have been taken by the government but more needs to be done. I think it is a very very sensitive issue. It has historical and political roots and social factors come attached. There are different pillars to the transitional justice process and the entire process is very time consuming. If you take examples from different countries, you will see it takes time to conclude the transitional justice process. However, it is very important to provide justice to the victims and recognise that justice needs to be done.