Failed development

  • Establishing order to foreign aid should not come at the cost of people's rights

May 14, 2014-

One of the priorities of the new government has been to establish new guidelines for foreign aid. It has requested donors to channel increasing proportions of aid through the government, and not through NGOs. In addition, Finance Minister Ram Saran Mahat has requested donors to focus more on investment in infrastructure development and curtail funding to projects focused on social upliftment. There is a strong nationalist focus in the new government's priorities. In one way, this is positive. The Nepal government has long felt that its autonomy has suffered due to the channeling of foreign aid through non-governmental sources. An autonomous state that is capable of fulfilling the needs of the population is in fact necessary.

However, this issue needs to be approached with some caution. Mahat's request to curtail funding to social mobilisation activities seems driven by a desire to establish order at the cost of the rights of the people. The ruling parties seem to have a blind spot when it comes to recognising the inequalities in Nepali society and the grievances of particular groups. To believe that these inequalities can be remedied simply by channeling funding to infrastructure and developing the market would be misleading.

For much of Nepal's recent history, foreign aid was channeled in a way that did not recognise the diversity and inequality of Nepali society. During the Panchayat years, the government acted in a way that demonstrated its ignorance of the fact that severe structural inequalities between caste and ethnic groups were prevalent. As numerous studies have demonstrated, this approach led to a situation where foreign aid was channeled through already powerful and hegemonic groups that had access to the state. The marginalised rarely had access to aid and, as a result, foreign aid only served to entrench inequalities. This continued to a large extent through the 1990s. It was only after 2006 that the rights of marginalised groups started to be recognised.

Mahat's recommendations to the international community seem geared towards reversing the trend of recent years where there has been greater recognition that structural inequality in Nepali society needs to be addressed directly. Of course, heavy investment in infrastructure and other such public goods is necessary. But if such investment is done blindly, without recognising existing inequities, we will be taken back to a situation akin to the Panchayat era where dominant groups will benefit disproportionately. For this reason, investment geared towards protecting rights and promoting social upliftment is also necessary. 

Published: 15-05-2014 09:53

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