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Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance

Seminar organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

30 September 2010, Bhimfedi

Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies chose, as venue for its latest seminar, the historic hamlet of Bhimfedi, which lies on the ancient salt route and was until about 50 years ago considered the gateway to Kathmandu. The small valley is once again regaining its 'transit' status with an alternative road linking the capital with the central plains. The NEFAS seminar titled "Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance" was organized in the halls of an old school that had taken over the building of an ancient public rest house. It was held on 30 September with cooperation of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Ramji Yadav, headmaster of the school, chaired the function. Most of the participants were teachers and many had traveled quite a distance from villages in the surrounding hills to attend the function.

Welcoming the participants NEFAS Executive Director Prof. Ananda Srestha said that his organization was not an NGO in the conventional sense, but that a voluntary organization dedicated to holding academic discussions on public issues in different parts of the country. The outcome of the discussions are later published and made available for the wider public, the professor said. He called on the participants to be very active during the floor discussion.

The FES representative, C.D. Bhatta, introduced his organization to the people of this once bustling place. He said that the organization visualized by the first German president was currently working in 80 countries promoting ideals of freedom, equality, justice, solidarity and peace. The civic education seminar was part of that campaign, he said. Bhatta said that people need civic education if only to be aware of their surroundings and voice their legitimate concerns for the government to address them. The nation is drafting a constitution and civic awareness can help the people have their concerns included in the document, he said.

Shivaraj Dahal made his presentation saying that the absence of civic awareness was stark in every sphere of Nepalese public life. There is a need for civic education to transform an ignorant 'people' into aware 'citizens', he said. He attributed the political instability, economic chaos and deviant behaviours of people in the public sphere to an absence of a sense of duty that has resulted from a lack of civic awareness. Dahal recommended civic education to be catered not only through schools, but beginning from the home of the child, his or her acquaintances and through other means like the media. Only then will the nation achieve political stability and economic progress, he said.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation on a FES publication titled "Handbook of Democracy" sought to explain to the participants the fundamentals of democracy. The book, a reference material for those seeking information regarding democracy, contains explanations of terminologies, the kind of government in a democracy, the kind of regulations governing democratic processes, ways governments are formed and changed, the importance of the rule of law etc. Prof. Dahal also explained the differences in the differences between various forms of democracy- particularly, social democracy and liberal democracy.

Bedraj Acharya said that the political problems in Nepal were related with the hand-to-mouth problems a large portion of the populace. Unless we solve their problems, political instability will always haunt us, no matter how many political movements we conduct, he said. He said the policy needs to be oriented towards poverty alleviation and optimum use of national resources. Acharya talked about civic education to instill values like respect for manual labour. He said people were ready to work for less in foreign countries than at home because they feared that if they are seen doing manual work at home, their social status will go down.

The Bhimfedi seminar was a lively affair with a two-way question-answer session taking place during the time that was reserved for the participants to comment. But the floor session was more concentrated on political issues that civic education related. There were participants who did not agree to the need for the independence of the judiciary and said that they should be accountable to the executive. This was in contrast with the Handbook of Democracy calling for the independence of judiciary. Since the comment did reflect the agenda of one of the major political parties drafting the constitution, such issues could easily taint NEFAS' image as an independent organization. Another issue that put the organizers at odds was the seminar paper written by Shivaraj Dahal. The paper calls for an acceptance of pluralism and multipartyism in the constitution while majpor political parties do not accept pluralism even though they do want multipartyism in the new constitution. The Bhimfedi debate not only was lively but also exposed some of the lacunas in the series of seminars being organized by NEFAS just ahead of the drafting of the constitution. The function came to a close after Chairman Yadav thanked the participants and the organizers for their successful participation.

Excerpt of the seminar

Chair: Ramji Yadav

Ananda Srestha's welcome address
Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies was established in 1990. It is not a run-of-the-mill NGO, but a purely academic organization. The periodical discussions that we organise are of public concern. The outcome of those discussions are published for the benefit of the academic sector and those who are interested.

We have held discussions on civic education in different parts of the country. The paper being presented by Shivaraj Dahal today is not a complete paper. The presentation he will make will prompt you to comment on it. Your reaction will help make the paper more complete and publishworthy.

Our objective is to hold these discussions away from the hustle bustle of Kathmandu thus giving us the benefit of original feedback.

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German organization, has been assisting us in this series of discussions from the very beginning.

C.D. Bhatta: Friedrich Ebert was the first German president. FES was set up in 1925 to educate the children of the poor. The foundation was set up from the gifts he was given by the people when he was sick. Initially, the organization it only worked to educate the children of then poor. Later it expanded its sphere of activities. Today, it is working in 80 countries.

Achievement of social justice, freedom, equality and solidarity and peace were the initial objectives of the organization. We are debating on these issues in Nepal at the moment as we are going to draft a new constitution. The problem is that the strong want freedom while the weak and the poor seek social justice. Our task is to close the gap.

You need not weaken the strong to close the gap. Instead, we can easily enable the weak by making him stronger. In Nepal, this is a huge task. Social justice has to be an acceptable ideal for the Nepalese. The poor must be brought to the national political mainstream. If this is not done, political instability results.

There is the need to end the existing state of impunity to enable the weak to be strong. Usually, we see that the law applies only to the weak as the strong escape any jurisdiction of law with impunity.

We have seen popular movements aimed at change. But the people, who were used as tools for the movement's political objectives, are quickly forgotten by their leaders once they are catapulted to the seat of government.

Participation is as important as representation. Representation alone is not enough to empower the people.
Local governments link people at the grassroots with the state. If people's issues are addressed then the relations with the local government becomes strong. But at the moment, we do not have local government.

There is a need for a national identity to be rebuilt by forging the multiple identities that are being manifested today.

People have their rights in a democracy, and responsibilities too. Talking about rights alone will not be feasible if the responsibilities are forgotten. The state is weakened if people do not fulfill their responsibilities. Weak states cannot enforce the rights of its citizens. National identity is a must for people to be loyal to the nation.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation

Dr. Bedraj Acharya's presentation


Bal Kumar Srestha: We talk of an independent judiciary, but what about delayed justice. How do we reform the judiciary to avoid that?

Narhari Karki: I feel that today's independent judiciary is not quite independent. How would the judiciary have its efficiency reduced if it were to be dependent on the executive or the legislative? We know that there is already political interference in the judiciary, e.g. in General Rukmangad Katwal's case. I do not think it would be effective ieven if the judiciary to be made independent. The ancien regime had that perspective and it failed.

We see that educated people criticize the education system that they were raised by. I do not think it will be effective that way. I think it would be better if the media were involved in civic education rather than just schools.

Tirtha Ghising: Prajatantra connotes an ever oppressed people or the praja. Do we rename it janatantra or loktantra or nagarik tantra?

Amrit Lama: Will our queries be addressed by the concerned authorities? To strengthen local government, how accountable should the district development committees be?

Devraj Devkota: You talk of ultra-nationalists and like terminologies.

We know that political scientists and sociologists are involved in their own subjects only. It might be better if they too took themselves as citizens and took up civic education.

What about the differences between pluralism and multipartyism?

Shivaraj Dahal's reply

I agree that civic education should not be limited to books. It should begin from the home. We need to educate our children and choose the right school for their education. Their acquaintances and friends too should be checked. The state should initiate a civic education programme to educate the citizens to make them aware of the issues surrounding them. We know that the people can contribute a lot, for example in keeping the environment clean. The government alone cannot do much through state policy.

Delayed justice is injustice indeed. We should have a system whereby the local governments resolve most disputes, before even taking them to the courts. That would reduce the number of cases in the courts and make justice quicker and effective.

There is no civic sense in most of us. We do not even heed to the legality of our activities. All this is due to absence of civic education.

The moral education of the past has been taken over by civic education today. The latter talks about ourselves being responsible for our fate.

Regarding the terminologies on democracy, the same English word has been translated into many Nepali words. The terminologies show political differences among the political parties. The people are the focus in a democracy and names mean nothing if the fruits of democracy are delivered. There is rule of law in a democracy.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's reply

Regarding the state of the judiciary in the new constitution, and the difference between independent judiciary and one dependent on the legislative, there are those who advocate a system whereby the state organs are separated from each other. This is called separation of power. The other talks about the injustices resulting from the independence of judiciary. This viewpoint says that such injustices should be addressed by making it dependent on the legislature.

Delayed justice is not only due to systematic weaknesses, but also due to various other reasons like personal reasons involving the judges and bureaucratic hassles.

The current constitution envisages a judiciary that is dependent on the legislature. This is not bad in itself, but militates against the basic elements of the western style of democracy that sees separation of powers as a must to maintain the balance of power among state organs.

Regarding transparency and the role of the DDCs [District Development Committee], we see that the VDCs [Village Development Committee] are dependent on the DDC. If this system remain in place, the role of the DDC will be vital in the VDC's transparency. But today we are talking of local autonomous governance under a federal system.

CD Bhatta: Demos means people cratie means rule. Where people rule, we have democracy. But there is no guarantee that there is democracy in a republic. If you work for the people then you are democratic. But instead of 'by' the people you have 'buy' the people then you cannot have a democracy.

Shivaraj Dahal: Multipartyism is an offshoot of pluralism. Pluralism accepts into the system different groups and sects that are not only differentiated by political ideology. One can have religious or even ethnic pluralism.There is confusion regarding party policies on pluralism versus multipartyism. Some accept multipartyism and not pluralism.

C.D. Bhatta: If we believe in a democracy, we must respect pluralism, freedom of press and the like. If we do not have those elements, we may not be able to accept it as a democracy.

Amrit Lama: Will our issues reach those concerned?

Ananda Srestha; Look, we are talking about developing a course book. If the policymaker reads the book it is fine, if they do not we cannot pursue it as it is not our responsibility.

Amrit Lama: We want our views to have meaning. Such talks can be held even in a tgea shop or a bhatti.

Shivaraj Dahal: We want to see civic education in the school curriculum. If you come with the proper idea, it does not matter where you hold the discussion. It does not matter whether you do so in a tea shop or a bar or a bhatti.

Tirtha Lal Thing: Why do our public corporations go into loss and private ones make profit?

Bedraj Acharya: This is because of the rise of corruption and state inaction. This began when the government adopted privatization as state policy and politicians began making money out of the deals. It benefited them to show the PEs in loss as they could then be easily sold in the name of reducing financial burden on the government. Additional political interference helped to keep the PEs in the red.

Tirtha Lal Thing: What about an academic answer to the current political problems like the inability to elect a PM.

Sarswoti Lama: In your address to the audience as 'sirs', you were male-oriented. You were only addressing 'sirs' and not 'madams'.

The biggest disaster happening today is the brain drain. I know it is also beneficial because of the remittances. The economy benefits and also the worker's personal income. The rise of the living standards is a direct gain. What would have happened if we had brain drain 20 years ago. Obviously, a better living standard.

You talked of deaths of Nepalese workers in their foreign workplace. I know of cases of disasters taking place in the Nepalese workplace as well. We make news only if Nepalese die abroad and not when they die in their own country. There are risky jobs even in Nepal. Vehicle drivers are driving in risky roads. Please do not highlight only deaths abroad. I think if the brain drain continues for another 20 years Nepal will develop and if not we may go further down in economic terms.

Dayaram Kandel: Talking about better income from remittances, we should also think about relative income of the country where our workers go.

Bedraj Acharya: There is a difference between going abroad through frustration and pressure at home and through a well-thought out plan to get foreign employment. There is also another thing. You may see that the income that comes in from foreign employment is a good thing, but usually the workers spend more to go abroad than they earn. The land they sell to go abroad may never be reclaimed by the money the worker earns.

Amrit Lama: Indian flags are flown on Nepalese territory at the Koshi Barrage. The Khurdalotan dam was built by the Indians inundating Nepalese land even encroaching Nepalese land. What about Chandani Dodhara?

Prabha Baniya: It is unfortunate that our resources are being exported. We have our own drinks but trade them cheap for coca cola. We are increasing our dependence on others.

I had to send my brother abroad to save him from bad company. This was not done because I wanted to. But I was forced to. This gave him respect for his own work, for his family and even his country.

We see parents finding it difficult to buy stationery for their children for schooling but did not hesitate to spend the money to get drunk.

I think the programme should have been made more participatory.

Manju Puri: There is too much public discussion today about rights. Duty too should be taken up.

Prabha Baniya: I think you should lecture the Constituent Assembly members on civic sense.

Mangala Shrestha: Are those going abroad for work through India also considered out own citizens?

Amrit Lama: I have an official position in this public school, but ironically I am sending my children to study in s private school in Hetauda. This is because of the difference in the way they teach. Those appearing in the SLC exams from private schools do better. The public shool graduate cannot compete in anything. There is discrimination in education policy.

Sano Thapa Magar: I think am still one of the 'people' and not a 'citizen'. So are many people in Nepal. On the other hand, the politicians' activities are not encourging. Will the constitution ever be drafted? If it will be drafted what kind of constitution will it be?

Rule of law was envisaged even by the 1990 constitution. What difference would we see in the new constitution?

What should be our policy regarding India? Shouldn't the parties be united in having a common policy?

Would you also educate the politicians?

Devraj Devkota: Would direct election or indirect election be proper in a loktantra?

The politicians are swamped in corruption.

Have you included the consumers right in the book?

Sarswoti Lama: You talk of a new leadership for a new Nepal. Ho do we contribute to that? For a new Nepal, new leaders should be brought up. But we see the same old faces. We even see elderly people fighting for the highest post. When will the new leadership ever make it to the top?

Shivaraj Dahal: You need qualification even for a peon but not for those seeking public office. I think you even should impose age limitations for those wishing to join the political leadership.

Regarding nationalism, I agree with Amrit Lama. We are suffering from a fragmented nationalism. We should realize that this is not helpful.

We do not see debates taking place regarding the right to self-determination. We see border encroachments in construction works carried out unilaterally by India.

The Indians have been using the dams to harm Nepal in both the dry and wet seasons.
We see Indians robbing us of our natural resources, even sand and stones.

If we are united then no one can harm us.

There are people in Susta with Nepalese land ownership papers but the land has already been taken over by the Indians. We need to be aware that the government has not been doing much. Instead, our politicians are seeking the blessings of Indians to get to powerful positions.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal: Regarding a model for state restructuring, the Americans have an executive president, the British parliamentary system has a ceremonial head with an executive prime minister and the third one is the mixed French system where you have both an executive president and a prim minister. Another system is the Chinese system. If you look at our party manifestos, they adopt one or the other or a mix of these systems.

We should be working to end the discrimination existing in the society in many forms, not just in schooling.

Regarding the rule of law and social justice, if these are not strengthened loktantra cannot survive.

The fundamental rights should include the right to education.

Our nationalism is in danger because of our politicians and not us. The weaknesses lie in our own politicians. We still face the problem of our leaders not hearing our recommendations.

Shivaraj Dahal: We have given a similar lecture to the 601 constituent assembly members as you have suggested.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal: Regarding the election system, there is a simple majority system and a proportional representation system. It is because of the latter system that we have not been able to have a majority party in parliament. Thos has however given representation to many. Our political parties should develop toleration among their political rivals. A mixed election system is the best for us.

Regarding the elderly leaders that we have, I do not think we can do anything about that. If we have a minimum education qualification, many of the MPs would be excluded. And, political parties will never agree to that.

Regarding illiterate elected officials, the government has been known to give them literacy classes in the case of South India. The problem in Nepal is that the Constituent Assembly is a special case, but, still, we can organize classes for them.

Please do not blame India for working for their national interest. Our politicians sign away whatever documents they lay in front of them and then blame India. This is not right. If the government works for political consensus on basic issues then there will be no problem. But we are unable to do so because those in power are steeped in corruption and dependent on Indian largess.

Gopal Sharma: Can we have civic education in our schools by integrating the subject in the curriculum?

Shivaraj Dahal: The government has pledged to include it in higher secondary schools. We had developed a publication on civic education and it turned out to become a part of school curriculum. Most of the subject matter was based on the discussions we had held in the past. Today, the subject has not been made compulsory, rather optional for Class 12. We have to wait for an elected government for a proper policy on that.

We must be hopeful that the constitution will be drafted. That is not the main issue. Whether we have a constitution or not, we must have security and our rights.

Ramji Yadav: Will the PM be elected today?

Amrit Lama: Why did you not call journalists here in the discussions?

Shivaraj Dahal: We have done that in the past. Two years ago in Hetauda and called many journalists. We had given interviews. Yesterday's function in Simara was aired by a radio.

I hope you take the message to the rural villages. We are going through a difficult time in our country. Nepalese are turning into refugees in heir own homeland. Politics should be resolving deadlocks, not creating them.

We can bring back loktantra if it goes away, but if we lose the country it will be gone forever.

We need a policy to stop the brain drain and a sudden ban on foreign employment will not be practical.

The state should monopolize punishment and taxation.

Chairman Ramji Yadav's remarks: Your participation in the discussions has encouraged me. Had there been more time allotted for the discussion, it would have been more lively. The discussion should have been spread over a period of at least four or five days.

We have not been able to elect a prime minister even though we have such a beautiful country and a great people.

The politicians do not indulge in any self-criticism. Once they are in office, they only see positive developments everywhere, but if they are in opposition, they are very critical of everything. I am scared that the republic will go away because of politicians' blunders. Thank you all for the lively participation.

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