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Civic education for cementing ties between people & state

Two-day seminar organised by FES

8-9 February 2017 (Makwanpur)

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

In the aftermath of promulgation of new constitution, the nation is heading towards stability and economic development. It is bracing for elections aimed at enforcing the new constitutional provisions. The decade-long insurgency, prolonged transition, Madhes agitation and rise of non-state actors have weakened the state, creating serious challenges to nation-building project. Ensuring the people's trust in the ability of state to deliver the goods has become an overriding task at the moment. It is vital to bridge the gap between the state and citizens. A robust democratic system can be created only when the citizens fulfil their constitutional duties. A vibrant interaction between the state and people is the key to the functional democracy and inclusive economic growth.

Against this backdrop, civic education has become instrumental in boosting state-citizen interface. Active citizenship and participatory democracy can consolidate the state, and civic education is a viable means to advance this cause, averred experts and local leaders at a two-day seminar 'Civic education for consolidation of relations between the people and state' held on the premises of Manahari Multiple Campus in Makwanpur. It was organised in the second week of February with a view to launch democratic deliberations on the burning local and national issues. As the theme of the event suggested, it engaged the participants in the constructive debates about the matters of public concerns. Representatives of different political parties, cooperatives, consumers' and mothers' groups, police officers, chiefs of district level offices, teachers, students and social workers attended it. Excerpts

Kashi Raj Dahal, chairman of high level administrative reform and monitoring commission

Ancient sage Ashtabakra came from Manahari area while Makawanpur is the home district crusader of 'Thaha' campaign Rup Chandra Bista. Therefore, it is place of spiritual and political enlightenment. We came here to share knowledge with each other. Civic education connects the people with the state and makes the people aware of their rights and duties. However, the nation is at risk of being a laboratory of statute making. The non-state actors have brought it to its knees. Rule of law, transparency, effective service delivery and accountability were key to strengthening democracy and people's participation in the democratic process. Just by writing rosy things in the statute, the people cannot exercise their rights. They should keep an eye on the activities of the parties and government. The people are sovereign and they demand to implement the provisions of statute.

Dev Raj Dahal, FES Nepal office head

Our society was knowledge-guided but it has been now superseded by power. In Nepal, measures to bring the state closer to citizens through education, consultation, local governance, administration, justice, security, decentralisation, people's participation in democratic development, nation-building and peace-building works are gaining increasing attention. Participatory democracy, rooted in the sovereignty of Nepali citizens, has established them not only its stakeholders but also its beneficiary. These measures have shifted citizens' conventional roles as recipient of government support, voters, consumers and clients to claimants of legitimate rights to participate in decision-making and demand the interface between power and accountability and between law and justice, including public goods and services. A positive interface exists between civic education, character building and competitiveness of citizens. Now they have multiple channels to articulate their voice and shape public opinion, influence public issues, policies and decision making.

In the context of weak national centre, building shared identity and shared responsibility of citizens and leaders in Nepal has become essential task to expedite the recovery of the important aspects such as food, shelter, education, health, drinking water, irrigation, production, business and prevent future disruptions. Acquiring resilience in three areas what Arendt calls 'labor, work and action' is a must for 'disclosing oneself to common reality that all citizens share' and constantly 'engage in the spirit of inquiry' about the condition of their subordination by archaic family values, blind faith, traditions, laws and institution. Education, divorced from the life-world of ordinary citizens, becomes empty of meaning and substance. The deeper insight into human conditions and its improvement requires the application of human values and rights. While the labour and work are linked to personal survival, intergenerational continuity and progress, enlightenment of citizens from constraining condition of tradition, institutions and practices is the greatest gift of civic education.

Functions of civic education are:

  • Building democratic and active citizenship
  • Fostering state-effectiveness
  • Strengthening constitutionalism
  • Promoting citizen-driven politics
  • Building resilient economy
  • Incentivising civic participation
  • Linking the top to the bottom of society
  • Reimagining a common future

Therefore, civic education can modernise the Nepali society, promote constitutional behaviours of leaders and citizens and build their national perspective. It helps Nepali citizens build their national perspective which is vital to build the state-citizen interface. It enables them to know their ties with community, society and the state and exercise their labor, gender, human and constitutional rights and duties within the nation and beyond border.

Chief of District Office Narayan Sharma Dawadi said that he had floated a 30-point action plan after assuming office in the district. It has become necessary to chart out the clear standards with regard to the operation of crusher industries. The legal issues related to them will not be sorted out by the local administration. However, the crusher factories have no right to pollute the environment and I will call a meeting of stakeholders to check it. A citizen charter has been put up in front of the government offices to facilitate service-recipients. I ask the local government agencies and party workers to inform the ordinary beings about the charter. It is up to the civil society to monitor its implementation. I urge all to inform my office whether or not it was effectively implemented. Earning good name is the biggest asset in one's life. The people's consciousness is the heart of Loktantra. It is the duty of citizens to work for the broader interest of community and society.

Programme coordinator Shiva Raj Dahal underlined the need for imparting civic education to the youth so that they would batten down the hatches to build the nation. Civic education helps people attain knowledge and enlightenment about the statute, the citizens' rights and duties.

District Education Officer Birendra Jung Thapa said that teachers were the campaigners of civic education. It is necessary to make a person citizen and education should generate social feelings and awareness in the society. Without social awareness, no development is possible. Future of each family is linked with the schools. Parents expect that their teachers should be honest, good, friendly, punctual and ideal. However, parents are the first teacher and school teachers the second. A true citizen is one, who thinks about the welfare of others. Now, the schools should be the torch-bearer of civic education.

From the floor

Shalikram said that the state has given short shrift to the villages that are reeling from myriad problems. Ek Raj Upreti said that Manahari VDC is under the threat of becoming a wasteland owing to the frequent floods in three rivers passing through it. However, it is the crusher industries that have really posed a threat to it. Around 450 tractors used to extract sand and stones from the rivers and hills. On the one hand, the crusher industries have failed to provide 10 per cent of tax to the local development, flouting the agreement, on the other hand, they have polluted environment. Nava Raj Subedi said that even after completing higher study, the youth are forced to leave country in search of jobs in foreign land. This has exposed the faulty education system. Sukra Bahadur asked for opening education faculty in the campus so that the students are not compelled to go outside for the study. Sitaram Giri demanded for the proper management of sand and stones to the benefit of the locals. Rekh Raj Ghimire said that it is imperative to cement the state-citizen relations and pass the mantle of leadership onto the fresh leaders.

Kashi Raj Dahal's response: It is politics that frames the laws but when the politics becomes weak, it is tough to enforce the rule of law.

From the floor

Ram Prasad Dhakal said that the development budget has not been properly managed and spent. The progress in the development projects is hardly 25 per cent as monitoring is weak. The representatives of political parties are not responsible. Gauri Shankar Lama disclosed that the government has allocated budget to the construction of local monastery but the money has not yet been disbursed for it, giving rise to speculation of irregularities. The concerned agencies see to it that laws have been implemented in letter and spirit. Ek Raj Upreti said that social awareness is not up to the desired level. How to tame the social media for libel? It is a moot question pestering us.

Dev Raj Dahal- Democracy should be indigenized as per the domestic context. While the US has adopted capitalism, Germany and Nordic countries have embraced democratic socialism with various social justice programmes.

Kashi Raj Dahal's response- The new statute has a provision to unveil the fiscal budget by mid-May so that money is spent on development works in time but the budget allocation is delayed by the bureaucratic process involving its authorisation and release. As a head of central monitoring body, I have realised that even the 10 per cent of budget has not flowed into the local development. Loktantra requires that the parties and government should be accountable to the people. Democracy Day should be observed in substance. It should not be confined to a one-day celebration. Where there is civilian supremacy, there is true democracy. The people should be empowered. The statute has granted 31 fundamental rights. Democracy does not function in the absence of election. Proportional representation system of election has bred many anomalies. There has been tendency among the parties to run away from the election. If the defeated are sent to power, this will be mockery of democracy. Proclivity to evade tax needs to be discouraged.

DVC secretary Meen Raj Koirala said that the secretaries had groaned under the strain of oodles of works in the absence of elected representatives. The DVC is ready to conduct a public hearing in every four months if the local political parties come up with a proposal and support it. The consumers have to supervise the local development projects.

From the floor

Nava Raj Subedi said that the victims of earthquake, who do not possess the land ownership certificates, have been deprived of the government grants. It is unfair treatment on the part of state towards the citizens. Gautam Lama said that around 10 VDCs are located in the hill area and they have no access to the basic amenities provided by the state. They demand a separate administrative unit to look after their daily problems. We want that the voice of remote people be heard in the district headquarters. Kalpana Bartaula said that the dust and sand, generated by the crusher industries have made the Manahari people choke. They are running illegally. Shiva Kumar Karki said that the development plans should be executed with the participation of the people. The local administration should keep a tight rein on the illegal organisations involved in the activities of extortion. Bimala Karki said that the seminar opened their eyes to their level of intellect and ignorance. It taught that if the locals had worked with discipline, they would have achieved many things in the past.

Kashi Raj Dahal - The government has a policy to set up Area Administration Offices in different places to meet the needs of the people through the one-window system. In democracy, the state should be strengthened. Reform in education and promotion of good leadership is the need of the time.

Police Inspector Chitra Ghale said that the police and local peoples should team up to root out crimes and various aberrations taking place in the villages. I asked the civil society inform the police about the crimes they see and hear. My office looks after the area covering only 25 kilometres. The cops keep their nose to the grindstone till the midnight so that peace and security is maintained in the locality.

From the chair, Manahari Multiple Campus Management Committee Ram Hari Subedi said that the two-day seminar was highly fruitful to enlighten the people about their duties towards the community. It helped us to learn about the ancient history of VDC, too.

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