27 May, 2014

ENGAGING THE GOVERNMENT





I was recently in Kapilvastu for an assignment when we stopped by the District Development Office. An officer there immediately gave me a piece of my mind.

Pointing to two colleagues who accompanied us from a local NGO, he said: “We have an employee here who is also engaged in this NGO in some capacity. He was a former employee of the NGO, and now remains on the board as a volunteer. He’s been presenting our work on citizenship as work done by the NGO. To bideshis who come, it appears all this work is being done by the NGO when in fact its his work he is paid to do, as a government employee! Can you imagine? And this is how fundraising is done—taking the work of government agencies and passing it off as the work of NGOs!”

 My colleages from the NGO nodded politely and didn’t contradict him at this point. Later in the jeep they told me that they had been doing this work of getting citizenship papers to their constituency for a long time, and it wasn’t that the man in question was taking credit for government work and inserting it into the NGO report, but that in reality they were engaged in this work on their own initiative. Another colleague said this inclusion of government assignment into the NGO report was a form of politeness, and a courtesy to the government not to make them feel left out. The government officials scoffed at this and said that this was NGO cunning rather than a courtesy. The NGO workers also pointed out that government offices and officials were inefficient and underfunded, and they had a much larger and dedicated presence in the field than the government ever could.

And this, in a nutshell, seemed to be the crux of the problem. There are over 300 reigstered NGOs in Kapilvastu. About 8 of them work actively in the field, and are receiving generous funds. According to the officer at the Woman Development Office, NGOs receive up to 5 crores (500,000 dollars.) Add that up for 8 NGOs and you get around 4 million dollars. “Our budget is 2 crores,” the Women Development Office’s officials said. In other words, the government agency that deals with women’s issues gets $200,000, and remains understaffed and underfunded, while NGOs get the lion’s share of the funding.

It is clear the Nepali Government is inefficient, corrupt as well as inept. NGOs in general have provided much needed services to underfunded and marginalized communities in a much more dedicated fashion. And yet, we should question whether this model is sustainable in the long run. Eventually the INGOs funding the NGOs will “phase out,” at some point or another, and the very same people working in NGOs will one day have to take over the reigns of government. Perhaps the time has come for the INGO and donor movement to think about ways in which NGOs can work together—instead of in opposition—to a weakened and debilitated government.

It is clear that the Nepali Government is not inclusive. Almost all the officials at the government ministries were Pahadis, in a Madeshi area. Without the inclusivity in hiring, the government will come to be seen as an interloper and a competitor for funding. The donors and INGOs can help change this by providing incentives to  the government to hire locals in the areas in which they operate.

 In addition, they should also think about ways in which work done by the NGOs could be better integrated with the work being done by the government. In the same DDC office, we learnt that one of the village development committees had been declared a “violence free zone”, that monitoring committees had been set up to take note of incidents of violence and to compile them for future reference that would be kept at the VDC level. In addition, local officials had also met with parties engaged in incidents of violence and as far as possible tried to provide justice. “We also took a government lawyer with us who provided advice,” he said.

The official who explained this process to me presented it to me in a systematic fashion, and in a methodical way proceeded to tell me how violence could be eradicated. Government, of course, functions, in just such a systematic manner—which the piecemeal and hot-button fashion of work done by NGOs cannot replicate. And if we are to truly engage in ending violence against women, the government has to step up and create a system in which it can be checked, controlled and eventually eradicated.

Government officials, formerly apathetic and lackadaisical, appeared to be engaged, at least on the intellectual level, with this issue. My sense is that the funding received by NGOs is suddenly motivating formerly apathetic and obstructionist beaureaucrats to be cooperative, as they realize that working in a positive fashion could bring more resources and credit to their offices, and that they are being left behind as NGOs show greater level of dedication and commitment in bringing about active social change.

The Nepali Government needs to think about ways in which the ministries that engage with social issues can receive adequate funding on par with NGOs. And this means providing—and ensuring the funds reach—district and local level branches of offices working to supporting the end of violence against women. This means dedicating resources and funding to the Ministry of Women and Children, and giving them a generous budget which can shift social relations at the grassroots level.

Allocating budget is one thing, ensuring it gets to the intended constituency is another. The meager funding allocated to each VDC for women, Dalit and other minorities gets released only if the government beaureaucrats gets a share of it. Clearly the solution is stronger grassroots groups that can advocate for, and demand, their budget without giving a “cut” to officials in the ministries. Some system of making budgets public would also help in reducing corruption and ensuring the funds get to the right people.

Bypassing the government, which the donors have done, has only led to the further weakening of an already weak system. The answer is not to further weaken it by putting the NGOs in competition, but providing adequate support on par with, and in collaboration with, NGOs working in social movements.


Modi’s “coronation”, the Visakha constellation, and Nepal’s hundred year old stuffed toy Prime Minister





Notice something about Modi’s coronation? Besides the fact that everyone was there—estranged relatives (Pakistan), annoying cousins (The Congress Party), and even Dharmendra and Hema Malini, the most interesting thing about the coronation was the glare that Modi gave his line of demure ministers at the very end.

Behave! He seemed to say.

Discipline is in the air. But then something struck this Nepali right at the very end. As the program ended, two guards in colorful attire rushed down the aisle in a rather undisciplined fashion—right past the newly crowned PM? And the Prime Minister looked left, and then right, as if he was on a Delhi street, before scooting over to the other side, to be swept up by the Great Indian mass.

In other words, they hadn’t thought out their exit. Great start, bad finish. They had thought of everything, except how the event would end. No colorful guards ceremoniously guiding the new PM out, with the line of exalted dignitaries behind. And this, as everyone knows is important. How you end the story is as important, if not more important, than how you start the story.

Modi has a Visakha constellation ruling his ascendent. Of course birth charts are complicated and one shouldn’t read a lot into one sign. But guess what Visakha does? It creates: great starts, bad finishes. Meaning if the Indians want to avoid a Manmohan Singh like exit for Modi, they need to think about how his tenure is going to end. Hopefully with great achievements, rather than an indiscriminate scuffle. 

Now I don’t want to put a damper on the new hopes of the subcontinent, but Nawaz Sharif’s dismayed face told me that perhaps the Indians weren’t as hospitable to him as we’d hoped they’d be. And what was that interview with Hamid Karzai all about? That big news FLASH! on Headlines India sensationally proclaiming “Hamid Karzai blasts Pakistan!” appears to be in bad taste—and a bit of a non-sequitor, in the middle of the coronation. Karzai admittedly was a bit of a rock star, well dressed in his dramatic cape, providing presence and glamour to the coronation that Nawaz Sharif failed to provide. Maybe the Indians were just taking revenge on his nodescript attire. Clearly the blasting of Pakistan’s support for terrorist outfits seemed to be a lead-in into India’s next moves—which appears to be heavy militarization. The subcontinent’s peace activists may have to take up their cudgels, since militarization seems to be in the air (“India plans to be an arms exporting country” was voiced by one fervent TV commentator). Lets hope that India’s plan for prosperity doesn’t rest on building Klashnikov factories in UP and Bihar.

Nepal’s hundred-year-old stuffed toy prime minister was immediately put right next to the most unpopular loser in the gathering—namely, Sonia Gandhi. Sushil Koirala beamed and seemed unaware he’d been sent to Siberia. The Gandhis and the Koiralas are tied at the hip—and just as the Indian Congress Party seems to have decimated itself tying itself to the fortunes of one dynasty, the Nepali Congress has just exactly that, holding on to the dregs of the Koirala glory.  The remnants of past glory really cannot justify why Sushil Koirala is ruling Nepal at present, in much the same way as Rahul Gandhi could not justify to his constituency why they should vote him in. Modi I think would agree would this, since he gave Mr. Koirala exactly half second of his time. Which I think is fair—considering that Mr. Koirala looks more like a cartoon of a prime minister than a real prime minister in that august gathering where all other SAARC countries mustered up real leaders—the Bhutanese always send healthy, youthful people with big smiles, and the Bangladeshi and the Maldivian and the Sri Lankan leaders always look like they have a real constituency, rather than a century old ghost claiming his right to politics based on a tenuous link to a glorified name. Of course, there was Sujata Koirala, heiress of the Nepali Congress fortunes, annoyingly trying to get Advani’s attention—but I hope he gave her exactly the same time as Modi allocated to Sushil Koirala.

Sushil Koirala did perform one useful function in this ceremony. Ms. Gandhi, who had come in fuming and bitter, was even giving a helpless smile by the middle. You can’t take your life all that seriously when you are placed next to a century-old, moth eaten, stuffed toy Prime Minister from neighbouring Nepal.

I don’t know what the Nepali delegation discussed with Modi (I really hope they didn’t repeat the line his Indian supporters were saying, in a rather alarming and non-democratic fashion: “We will do exactly as Modi-ji says.”) But I hope they offered a bit of help in cleaning up the neighbourhood, including maintaining discipline in unruly areas. It appears the Indian Army in Kashmir has been rather undisciplined lately. It might benefit from some Nepali-style discipline—the Nepalis are considered a top-notch team in terms of peace-keeping, after all. Clearly some lessening of “raag and dvesh” is needed in the Kashmir case. And I hope the Nepali team also said: “We’ll be happy to discuss hydropower with you once you come to the table with some equitable agreements.”

Knowing Sujata’s history, however, she probably said: “Modi uncle, our water is your water! Take what you want. Just save me and my daughter and my son-in-law an apartment in Rastrapati Bhawan.”

I don’t want to get sidetracked into linguistics, but have you noticed how “raag and dvesh” take people directly into spiritual terrain? Meaning the equilibrium of the mind, where no thoughts of attraction or repulsion can enter. Somehow the English translation just didn’t make the cut. Also interesting how the subcontinental notion of treating all people the same has a slightly different connotation than “We will not discriminate based on race, ethinicity and gender”, as understood in Western countries. Just a non-sequitor for political scientists who may want to delve into the complexities of how the subcontinentals understand, and articulate, inclusivity.

Which leads us to: did Modi’s team seemed less of “vibrant democracy” and more of a Panchayat Raj with a patriarch ruling like an old fashioned ruler? In one way, this might be an asset since the subcontinent is clearly beset with autocratic patriarchs who only listen to one another.

Modi seems intent in taking India, and the subcontinent, to another level of prosperity. On the other hand, there’s his troubling endorsement of Monsanto, and other big companies of this nature that make you wonder how much of his rule is going to be democratic, and how much of it will be dictated by big financial entities like the IMF and the military-industrial complex. It didn’t escape my attention that Arun Jaitley almost blocked him from view in the group photograph (taking his “rightful” place in front of the PM?)—meaning the IMF is probably ruling this giant theatre behind the scenes, in more ways than one.

Lets see how things progress. Peace activists, get ready with your cudgels and your microphones to fight the Klashnikov factories in UP and Bihar!











09 May, 2014

Documentary on men and boys supporting the gender equality movement

Ms. Joshi is shooting a short film on how men and boys are supporting the gender equality movement. It will win the Oscars shortly. Please stay tuned! ;-) She will be back with her blog posts as soon as she finishes her 10 minute video (what? No Oscars for 10 minute docs?), which will be after the advertisement break. Stay tuned!

03 May, 2014

THE BOTTOMLESS CUP COUNTRIES




As all thinking adults on this planet, I was intrigued to read about Thomas Piketty and his magnum opus “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Its main message, according to the Guardian:
Rising inequality is killing capitalism.

This is a nice message. I like the French, and I like this idea of taxing the super rich. 

The only problem after reading this article is that I felt Piketty didn’t really address the origins of money creation.  To me, it feels like he still believes it’s a fair world, with fair countries with equitable monetary policies, who somehow come into their trillions of dollars and euros in a fair way, and the only solution is taxing those awful rich people.

Now I wonder if it’s that simple?

It appears to me Christine Laguarde also says the same thing on Amanpour's program. Economic inequality is bad for the economy. Lets monitor it, lets measure it, lets keep it in check. Sort of like it’s a tumor that can be scanned with a scanner and then removed when the doc says its big enough to get rid of. 

I’m not an economist, just an unemployed writer of blog posts. But it occurred to me that the fundamental source of the inequality seems to come from how money is created. I am talking about those cash bills in your hand, people. I am wondering why some countries seem to print so much of it –dollars, for instance. It’s a bottomless pit. Lets invade Iraq. And Afghanistan. And Ukraine. And now all of Eastern Europe. The money keeps on flowing and flowing and flowing. It’s a bottomless cup.

People in slums in Brazil, and India, and other places of this nature, meanwhile, may supply services to the economies of Europe and America, but somehow they don’t have this equitable start of cushioning of nice currency. They start out with zero bills in the monopoly game. It’s like a game where half the players start with nothing in their hands, forty percent get two or three bills, and about ten percent take all those little green bills and tell the other players: “Hey, once you guys get up to speed, we’ll give you a few of these bills. In the meantime, stay in the game.”

But why should people stay in this game? It is only as long as people think the dollar and the euro should keep on flowing out of the ground, like some Greek mythological fountain of plenty, that Nepalese and Indians and other workers will continue to work for almost no money for years in the Gulf, to take out oil from the ground to fill the cars of Americans, who may be rushing around doing nothing more important than their laundry. I mean, come on—can these 330 million Americans really be creating all that many new products, and new businesses, and new ideas, enough so that they can exponentially keep all the rest of the other economies in a place from which they can never throw off the weight of the dollar?

 I always find it strange to go the local supermarket and find out that the one new Nepalese item that makes it there-whether rhododendron juice or seabuckthorn juice or nettle fabric or high altitude churpi—has vanished into the giant maws of the supermarkets of Europe and America. Nothing remains, even though the return to the people who make these goods is tiny, in comparison. The churpi cheese, once the staple food of mountain people, now ends up as dog chew for American pets. No doubt a local elite middleman makes a tiny profit—enough to build a building, perhaps. In the meantime, the mountain people get exponentially less nourished than they were before. Whatever little monopoly currency they started out with is rapidly being seized in this game where only the very richest countries can win. 

I like the French, and I like this idea of taxing the superrich. But I think global inequality needs a more elaborate solution than simply taxing the billionaires. I think people need to start asking: how come those countries in Europe and America start out with so much more currency in their hands than the rest of the 154 countries put together? 

And: how come they never run out of cash, even when everything—trade, employment, sales—is down?

And:  should we start looking at the insides of this bottomless cup?