By Peter Thomson
What to do? – as my Nepali friends would say.
Sitting here in SW Scotland, dogs around my feet, Aga keeping me warm it crossed my mind that we Scots are in the same position as my Nepali friends. We both have a form of elected government, we both expect our Government to act in the best interests of the people but actually find that the will of the people is the last thing our Governments want to listen to.
Currently there have been 15 elections in the Nepali Parliament to decide who will be ‘acting’ Prime Minister since the previous one stood down in May 2009 and still the four main parties can not get a resolution. The people are asking for a new general election but the elected members claim this can not be done until the new constitution is agreed (so far there has been 4 years of haggling and still nothing has been agreed – except getting rid of their King). The country’s already tenuous infrastructure is nearing collapse with power outages for up to six hours most nights, fresh water provision in the major towns is failing, water tanker deliveries are only provided for those who have US Dollars or Euros, raw sewage is being pumped into the Bagmati River and the dead are piling up in the corridors of State run hospitals as their families often can not afford the cost of a ‘ghat’ to cremate them on while corruption and expense scams are standard practice amongst the Nepali politicians and their civil servants.
Want to build a new house in a supposed ‘area restricted for paddies and agriculture’ 1 Lak rupee (10,000 Nepali rupee – approximately £7,500 at current exchange rates) will see not only a Nelsonian blind eye to your build but all the certificates needed for water abstraction, sewage disposal and electric provision. The civil servant, his family and the local politicians will expect to be royally entertained at both the puja to bless the build and on its completion.
What has this to do with Scotland and how can I argue that we are in the same boat as my Nepali friends?
Well: we have a parliament in which at least two parties are more interested in point scoring and doing their London masters bidding than supporting policies that are in Scotland’s best interests. In Nepal’s case at least two of the sides are under Indian influence which requires frequent trips to Delhi for ‘hospital’ appointments. If they do not turn up when India calls Nepal’s fuel supplies get held at the Indian border until such times as India deems to let them clear customs. The fact that around 40% of the fuel then goes straight back over the border into India for black market sale is a matter of some conjecture. As to who is profiting? Given it is Nepal, every one from the Nepali politicians – in the arms length Nepali Oil Company – down to the tanker drivers will be: you can be sure of that. What ever India wanted will then be ‘fixed’ and politicians that were totally against it will suddenly vote for ,in exchange for 1000 rupees or so in ‘expenses’.
Kathmandu City Council’s dealings with ‘favoured contractors’ and local gang bosses compares closely with the Tammany Hall like antics of Glasgow City Council and in some areas, Glasgow still has a bit of catching up to do. It would be unfair to compare Strathclyde’s finest with their Kathmandu equivalents (Illegal car parking, 100 rupees fixed penalty but for you, sir, 50 rupees and we’ll forget the paper work – as they then walk away, cash in hand, with their portable ‘No Parking’ sign) but both forces do seem to get into deep trouble if they start investigating the ‘wrong’ people and prosecutors who try to force the issue in Kathmandu suddenly appear in Jiri or Chitawan, no longer in Government service.
As for packing civil service posts with pals, political creditors, political skeleton finders and families the Nepalis have this down to such a fine art that I am surprised the previous incarnation of the SPT did not have a fact finding mission to Kathmandu. Well they do/ did have trolley buses in Kathmandu until some enterprising crook nicked a few miles of copper wire, one night, during yet another power outage. You know how it is, once a couple of miles of wire went missing it seemed a shame to leave the rest – ‘Nice copper cooking pot? Hand beaten.’
The most important link between the two nations is the people. We have a lot in common with my Nepali friends; we are both innovative in the use of our available resources, put high standing in having a good education, are very hospitable, love social events and are community orientated. We tend to express our frustration with politicians in a cynical and humorous way which rarely descends into self pity and there is a gritty certainty that eventually the people will get their way. Maybe that is why I love Nepal for all its frustrations, open corruption and petty restrictions.
So what else can we learn from my Nepali friends?
How about – ‘Hoi Nah’ – which depending on the arm shrug, head nod and intonation can mean anything from ‘You must be joking? /What a stupid idea!’ to ‘Over my dead body!’ and all stops in between.
I’ll just try it out: “Cameron, Calman Minus – HOI NAH!”
There, I feel better already; thank you Nepal.