Thursday, September 12, 2002

US $ 41,000 for two seminars

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Sept 11[2002]:Nepali authorities should be able to do better things with foreign aid. However, they prefer to blow-up well-intentioned foreign-funded money in typically Nepali ways. Organising seminars, a la Nepal, has come to the open as one more proof of the ingenuity of Nepalis in ‘blowing up’ money, if the following example is any proof.

Nepal is to receive as much as Rs 3,222,190 or 41,000 US dollars to organise two seminars, from the UNESCO central office for the coming year, as per requests made by Nepali authorities, sources revealed to The Kathmandu Post today.

A seminar titled "A Sub-regional Seminar of Government Regulation of Privatisation process in Education in South Asia", 183162 01NEP, will give the authorities 25,000 US dollars, while another seminar on "Women Empowerment, Partnership Nepal, Lalitpur", 183162 03NEP, is going to cost 16,000 US dollars.

"Rather than blowing up the foreign aid in vague seminars, Nepal could have utilised that money for a hundred other more fruitful issues," said a source refusing to be identified.

UNESCO Central Office has formally approved two requests made by Nepal National Commission for UNESCO under the Participation Programme for the biennium 2002-2003.

However, a letter written by Ahmed Sayyad, Assistant Director-General for External Relations and Co-operation of UNESCO, sent on September 2 to Khagendra Basnyat, the Secretary General of Nepal National Commission for UNESCO, states that no new financial contribution for the 2002-2003 biennium will be paid until the applicant has submitted all the financial reports, together with all supporting documents necessary, in respect of contributions for which payments were effected prior to 31 December 2000.

Moreover, the letter also warns the Nepali authorities that it has to keep all supporting documents (receipts, contracts, invoices, and so on) in respect of the use made, for this financial contribution for a period of five years after the end of the biennium concerned (2008) and to provide them to UNESCO when it or its Auditor so requests "failing which unsupported amounts will be reimbursed to UNESCO".

"The way we have been sending reports of the expenditure has not been satisfactory to UNESCO headquarters. This is quite a small amount we have so far taken from UNESCO but it is going to be quite tough for us, " the source said.
[Kathmandu, Thursday September 12, 2002 Bhadra 27, 2059.]

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Poor seek identity among rich Kathmanduites

Razen Manandhar
No wonder, Kathmanduites are rich. They have (or used to have) fertile lands and skilled hands to fill their greenery. This treasure not only made their houses beautiful but they also constructed hundreds of temples and stupas in the small valley. But a new type of rich people here have over-shadowed any hereditary millionaire.

People in the capital have not yet recovered from the shock they got after hearing that a junior clerk in the Revenue Department can earn over 7 kg of gold. At least some have proved that earning money is not difficult in the capital. If you happen to sit in one of the "lucky seats" of the "lucky departments", you can set an example by saving as much in a year as others may not be able to earn in a decade.

People like the 22 national heroes have given Kathmandu an image comparable to Las Vegas in the past decade or two. They have proven that this is only a city of "rich" people (unfortunately, their image are now lost, luck has it, what can we do?).

Well, we would have to consult an astronomist before buying vegetables with the government salary, but the government officers are buying building after building that their grandfathers never saw even in their dreams. When they first enter the city, they didn’t have money to pay off room rent. But those who finally win the lottery of having a job at those targeted positions, change their lifestyle in a year or so. They come to the city of dreams and turn their dreams into a reality within a wink of time. Do they bring a magic rod from their village houses?

It was not only those 22-type of servants who made this city a paradise by extravagant demands. There are political leaders who lead the poor Nepali praja to an abyss and they themselves jump directly into Pulchowk quarters.

Everybody knows, today’s pot-bellied leaders, used to depend upon "New Road ko Bhauju’s" mercy for lunches and dinners. They used to share even razor blades and walk in the streets flapping their Hawai Chappal. I have not heard the God of Forest offered any of them a gold axe for their sincerity (I’m referring to a story I read in my schooldays). The leaders in power are paid scantily and others who just wait outside the Singha Durbar only receive "try again coupons". And, most of our politicians are professional politicians. That is, they have no other "profession" than doing politics. How can this uncertain profession make Bill Gates with Pajeros out of Chappal-chhap activists within a year they hold power?

By any means, those sincere servants and sincere leaders of the sincere government have established an unwritten principle that this Kathmandu is really rich. Regardless of the per capita income, their purchasing power rocketed overnight and the city-dwellers have become so affluent that their hands never compromised with Nepali products or Indian economic goods. They
started fancying the most expensive, luxurious items. The ordinary Kathmanduites are astonished — where does the money come from?

It would be all right if only the unnaturally rich people did not cast an impact on the general public. But they also have made a general concept that being a khardar is buying a car and being a subba is buying a bungalow in a VIP residential area. That means wives of sincere, hard-working and intelligent staff think their husbands foolish and eunuchs. Living in the same city is sharing a same standard but the two types of people can never compete.

The fact of the matter is that the people, living in this city, are not only those who rush to the newspaper stand every morning just to see whether the CIAA has published their names. Quite a lot of people living here need not be afraid of what they have earned — they eat what they sincerely earned and do not have to say that his son’s property is not his. Moreover, quite a few people here go to the bed without buying dinner.

Along with urbanisation, the number of urban poor is also increasing. According to a non-government organisation, working for the squatters and urban poor, Lumanti, there are over 15,000 people living in some 60 such settlements, mostly by the river banks, who live far below the poverty line. They are such a group of people, whom the local government neither discards or evicts as illegal, nor provides any facilities that other city-dwellers take for granted.

On one hand, in the city, which has to bear the burden of immigrants under this or that excuse every year — either unemployment, or Maoist terrorism, landslide or floods— this extra pressure of squatters cannot be tolerable. As a geographic unit and a bureaucratic circle to provide basic needs to the residents, the population of Kathmandu Valley must have a limit. On the other, most of the pathetic residents in temporary huts along the river need not be really homeless. Instances are that even those people who own concrete buildings capture the huts, just to squat upon public land and snatch bits of government facilities.

Nevertheless, one has to admit that there is no comparison between the 22 government staff and those people in slums. Most of them have or had their land in the villages and possibly living decent lives too, but it is those 22-type of servants have allured them here. Or they are the ones who could not include them in that herd of CIAA targets. Be it unfulfilled or shattered, they do have dreams. In the condition of not helping them increase their population, will anybody stand up and say that they also deserve at least some attention?
[Kathmandu, Wednesday September 11, 2002 Bhadra 26, 2059.]

Monday, September 09, 2002

Shrine of Risheshwor, will it come out of government’s clutches?

By Razen Manandhar
KATHMANDU, Sept 8:It is not only the public who encroach on open space in the capital. Even government bodies can break the law, by squatting on religious land. The famous Risheshwor temple, located at the heart of the capital has been a possession of Nepal Transportation Corporation (NTC) for the last three decades.

Moreover, NTC even tried to sell-off the 37 ropanis of public land to distribute salaries to its employees.

Every year the shrine is visited by thousands of Hindus on Rishi Panchami, the fifth day of bright fortnight of late August or early September (next Wednesday this year). Unfortunately, the shrine is in the compound of NTC, a terminated government body these days.

Balbhadra Bhatta, a priest of the shrine said, "This happens every year. Thousands of women visit here on the day of Rishi Panchami, but the shrine lies in the government body’s premises. It is shame, the government does not even leave ‘God’s land’ free."

The holy area lies in Teku and to visit the shrine people have to walk through the now abandoned NTC garden, down a corridor of an empty office building and then into the ground where the shrine is cramped between ugly compound walls.

Some security persons live behind the compound and the whole area is littered with junk, left by the government.

The 63 years old priest said that the shrine used to be surrounded by jungle until the city expanded to surround it. "Meantime, it dramatically went into the possession of a government body and it has become difficult for us to practice daily rituals too," he added.

"This holy area must be free from control of any government body or any other. Rather one must take steps to construct a temple over it. As you are seeing I cannot even sit properly when I come to worship the deity every morning," he told The Kathmandu Post.

Bhatta said that he has heard the government wants to sell-off the commercially valuable land. The government has no provision to pay for the three priests, who depend solely on what the pilgrims offer at the temple.

Since NTC is not functioning, the area is full of unmanaged vegetation. Just before the annual festival, a local authority cleans up the area and prepares the shrine. Then it goes back to ruin for the rest of the year.

Surprisingly, officials at the Department of Archaeology, the only government body to conserve monuments of religious and cultural significance, has not taken any step to free it, neither have they any plans to conserve it, taking its religious and cultural value into account.

An officer at DOA said, "I have not even heard about the shrine of Risheshwor. Where is it, anyway?" Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has tried repeatedly to free this shrine from the clutches of the government body.

Niranjan Shrestha, past ward no. 8 chairman of KMC, said that KMC and NTC had a long battle over the Risheshwor issue some five years ago.

"It must be by 1998 that NTC finally agree to spare at least the shrine and provide a way to reach the area. But it demanded KMC should pay for all the construction it needs. This was beyond our possibility and the issue cooled down without bearing any fruit," he said.

Shrestha added that the area must be used for public purposes or at least should be easily accessible to the pilgrims throughout the year.

[Kathmandu, Monday September 09, 2002 Bhadra 24, 2059.]