Public Policy on State-Building in Nepal

The planners and scholars have defined Nepal’s problem of development by mono-causal factor—traditional society, landlocked position, dependency,<br><P><EM>Dev Raj Dahal </EM></P>

Feb. 28, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 04 No .-17 Feb.25-2011 (Falgun 13,2067)

The September 9/11 event and previous years’ global financial crises provided international policy stimulus for state building. The G-20 Seoul Summit of this year 2010 introduced the primacy of ‘common good ’and ‘international development issues’ over nation-specific trade imbalances and currency values that marked an era of financial capitalism and reduced the leaders to powerlessness. These concepts aim the developing countries emerge out of poverty, instability and economic backwardness--the major source of conflict and cause of ‘state fragility.’ State fragility is caused by a lack of ‘internal cohesion of society with the state,’ and ‘adaptation in global relations.’ The state-society disharmony in Nepal reflects an increasing loss of state’s ‘legitimate monopoly’ on power following the internationalization of political economy and growth of autonomous power centers within the state claiming to share its sovereignty without accountability.

The legitimate monopoly of power is defined by the state’s capacity to organize society, collect tax, seek the loyalty of people and muster international recognition to its initiatives. Nepali state is weak on all counts as the reason of state defined by the autonomous values of its own and its link with the constitution is very delicate. It is also weak because the state is increasingly facing the erosion of its ‘policy space’ due to weak governance—a governance which is unable to achieve its goals and steer the actors in constitutional direction. The shift of mono-centric government to pluralistic governance has entailed both conceptual and structural adjustment as well as the need to organize broad-based consultation of various stakeholders on policy process of post-conflict state. Nepalese leaders can achieve national goals—drafting a new constitution, structural reforms and durable peace if public policy as a public good musters the synergy of all actors.  This means a consensus is required to strengthen the state’s role in improving the lives of the public through a partnership with the internal and external stakeholders. Duty to serve common good is highest civic virtue that binds the state and its citizens in mutual obligations.

Public policy is a rational means to attain the state’s objectives underlined in its constitution. One paradox of Nepalese politics is this: political leaders are often interested in ‘power’ than ‘public policy,’ though the lust for power is often masked in the ideology of emancipation. It has created a gap between universal aspirations of people evoked by ideology and national needs epitomized by the Directive Principles and Policies of State encapsulated in the Interim Constitution and Local Self-Governance Act. In Nepal, political authority seems too weak to formulate and implement public policies. The lesion learned from the global crisis of ‘symbolic economy’ is that when ‘real economy’ such as agriculture, industry and ecology where majority of people are engaged becomes sterile the cohesive foundation of state suffers. The fixation with growth without equitable distributive measures masked the alarming signs of climate change, economic crisis and confiscation of state capacity by non-democratic forces. The social causation of population growth, poverty, job layoffs, migration and conflicts are combined to create dysfunctional system. What can Nepalese policy wonks learn from this? How can normative aspirations and goals of Nepalese citizens be articulated into public policy?  How various kinds of solidarities related to power struggle can be brought into a common end of post-conflict state building?

The planners and scholars have defined Nepal’s problem of development by mono-causal factor—traditional society, landlocked position, dependency, intellectual marginalization, centralization of power, gender inequality, social hegemony, fatalism, population growth, migration of youth, economic liberalization, aid conditionality, etc based on the representation of their own disciplinary discourse. Until recently, government routinely used number-crunching growth, structural adjustment, MDGs and PRSP as shorthand for development. Enlightened persons cannot comfort themselves with childish hopes in single issue determinism. Otherwise, blind forces overwhelm their cognitive flair. A lack of systemic understanding of causes and barriers of development can be attributed to the failures of public policy to maximize welfare gains. Similarly, each discipline contested the knowledge of others rather than mutual learning to situate the policy in the national context of life-world and continuously reform in the policy process through social feedback. Now, globalization continues to deconstruct disciplinary knowledge, constitution and institution and social division of labor and constructs conflicts between individual citizens and society and between freedom and authority.

Shifting of Cartesian Paradigm
Nepal’s under-development so far has provided Nepalese intellectuals, policy makers and politicians an opportunity to reflect on their collective failure to uplift society to higher order and learn from their mistakes of planning. It has also offered an opportunity to assess whether externally induced policy based on ‘industrial’ culture can be suitable to predominantly agricultural setting of Nepal. Can a policy be public when it is prepared without consulting the public? Can it supply incentives to address Nepal’s problem of public political culture? An understanding about the changing national and local realities provide social learning and help reshape new inter-subjective framework to cope with the specific national challenges and build this post-conflict state. This means there is a need to create a stakeholders' policy think tank embedded in Nepalese society and careful of nature and culture as they are capable of discovering social capital necessary to spark informed debates in public sphere and indigenize development. Solution of Nepal’s diverse problems is less likely to be realized by the application of only Cartesian science because it separates the system of political economy into disciplinary fragments, such as economics, political science, sociology, geography, etc and sees the complex reality through reductionary prism. Only the post-Cartesian knowledge rooted into life science links nature, culture and human spirit into a macro framework of development.
Excerpts of the paper presented in Tribhuwan University.Dahal is Head, FES Nepal

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