Having experiences of dealing in Nepal, ASKO LUUKKAINEN, a first resident ambassador of Finland to Nepal, has been watching Nepal’s current political scenario very closely. Along with development and governance issues, Finish Ambassador is also keenly watching the transitional justice system. In the context of Nepal’s peace process, NEW SPOTLIGHT spoke to Finland’s Ambassador to Nepal Luukkainen.
How do you see the current state of Finland’s support to Nepal’s development projects?
Finland´s support has been rising during the last 5 years. Traditionally we have been involved in rural water supply and sanitation but also in environmental sector, forestry, education and human rights and democracy. Our assistance in rupees per year is about 2 billion, equivalent to 20 million Euros. We cooperate closely with the Government of Nepal as far as the implementation of the projects is concerned and assist also Finnish and Nepali NGO`s who are working in Nepal.
As Nepal has been passing through a long phase of transition with frequent changes in the government, what is the level of progress of Finland’s support to Nepal?
Despite difficult times during the insurgency 1996-2006 and after that we were and have been able to implement projects and according to independent evaluators the projects have really delivered. I believe that the close contacts between our projects and the beneficiaries who often are the poorest in the country have made it possible to deliver even while insurgency was in place. And although the Governments have changed, we have been able to cooperate closely with the Nepali authorities.
Finland is known for its liberal views on human rights issues. How do you see the process of transitional justice in Nepal?
We are actually not very liberal as far as human rights are concerned. In fact we expect that human rights are respected in every country including those countries we support financially. Transitional justice is progressing , I see the compensations to the victims of the insurgency part of transitional justice. But a lot needs to be done still, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill and the Bill for Disappearances Commission are not yet finalized. We hope that there will be progress soon. In fact we in Finland experienced civil war once (1918). After the war no such commissions were established and as a consequence the deep mistrust between the parties of the conflict prevailed tens of years. Commissions could help the reconciliation in the country.
As human rights activist in Nepal criticized the current move of government to withdraw the two bills -- Disappearance Bill and Reconciliation bill from parliament to produce only one bill, how do you look the reactions of human rights activists in Nepal?
I do understand the reactions of the human rights activists since the process has been such a long one. This new delay has made many restless. But one bill instead two, that is difficult to comment before we see what kind of Bill is now under preparation.
Political parties are proposing for blanket amnesty, how do you look at it?
Finland and other EU member states who are represented in Nepal have clearly indicated that blanket amnesty, if implemented, would create great concerns within EU. I have read reports of clear criminal activities during the insurgency and they cannot be considered political. Even politically motivated criminal acts should be investigated.
What are the views of Finland government on human rights issues in Nepal?
I want to take a longer perspective. I was working in Nepal also 2000-2004 when the insurgency was going on and had reached its peak I suppose. During that time human rights were commonly violated and I believe both sides were involved in this. Since 2006 the human rights situation has improved tremendously. We welcome this and continue our support to the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal.
How do you see the ongoing peace process and constitutional writing process in Nepal?
Again, if you compare the situation 10 years back and now, the peace process and constitution writing process can be commended. But many citizens and expatriates are disappointed due to the fact that the political parties have not been able to finalize the processes after 2006. There have been several extensions for the CA terms. Right now I am really concerned about the future of Nepal. So many different groups try to influence the politicians in order to secure a federal state which would satisfy their interests, which sometimes are narrow. Right now the country is largely paralyzed by the bhanda´s which are used as a weapon to get the demands through. This is not good from the economical point of view and the life of the ordinary citizens is disturbed. One should see the larger picture, what kind of federal state is useful for Nepal as a whole.
As an experience hand serving in Nepal previously also, have you see any differences in the areas of implementation of the projects and programs?
Clearly the tendency is that our projects are more and more implemented by Nepali citizens. Same has happened in other countries we have been assisting and I welcome this trend. This guarantees the sustainability of the projects.
As there is economic recession around the globe, will it make any differences in the Finland’s aid to Nepal?
Finland is also facing the recession or at least bad economical times at the moment. But we have been able to increase our assistance to Nepal . This is an achievement since in some countries we are cutting down the development aid programs.
How do you see the level of corruption in Nepal?
Corruption is discussed a lot in Nepal and unfortunately it seems that despite the zero tolerance towards corruption by the Government, it exists. Some reports say that corruption is even on the rise. This is very unfortunate, no country can expect development if corrupt practices are in use. As you might know Finland is ranked to be one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Ranking is yearly done by the Transparency International. We are proud about this and believe that our strong economy is partly due the non tolerance of corruption.
Have you seen any changes in the good governance practices in Nepal?
Ten years ago, when I was working in Kathmandu, the freedom of press/media was limited. Now the situation has totally changed. Media is reporting a lot of bad governance and corruption and this is I welcome. When bad governance and corruption is exposed, the governance will improve. Maybe this is the biggest change compared to my first assignment here.