“Nepal Needs New Faces In Leadership” Matthias Meyer

Completing his three-year tenure in Nepal, German Ambassador Matthias AJ Meyer has retired from his diplomatic service of 37 years. Before leaving Nepal, Ambassador Meyer spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on various issues, including his future plan. Excerpts:

June 25, 2017, 12:19 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 10, NO. 21, June 23- 2017 (Asadh, 2074)

What is your impression of Nepal?

I have seen a lot of different situations. From earthquake to political instability, Nepal has been passing through all kinds of change. However, people of this country are so nice and bright. Despite all the difficulties in their life, they are hospitable, as they make me feel at home, and persuade me to stay longer in this country. After this assignment, I am going to retire. This is life. In future, I will come here as a friend. I will be a free person, with no duty of an ambassador.

How do you view the challenges before Nepal?

What I would say is that in our home country, we are also facing a very difficult time as populism is running our whole system and values. From Great Britain to France and Germany, we all have been facing some kind of a difficulty, from terrorism to populism. President Emmanuel Macron’s election as new president of France is very significant and historic. He defeated populism and preserved the liberal democratic values and ideals in Europe. He has no party background and he won the hearts of the people.

What do you suggest for Nepal?

Nepali people also need to look at new directions. Nepal also needs someone like Marcon with not too much do with the political life and parties. It will give Nepal a new face. In my eyes, new face for Nepal is very important. The longer Nepal depends on the old leadership, more difficult will be the times ahead. I wish Nepal would have a new face that can change the face of the country.

As an outside observer, how do you look at the state of Nepal?

You must have patience here. Nothing will come out in a short way. With a country shaped by mountains and hills, it is not easy for life as development cannot penetrate quickly as we expect. I don’t think anybody is to blame for the present situation. What Nepalis need is to learn to have better coordination and understanding among different government ministries and organizations. Nepal is in the process of reshaping its development process. Germany wants to support Nepal. Money is no problem. We can provide more money but the need is to change the mindset. For this globalization has had positive impacts. There are many knowledgeable and well informed Nepalis abroad. This is a good sign that they are coming back here to work. What I see is Nepal has a very strong and stable society. Despite unstable political system, the society is much stable.

What plan do you have for future?

It is not easy to decide. This is my sixth time in career as an ambassador. It was a pleasure to work as a diplomat. At the end of professional life, what I can say now is that there is another life also. I have learned a lot of political life. What I want to learn now is the personal life.

What will you do?

I come from a very small, remote and beautiful village with mountains, trees and lakes. My village has very clean air. I am very happy to be back to my village which is my root. The same house I can go back now, where I was born and grew. I like the people who work in agriculture in the ground. Farmers use very sophisticated machines.

Nepal has been facing many challenges. How do you see the growing social and economic disparities in Nepal?

Your cultural, linguistic and natural diversity is not a liability. They are your assets. Despite of so much of diversity, what I find interesting in Nepal is that people are open and hardworking. Germany too is a diverse country and diverse climate. Nepal could be successful if it finds a way to develop with the participation of young people. You have a traditional life but it also gives way to open up in modernity.

You took an initiative against air pollution. How do you see the situation now?

When I saw the traffic police working in the road without protection and young children walking in a dusty road, what I came to realize is that I need to take certain steps. As a resident of Kathmandu, I was also a victim of air pollution. This is what inspired me to work. What I can see is that the level of air pollution is increasing as the level of awareness. I am optimistic that the situation will change in Nepal.

How many places have you visited in Nepal?

I have had a chance to travel to some parts of your country. After travelling the country, I have realized that Nepal is the most beautiful country with people showing resilience. People living in different regions, including Ilam, Nepalgunj, Pokhara, Kathmandu and Mustang, are different in their origin. Each community has different languages, traditions and customs. The festivals in Bhaktapur, Patan and Teejia festival in Mustang are some of the memorable ones. The festivals are colorful. What I can say is that Nepal is a very strong country living with past even today.  We too have such traditions and cultures but we have lost a bit. Here you can see the past everywhere. If you go to a village, people are living with their past close to them.

Which part do you miss?

I visited many parts of Nepal. However, I still wish to see far-west and mid-western parts of Nepal. As visiting Nepal is time consuming, diplomats cannot really afford because of their busy schedule. I was always overwhelmed by hospitality of the people. I am excited to learn from as they tell me what they have learned from the past and what they still use.

How do you see the future of Nepal?

As you are in a very favorable situation, your country has a very prosperous future. You can use your regional and environmental situation in a very fruitful way. You have India and China on two sides. They will create a good opportunity for you as well. You can be linked with other parts of the world through One Belt One Road Initative. Similarly, you also need to build massive connectivity with India. It is a pity to say that you have not done enough for this.

What is lacking?

In my eyes, it is a pity that you have not done enough to enhance connectivity within the country and outside. Of course, it is a very difficult process. As a German, we are not taking any side, north or south or another. You can use OBOR to export goods to Germany. India is very important for you and your development.  India may have the advantage in getting better in the areas like railway sector and road sectors. There are many such things with India. If I came here as an ambassador five years ago I would have seen many more such things.

How do you see Germany’s support?

With regard to our cooperation, we have done a lot during the period of the devastating earthquakes. We provided 38 million Euro to government for earthquake recovery and reconstruction. There are also many private initiatives with a total contribution of 160 million Euros.

How is your impression of the work?

I have been here for three years. Germans have done much more in reconstruction. The first phase of our response was quite high. There were a lot of criticisms. In first phase, there was an effort to control the flow of money coming from abroad including the generous support of the individuals. The one window policy introduced by the government had done much harm to Nepal as many individual donors turned to others. Had the system been made better, a lot of earthquake victims would have new homes now. Many people complained that one window fund was very slow. What I want to stress is that trust those who come to help. Many came with their best intention to support the earthquake victims. However, the government declined to give access to them.

How do you see reconstruction process?

We have supported to rebuild the cultural heritage sites and temples. We have supported to build Kileshwor Temple in Changu Narayan. The reconstruction of the temple completed a year ago and people have started to visit the temple. Germany has already supported to build Laxmi Narayan Temple of Changu Narayan. We also supported the reconstruction of Sundari Chowk in Patan.

How about Nepal’s constitution?

Your new constitution is really progressive with representatives of Dalits, ethnic groups and marginalized communities. It is good to see the process of implementation of the new constitution. The completion of the first phase of local elections was a good step. I think your country will move forward after holding the elections for provinces and center by next year.

How about federalism?

This will help reach the power to the people. I am optimistic that Nepal will have a better future. Federalism means to give more authority to local level. Provinces and local bodies can handle the water supply, sewage, school management and pollution in a better way. It is a slow process but you can achieve progress step by step. Once this process starts, many things can change. How to distribute and channelize money is very challenging. There is the need of better coordination. Judiciary has to play a very important role. Your judiciary is till independent compared to other bodies.

How do you consider the air pollution of Nepal?

Air pollution of Kathmandu is very bad. Although the level of public awareness is going high, the level of air pollution of Kathmandu and Nepal is still above the World Health Organization threshold. You must try to control traffic and pollution to save your economy. Public transport needs to improve. There is the need to have a system. There is also the need to manage the garbage and make every possible effort to recycle the garbage. Given you have the new mayor, we can see the change. There also the need to activate the civil society and government officials. You also need to improve the state of Tribhuwan International Airport, which is, frankly speaking, very bad.

What plan do you have to return home?

I always prefer to drive by car. It is my hobby. I will return to my home by using own vehicles. I will go by car crossing at least a dozen countries. I will head to India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Greece, and Switzerland to reach Germany. It will take me almost weeks. Before starting my new life retiring from diplomatic career, this will be a good experience. I have done Sahara from Germany.  I was in diplomacy for 37 seven years. It is a long inning in life. I want some change after retirement.

Five things you liked most in Nepal?

Five impressions of Nepal: hospitability of people, diversity of race, culture and geography, language, Nepali food Dalbhat. I like Lumbini. A German has made a fantastic monastery. I visited several times. All the places have different things in Nepal. I have seen all other animals except tiger.

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