Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Citizens’ Participation in Nepal's Constitution-Making

For those interested, here is the UNDP 2010 Annual Report from Nepal that describes what I was working on last year w/ my wonderful colleagues. It's all part of our effort to ensure greater participation and engagement across Nepal in the drafting of the new secular, federal, democratic republican constitution -- based on the inclusive priorities set forth in the 2007 Interim Constitution.

Alas, however, this constitution for a 'New Nepal' has been delayed as it was meant to be promulgated a year ago, according to that Interim Constitution. The Constituent Assembly (CA) is now in its second extension (until August 31st, 2011), but there is limited confidence that the CA and the major political parties will complete their work in the next month to share at least a draft constitution.

If not, major questions will be raised about how and when the CA will complete this work, as well as finalize the outstanding aspects of the peace process. So much work has already gone into both the peace and constitution drafting process that we can only hope (and pray...) that the senior leaders are able to resolve their differences and permit dear Nepal to step peacefully and successfully into its future...

Citizens’ Participation in Nepal's Constitution-Making

The 'Support to Participatory Constitution Making in Nepal' project’s Democratic Dialogues and radio programmes informed citizens and key stakeholders about the constitution making process.

Democratic Dialogues

In 2009, SPCBN supported the holding of 2,274 local Democratic Dialogues ('Loktantrik Sambad') that raised awareness and provided local inputs into the making of the new constitution.

The plan in 2010 was to run dialogues to gather comments on the draft constitution. The absence of the draft meant that the 2010 Democratic Dialogues provided an opportunity to disseminate information and collect opinions on the 11 CA Thematic Committee reports, which represented the progress to then on constitution making. These dialogues were held at VDC, constituency levels and were attended by 259,708 citizens.

VDC and Constituency Dialogues — Between March and September 2010 dialogues were held in Nepal’s 3,915 Village Development Committees. They were run by trained facilitators from 18 consortia of civil society organisations. Ninety master trainers trained over 1,300 facilitators on imparting information to people with limited literacy and involving less vocal participants.

After each dialogue, reports were prepared on the main concerns raised and suggestions made. These reports were then compiled into 240 constituency-wise reports, which were presented to the CA leadership and members.

Feedback to the Constituent Assembly — Reports were prepared on the points raised at the Constituency Dialogues, after which a report was compiled with the major points from all 240 reports. In November 2010, the 240 constituency reports and a compiled report were submitted to the Constituent Assembly, the CA Chair and individual members representing the opinions of the general public on the shape the constitution should take. Interactions were held with political leaders to inform them about the contents of the main report.

Federalism Dialogues — Federal Dialogues were held in each of the (proposed) capitals of the 14 new provinces proposed by the CA State Restructuring Committee. These were attended by more than 1,150 politicians and civil society representatives. The value of these meetings soon became apparent as amongst all these leading district and regional
level decision makers very few said they had a good knowledge of the proposed new governance structures before the meetings.

Two examples of democratic dialogues for an inclusive constitution:

A VDC Dialogue: Renu Gupta and Raghunath Das were one of the 17 teams of facilitators that facilitated Democratic Dialogues across Dhanusha district in 2010. During a dialogue in May 2010 in Bindi VDC the audience of Yadavs, Chaudharies, Mushahars and other communities listened to the presentations and offered their thoughts and suggestions. In response to the orientation on the report on the Distribution of Natural Resources, Financial Rights and Revenues:

• a former government official said that local resources should be managed by consumer groups as they know best;

• a district member of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party said that special provisions should be made for young widows and women from marginalized groups; and

• a school teacher asked how the new constitution would address the large gap in the quality of education between government and private schools.

A Constituency Dialogue: Some of the many issues raised at a dialogue held in August 2010 by the Madhesi NGO Federation in Bara district were as follows:

• A Third Gender person passionately called for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be recognized in the new Constitution.

• Many participants called for changing the rules to allow younger and less educated people to become members of parliament as the current, mostly older, educated members do not understand their problems.

• The president of the local Bar Association called for the political parties to be more flexible to resolve the contentious issues to make the constitution on time.

Many of the most effective dialogues have been ones such as this that brought Constituent Assembly members face-to-face with the concerns of their constituents.

No comments: