Thursday, May 11, 2006

Land Reform, Truth And Reconciliation

Land Reform

All seven parties are going to have to face a few facts. One is, do they want to retain the monarchy or not. Another is federalism. Yet another is land reform. Do they want it? How do they hope to accomplish it? They are simply going to have to spell out before they go to the people for the constituent assembly.

I think the center piece of the idea of land reform in Nepal has to be about getting as many people as possible off the land! There simply is not enough land to go around. If you take all the arable land and divide it equally among the population, the amount of land per person is tiny. And so it is not productive to simply divide. The agricultural productivity would go down drastically. And you are looking at possible famine.

So we have to do land reform the smart way. Put a major focus on education, health and micro credit to reach out to all. Then put a cap on the amount of land any one person or family may keep. Then pay for and claim the extra for redistribution among those who do not have it. And when the landless get the land, it should not be free. It should be a zero interest loan to be paid off in perhaps a decade or two. Perhaps at below market price.

This is the broad outline I offer. But this is a big issue. A lot of heads will have to be banged before we can come up with something workable. Something just as well as productive.

And we have to go for rural industrialization. We have to divide the country into three states - Kosi, Gandaki, Karnali - and focus on Udaypur, Chitwan and Surkhet valleys. Maybe Chitwan can become the Shanghai of Nepal. That unlike Kathmandu could emerge an urban center to soak limitless urbanization.

As you see, I think land reform is about getting people off the land and rapidly expanding the industrial and service sectors. And for this FDI is key. You could export Nepalis to Malaysia and Arabia and wherever, or you could invite in FDI - Foreign Direct Investment - and create those jobs locally.

The Chinese experience has been that the Chinese diaspora has been the primary source of FDI. I think the same will happen for Nepal as well. I think it is because investors like to know what they are getting into. The Nepalis abroad already know. All the political leadership in Nepal has to do is put in place the right policy framework.

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Truth And Reconciliation

The first order of business would be to document everything, all atrocities committed by any and all parties over the past decade of civil war. All living witnesses have a right to be heard, and they have a right to have their stories documented and archived and cross-referenced with those by others involved. All little details will have to be recorded. All victims have to be fully heard by the state. This is essential to the healing process.

Those who wronged the April Revolution can not be granted amnesty. That is plain and simple.

But the decade long civil war is trickier. There a political decision will have to be taken. It will be a package of amnesty and justice. South Africa is a great example where Mandela decided on forgiveness as opposed to vengeance. Sometimes amnesty is a great price to pay for lasting peace. But that would be a decision for the political leadership to take.

There might be compensation involved for the victims.

Like Kul Chandraji at the UN likes to say, Ian Martin happens to be the top dog on this topic on the entire planet, and he happens to be in Nepal. We should put him to use!

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