David M Malone, is Canadian Ambassador to Nepal and Bhutan, and Canadian High Commissioner to India. Prior to this, he was Assistant Deputy Minister in Canada’s department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. A PhD from Oxford University with a thesis on decision-making in the UN Security Council, he also served as an Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN, where he chaired the negotiations of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.
David, who is here for a few days in Kathmandu on his regular visit, spent a few minutes with Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post talking over issues relating to Canada’s concerns over Nepal’s peace process and his individual observations.
Q: You have experiences of working in a federal structure. What do you think of the demands of the different ethnic groups for autonomy and right to self-determination?
David: It is very complicated. And it takes a lot of time to think about and negotiate. With Quebec, its current status in the federation of Canada is the very slow evolution over many years. It’s easy to say a region is autonomous but what is the content of autonomy? In what way a region is autonomous? Does it deliver all the programs? Does it raise its own taxes? Does it stop asking the centre for more money? None of these has been thought about yet. And in Canada it took us a great deal of time to think about these things.
Quebec is much more like every other Canadian province than it is different from them. The parliament of Canada has recognized Quebec as a nation because of its cultural identity, which is largely French. But if you look at the practical arrangements that govern Quebec, they are very similar to the ones that govern Ontario. What Quebec gets from Ottawa is pretty same as what Ontario gets.
So, I sympathize with the people of tarai because they have been marginalized for a long time. And nobody listened to them for a long time. But I think frankly there is no magic constitutional solution to their problem. If a new designation within the new Nepali federation, that is somehow distinct for the tarai, helps them psychologically that’s good. Does no harm. But the people in the tarai and rest of Nepal need to think about the practical arrangements involved because they are the ones that affect development and growth.
So the business in Canada of building our federation has been nearly as much a boring business than as it has been an exciting business of visionary leaders. That’s why I say it is slow. So the people who think that the Constituent Assembly will be able very quickly to solve all of Nepal’s problems — NO, I don’t think that is true. But it is important that they start.
One problem in Nepal — and not just Nepal — is that the people whose voices have been ignored historically think that the only way to attract attention is to have bandas, to have blockades, to disrupt traffic. That does not work.
Q: As you mentioned earlier that Canadian companies would be interested in investing in Nepal. What could be the areas of attraction for them?
David: Provided there is political stability, there are many areas that would interest. For example, a number of Canadian engineering firms have been very good at developing hydroelectricity and have done a lot of work in India. We are very good at some aspects of infrastructure, if, for example, Nepal decides developing rail road, it is an area where we are doing a lot of business.
We are a big mining country: it is very likely that Nepal is full of mineral wealth. I don’t think Nepal has been very seriously surveyed yet. But once it is surveyed, it is going to be very rich at that point. Probably Canadian mining companies might demonstrate a big interest. We are quite good at agricultural processing too.
Nepal is advanced in video making and filming and the likes. It is also an area Canada is quite advanced. BPOs and call centers in India are beginning to move out because salaries have increased fast enough in India. And that will make place for lower salary scale like Nepal. So there is a great deal that can happen here.
Everything that happened in Bangladesh and India can happen here. But none of them can happen here without political stability. And also politicians need to take economy seriously. In Canada we have quite competitive politics but our politicians try not to do anything that would damage the economy. They don’t call for street demonstrations; they use other ways that can make their unhappiness known.
So I hope the Nepali politicians will take the economy of Nepal to heart, accept that the lack of growth in this country is their responsibility and that they have to do better in the future. That is what the Nepalis deserve from them.