An Interview with the French ambassador to Nepal Mr. Gilles-Henri Garault
Q: What is your analysis of Nepal’s underdevelopment? What do you think are the key factors affecting the country’s development?
Garault: It is a very interesting question, but difficult to answer in brief. Nepal is suffering from certain handicaps, which explain its poor economic performance. I think the most important factor is the poor level of education and training connected with the demographic issue. The manpower is not skilled enough. The literacy rate is still lower than 50 percent. It is a big challenge if you consider the fast growing population. It also explains why it is so difficult to provide jobs to the 300,000 newcomers arriving each year on the labor market. There is also a problem of rural exodus from the countryside to urban areas due to lack of job opportunities, which finaly gathers jobless people in congested areas. This situation led more than one million Nepalis to leave for other countries in search of jobs.
The second prominent factor is the geographical situation of Nepal, a landlocked country enclosed between two growing giants, China and India. The 10 years of civil war had also a great effect, but I think Nepal can easily and successfully face this situation as Cambodia has done in the last few years.
Lastly, Nepal’s underdevelopment is also a result of its competitive positioning. Industries are insufficient and not competitive enough. Poor industries are lowering the progress of Nepal in the international stage. Firms suffer from a serious lack of infrastructure and power. On top of that, they depend on imports for nearly all the raw materials and, above all, petrol. That’s why you note this increasing trade gap.
Concerning agriculture, this sector still depends on the weather, which is becoming more and more unstable in the context of global warming. The fragility of agriculture goes along with the inefficiency of agricultural methods and infrastructure leading the sector to absorb 80 percent of the workers while producing only 33 percent of the GDP. Land reform organized in partnership with competent organizations and structured around educational programs could be set up. Also, with reinforced structures of maintaining stocks, Nepal could anticipate and handle more efficiently any food crisis.
Q: Some political parties, for instance the Maoists, are speaking of the French model of federal government. What would that mean in Nepal’s context? Would it be a suitable model for us too?
Garault: We heard, indeed, about this interest in the French constitutional model and our political system. And we are happy to know that. But let me give some more details about the French model. It is anything except a federal government. France has been a centralized state for almost 1,500 years. During the last 25 years, we have made several important constitutional changes in order to promote local powers. Now the three levels of local government – municipalities, districts and regions – have been entrusted with important responsibilities like local development, social policy, transport and infrastructure.
But we are still far from a federal model. There is no real autonomy. Our model is, therefore, different from the full-fledged federal systems found in Germany, India and the United States. Constitutional changes were made for the devolution of power. We have a strong central government with a mixed system: presidential, with a president directly elected by the people and assuming real powers; parliamentary, with a national assembly elected by the people, and a prime minister accountable to parliament but, at the same time, politically responsible to the president. This system is quite unique and has promoted, during the last 50 years, political stability and efficiency of the executive.
I don’t now if this model is suitable for Nepal. But I am sure that Nepal needs, above all, real and deep devolution of powers, giving more efficiency to the local authorities. The debate on autonomy is just a political and ideological issue. After 250 years of strong centralization, this country needs a strong, efficient and permanent presence of the administration and the state at the local level. France will continue to stand with Nepal in unity and solidarity. They are the main guarantees of progress for Nepal and are very important values.
Asia gets only 8 percent of French bilateral aid given to Developing Countries. We are thinking enlarging the concentration of our bilateral aid. We don’t believe in the efficiency of scattering aid that leads to sprinkling of resources. That is why in 2007 the EU adopted a code of conduct in order to target certain countries and to share the efforts. France is, therefore, targeting more countries in Africa than elsewhere.
However, France is one of the big donors in Nepal. In terms of the EU countries, France is the second biggest benefactor after Germany. Out of every million euros spent by the EU in Nepal, 200,000 euros are given by France.
Source: The Kathmandu Post. 14 july, 2008.