Yogendra (left) in a meeting with the man in charge of the elections in Baglung District, the District Elections Officer.
Yesterday afternoon we met with the District Elections Officer (DEO). Our purpose was twofold. First to determine if there were plans for a Constituent Assembly civic/election awareness program; and secondly to start pushing the agenda a bit, especially if local NGOs were involved.
Unfortunately, the role of civil society would be almost non-existent, meaning that Nepalis would have to rely on their government to perform such a crucial task.
I quickly found out that the Election Commission’s (EC) plan was dissimilar to ours in a few major ways. Yes, there would be two volunteers (yet to be chosen public school teachers), a man and a woman, selected at the Village Development Committee (VDCs are similar to our municipalities) level. But their training, lasting only two days, would be limited to voter awareness: the election date, how to fill out a ballot box, how to stand in line, where is the polling station.
The questions that should seem vital — if a healthy, functioning democracy is the end — are left unanswered: why are you voting, what are you voting for, what is a democracy, what is your role in a democracy, what are your choices in government.
When I asked if it would be possible for local NGOs to conduct their own supplemental training for the VDC volunteers, he rejected the idea.
I pressed him on why.
“Because it’s up to Kathmandu. They have said 2 days training,” he replied.
“So is this political or is it about money?” I asked.
Earlier in our conversation he made a comment that some issues, if they were taught, like federalism, would overlap into the realm of political campaigning. This was hard to accept as a legitimate reason not to inform the VDC volunteers about choices of government. I wondered if politics again was the culprit.
After about 10 minutes of skirting the issue, it became clear that the issue was money. Each volunteer gets a Daily Standard Allowance (DSA) and this was limited to two days.
“Could the NGOs pay the expenses of the additional training?”
He couldn’t say.
The time to leave Nepal is rapidly approaching for me and I hope that some way is found to train the VDC volunteers. I was telling Yogendra, it will take some creative solutions and a team effort from the community. Perhaps, for food it will take rice donations from restaurants and for lodging maybe a hotel or school can offer some support. Finding people to train is not a problem.
Given that there are three weeks before the training begins and another two or three before they hit the field, there is some time to find those solutions. Something must be done in the meantime.
Posted By Tassos Coulaloglou
Posted Aug 7th, 2007