The Harvard Alumni Group of Nepal hosted its monthly meeting on May 10, 2016 in Kathmandu. The meeting featured a talk by Alaina B. Teplitz, US ambassador to Nepal, on US-Nepal relations with a special focus on strengthening democratic governance and economic ties between the two countries. Ambassador Teplitz talked about Nepal’s new constitution and the country’s challenges in implementing it. She said the US would like to see Nepal a stable and prosperous country.
“Nepal’s constitution is a milestone and it’s a living document that should be taken to the people for broader engagement,” said Ambassador Teplitz. More than the details of the contents of the constitution, people’s perception that their concerns have been addressed is the key, she told the group. She indicated that lack of proper knowledge of the constitutional provisions has also created doubt. She also stressed the need for dialogue and assured US readiness to promote it.
She shared that the US constitution has been amended 27 times so far and it was amended several times in its very first year of implementation some 240 years ago.
Ambassador Teplitz said there is a lot of political rhetoric around the document but very little substantive discussions on the specifics of the constitution. She highlighted the importance of giving people free choice to choose or change their faiths, and expressed hope that the new constitution would address people’s aspirations for religious freedom and provide gender parity in conferring citizenship. Recalling the constitutional history of the US itself that once included a “shameful portion” of discrimination against the black community and women, she highlighted the importance of persistent and fights against such discrimination and exclusion in any forms, to ensure human dignity and democratic freedom.
“There is always going to be a group of unhappy people, but if the majority feels that its hopes and aspirations are embodied by the constitution, it becomes much easier to implement,” Ambassador Teplitz said. However, she stressed that democracy is an “iterative process,” leaving space for improvement. If people in remote villages feel they are included in the process and have a say in Kathmandu, then it becomes easier to achieve lasting peace.
While it is a difficult situation, greater collaboration on trade with India and China is possible, Ambassador Teplitz remarked, expressing her hope for a prosperous Nepal. She noted that the recent trade preferences opened up opportunities for Nepali businesses to take advantage of the opportunity to expand their transactions in the United States. Of the 66 items included in the list, Nepal has comparative advantage in some of the areas.
“Nepal needs a dynamic economy to soak up the educated young masses, for faster growth and prosperity, so that there is opportunity for everyone here,” Ambassador Teplitz said. Someone asked whether the prosperity would always require political stability in the form of “continuation of the same government for a definite term with no frequent changeover,” which seems increasingly unlikely in the current Nepal political scenario. Ambassador Teplitz said the governments may change, but the system, institutions, and the process should remain fairly stable and predictable.
Ambassador Teplitz expressed the United States’ commitment to supporting Nepal in implementing the constitution and in helping conduct local elections with due processes. Replying to another question from the audience, she said the “respect for the process” is one of the cornerstones of the US democratic system that provides a strong safeguard against any malfunctioning government and even “bad leadership.”
Nepal’s progress is also closely tied to South Asia’s prosperity – and intra-regional trade is only 2 billion USD per year. Ambassador Teplitz discussed with the group to foster greater regional economic ties and ways for Nepal to tap into huge markets on both sides of its border: India and China. She stressed the need for Nepal to work on enhancing its ease of doing business image, globally. The US government will continue to support Nepal in strengthening democratic institutions and democratic governance, she told the Group.
The talk was followed by an interactive session with comments and questions from the distinguished participants. On behalf of the Group, Dr. Roop Jyoti offered a vote of thanks. Bhoj Raj Pokhrel, coordinator of the Group, thanked ambassador Teplitz for being available for the talk and expressed hope for exploring better working collaboration between the US Embassy in Kathmandu and the Harvard Alumni Group in Nepal.
Republica, Nepal’s leading English daily, has covered story about the meeting on its issue of May 11, 2016: http://www.myrepublica.com/politics/story/42078/us-to-support-nepal-in-implementing-constitution-teplitz.html).
The Harvard Alumni Group in Nepal has recently been reactivated. The group’s goal is to serve as an interactive platform for proactive discussions on topical issues of national and global importance, as well as to promote professional networking among the alumni community in Nepal.
For questions about the group, please contact Bhojraj Pokharel, email@example.com