Australia remains a committed development partner of Nepal

"Australia has been partnering with Nepal for over 60 years in development activities that are evidence-based, sustainable and, importantly, responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Nepali people."

Photo courtesy: The Asia Foundation

Felicity Volk

  • Read Time 4 min.

I am delighted to join the launch of the ‘Survey of the Nepali People 2022’ report. It was roughly two years ago that I joined the launch of the 2020 report and I am reminded of how quickly time flies.

Much has happened in the past two years.  We have seen the world shift from COVID crisis mode to rehabilitation and recovery.

We have seen Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and accompanying this conflict, issues around energy and food security have rippled to all corners of the earth.

We have seen further climate catastrophes, indicating a deterioration in the health of the planet.

Only a week or so ago in Davos, the UN Secretary General observed that the world was “in a sorry state”.

I mention the global context because it is against this backdrop, and indeed, experiencing these issues here in Nepal, that this 2022 Survey of Nepali has been conducted. And we cannot separate the local from the national from the global in our deeply interconnected world.

At this, the second SNP launch event of my tenure, I’m again acutely conscious of the value of close and productive partnerships.

And today, on behalf of the Australian Government and our Sub National Governance Program, I must thank Kathmandu University’s School of Arts and the team which worked tirelessly to complete the Survey in partnership with Interdisciplinary Analysts and our longstanding, highly valued implementing partners, The Asia Foundation.

I am also grateful to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for supporting Kathmandu University’s survey in 2022.

The survey would, of course, not have been possible without strong contributions and support from the Government of Nepal, including through the invaluable work of the Survey’s Steering Committee, whose guidance has been crucial.

And, though they are not physically present, I also extend my thanks to all the respondents whose opinions and lived experience is captured in this Survey. 

Strong data and evidence support good policy making and appropriate interventions.  We cannot serve our people–and I speak as a public servant, like many others here–if we don’t know what they are experiencing and their perceptions of the government and other services at their disposal.

We cannot serve our people if we don’t know what they are experiencing and their perceptions of the government and other services at their disposal.

Now, more than ever, with multifarious challenges bearing down on us, we need to equip ourselves with data, knowledge and understanding so that we can navigate a complex present and plan for an uncertain future. A clear understanding of the experiences, needs and aspirations of the communities we are seeking to support is fundamental to good planning.

Australia has been partnering with Nepal for over 60 years in development activities that are evidence-based, sustainable and, importantly, responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Nepali people.

Within our multifaceted development program, we have been proud, in recent years, to accompany Nepal in its federalism journey.

The Survey of the Nepali People is a vital element of this program and I’m delighted to see that it has become both a significant tool for national planning and has garnered the interest of external audiences who are keen to learn from Nepal’s own journey to federalism and devolution of power at the subnational level.

In this 2022 report, we see data that indicates improving public confidence towards the new governance system and local governments.  Although Nepal has only had this new governance system in place for five years, the survey shows that this shift has had a positive impact on the efficiency of the local government’s service delivery.

For example, more than half of respondents in this year’s Survey (54.4 percent) reported that the local body restructuring had improved the service delivery capacity of their local government.

Considering the scale of reform that Nepal undertook before its local elections in 2017, this level of public trust is remarkable. I commend the country’s leadership on achieving this. 

Likewise, data between 2020 and 2022 show that the proportion of respondents who report ease in receiving employment-related services from local governments has increased from 67.9 percent to 82 percent. Similar positive public opinion trends were recorded in relation to access to health services and education. Though I note the disadvantage that respondents reported in this regard, in relation to issues of language, caste, and ethnicity.

But when you seek public feedback–and to do so is the foundation of every strong, enduring democracy–you don’t always hear good news. And my view is that the deepest value of a survey lies in where it gives pointers for improvement. Where respondents say, this is what we’re concerned about, this is where we believe our public institutions need to focus attention.

For the first time in the survey’s history, in 2022 the public appeared to be less optimistic regarding the overall directions of the country. And trust in core public institutions such as the judiciary, Police, political parties, and media recorded a decline.

Such responses are not necessarily surprising for a country which is undergoing massive reforms, and I imagine that the feedback will be helpful to Nepal’s new governments at all tiers. However, developments at the subnational levels indicate that the future of Nepal remains highly promising.

Australia remains a committed development partner of Nepal and we have prioritized our work to support the efforts of the government and public institutions to strengthen democratic governance and to support responsive and accountable subnational governments.

I congratulate the many partners who have contributed to the delivery of this invaluable survey and I especially congratulate the government on its embrace of the democratic practice of seeking and responding to the voice of the people it represents.

SNP 2022 represents a model collaboration and I commend both the collaborative process and the product. I look forward to seeing how it is used to inform high quality, responsive government policy.

(The above article is based on the speech delivered by Felicity Volk, Australian Ambassador to Nepal, during the launch of Survey of the Nepali People 2022 in Kathmandu on Monday.)