Why Nepal’s Prime Minister must attend United Nations General Assembly in New York

Prime Minister Prachanda should be at the Summit in New York because he needs to pitch the whole world that Nepal is a trusted nation and it deserves to be helped as much as possible.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal addressed the sixty-third session of the General Assembly in September 2008. Photo courtesy: UN

Simone Galimberti

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I make this simple and straight: New York should be the place where Prime Minister Dahal should be in September. There are no doubts about it and rumors that he might skip the annual session at the UN General Assembly should be dispelled as soon as possible. The Kathmandu Post recently reported that the Prime Minister might miss the UN gathering in order to attend the opening of the Asian Games that will be held in Hangzhou City, China from September 23 to October 8.

It is really bad timing because this year’s meeting at the UN is particularly important for a country that aspires to become a middle lower income nation within a decade or so.

Indeed, this year’s General Assembly’s meeting, the jamboree that brings together all the world leaders, from small and big nations alike, will also see the organization of the SDGs Summit, basically an expanded and more important version of the High-Level Political Forum or HLPF. The Forum is the only UN sponsored mechanism that tracks and discusses the implementations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to its web site, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2022 called for the Summit to “mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Now, perhaps, the SDGs are no more fashionable these days. Youths apparently lost their interest in that and the media and society do not really talk much about them.  Yet the SDGs Summit that is scheduled for the 18 and 19 of September is really key. “The SDG Summit marks the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It will bring together political and thought leaders from governments, international organizations, private sector, civil society, women and youth and other stakeholders in a series of high-level meetings” its official website explains. Yet they are of paramount importance for a nation like Nepal that requires billions and billions of dollars to uplift itself and leave behind poverty, marginalization and discrimination.

Only the hydropower sector, the potential engine of foreign investment and therefore of the country’s prosperity, requires an astonishing amount of $80 billion according to Susan M Lund, the IFC’s Vice President for Economics and Private Sector Development who was visiting Nepal this week.

This is only the money needed to develop the hydro power sector and make Nepal the “next regional green powerhouse” as Lund explains in an op-ed for The Himalayan Times.

Then, imagine the money needed to bring the country towards a net zero future in next decades as promised in the Second Nationally Determined Contributions presented in 2020. Imagine what is needed to build high quality health care infrastructures, the ambitious plan to build over 300 local health care facilities that was decided by the Government of K P Oli before he was forced to resign. That was a really good plan but you need tons of money for that. Imagine how much would be required to overhaul the public education system, finally creating a level playing field for thousands and thousands of children from vulnerable families. Imagine really lifting up the national median income and making those who are right now struggling to make ends meet, feel good about it.

For all these reasons, Prime Minister Prachanda should be really at the Summit in New York because he needs to pitch the whole world that Nepal is a trusted nation that deserves to be helped as much as possible.

I am not just talking about grants. The country certainly will need more of them even though it is going to be more and more difficult to get them as Nepal transitions towards a higher income and other crises absorb the attention of bilateral and multilateral partners. The country will need more and more investment not only in hydro power but also in the manufacturing and ITC sector. Considering the special relationships that Nepal has with India and its gigantic market, it is not impossible to vision a near future where major multinationals could set up their manufacturing hubs to produce powerful chips or electric vehicles.

There is no speech, with his own party’s cadres or with the broader society, in which Prime Minister Dahal doesn’t boast about the achievements of his government. While many are skeptical about such claims, if the Prime Minister is really convinced about the work of his administration, then, he can’t miss the opportunity to tell this story to the world and the SDGs Summit is the best platform to share the narrative that a new Nepal is emerging and taking shape.

Now let me be clear: it is not that visiting China is not important. Indeed, it is crucial for Nepal to maintain the best possible relationships with Beijing and for months that the government is working with its Chinese counterpart to fix a date for an official visit of Prime Minister Dahal. What is certainly less significant for the Prime Minister and for Nepal is to attend a continental sport event that, as important as it can be, is unquestionably less strategic than going to the UN to talk and discuss the national priorities. This is especially true when policy makers in Kathmandu have started working on a new ambitious 16th National Development Plan.

The Kathmandu Post report quotes the Prime Minister as saying that he will visit both the USA and China.

He needs to stick to this “wisdom” and arrange to visit the Games in Hangzhou City after their opening or be there for the closing. Let’s not forget that the trip to the UN offers the Prime Minister also an opportunity to interact with the Biden Administration and potential investors. He could visit Silicon Valley and try to pitch Nepal as a promising land for investments. So, in short, the longer he will be in the USA, the better. Same goes for his visit to China. Again, perhaps President Xi attaches a lot of symbolism to a leader of a neighboring country being there, side by side, for the Asian Games. This is fully understandable.

It is not easy for a prime minister of an emerging nation to satisfy all the competing demands and interests. But being at the UN in September is a no brainer and Beijing should understand that too.

The government of Nepal should go all the way to convey its appreciation of China for hosting the games that, let’s not forget, were postponed due to Covid-19. Indeed, Prime Minister Dahal should not downplay his visit to China and not only because it is essential to maintain friendly and cordial relationships with his counterparts there. Also, in this case, he must try to bring in some new investments or some big official commitments that would not only benefit the partnership between the two countries but would also make Nepal a more prosperous nation. Understandably it is not easy for a prime minister of an emerging nation to satisfy all the competing demands and interests. Yet being at the UN in September is a no brainer and Beijing should understand that too.

Views are personal.