UN chief’s Nepal visit: What he should do, what Nepal expects

Will Antonio Guterres be able to convey to the government of Nepal the urgency to take bold reforms to ensure the implementation of the Agenda 2030?

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 4 min.

Finally, the Secretary General of the United Nations is in Nepal.

After an initial postponement due to the start of the crisis in Gaza, a tragic development still unfolding, António Guterres made his second visit to Nepal though it is the first as the head of the United Nations.

What should we expect from this visit and what will be the key messages that will be offered by the Secretary General?  Will he be able to convey to his counterparts within the Government of Nepal the urgency to take bold reforms to ensure the implementation of the Agenda 2030?

Let’s remind ourselves that Guterres has initiated a major reform of the United Nations, a process only ambitious but also, to some extent, radical in the sense of its attempts at making the UN fit for the challenges of this century.

Our Common Agenda, is the name of the strategy or better “Plan of plans” that has been designed by the Secretary General.  It covers a vast array of policy areas, from digital divide to a new type of bottom-up policy making that is particularly tailored to enable youths to get involved and participate in creating equitable job markets that empower girls and women.

Among the other key domains of reform, we should not forget the strong focus on sustainability and climate action, including major proposals to drastically increase climate financing.

As we know, this is a century, as we are witnessing, being overwhelmed by challenges: the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss; increasing levels of inequalities; the ensuing conflicts and geopolitical tensions; the grave concerns posed by an unregulated Artificial Intelligence; major inequalities within and between nations.

According to the Secretary General, there is a real need of re-booting the relationships between the state and the citizenry and in order to do so, he has been proposing the creation of a New Social Compact.  Considering the ambition of this concept and the pushback by the member states, jealous of their exclusive prerogatives, not much has been happening around this idea.

Yet it would be a profound mistake if Guterres drops the ball and gives up on this idea because it basically aims at redesigning the way governance works.

And here his travel to Nepal enters into the picture. With the country going through the difficult challenges of making federalism effective and functional, there is a lot of scope to talk about relationships between the State and the citizenry.

That’s why the Secretary General of the United Nations in his visit to Nepal should really offer his vision of what a New Social Contract could mean for the citizens of the country.  Here are some of the challenges being found while the nation is trying to build a federal system.

These are issues and concerns that, let’s not forget, if answered effectively, could change people’s lives for better.  Guterres could offer some of his insights to these conundrums, that so far local and national politicians were unable to respond to.

First of all, how can the citizens be really empowered and have a say, a real voice besides and beyond casting their vote at the ballet box? Second, how can local government institutions be really made accountable and responsive to the people? Third and connected to the previous two, is how to embed policy making across all levels of governance, with moral and ethical leadership?

It is not that the Secretary General has a magic wand and will be able to provide quick, instant answers to these major conundrums.

It will be ultimately up to the people of the country to find their own way and it will be up to all politicians to rise to the challenges and come up with a better system of governance.

The goal would not be radically altering the existing constitutional framework approved in 2015 but rather finding novel ways to complement it with bottom up, genuine and real, rather than tokenistic people’s participation.

The interesting fact is that Mr. Guterres realized that in order to bring about a new and better multilateral system, the overarching goal of his vision expressed through Our Common Agenda, the UN System also needs a reboot.

Indeed, the UN at country levels started a major reform of the ways that the UN Resident Coordinators work.

Now, at least on paper, the coordinators, the highest UN functionaries at national levels, are really in the position of playing a much stronger role. They can bring coherence in the work of the UN, ensuring less fragmentation and competition and overlapping among the myriad of agencies and programs in place in the countries around the world.

There is also a major need of making the UN System at local level much closer to the people.

This is a need that perhaps Guterres has not grasped yet well, considering his current role and his previous positions as High Commissioner for Refugees and Prime Minister of Portugal.

Can the UN in Nepal double and triple its efforts to explain to the people, especially the students about its work?

Can events like “town hall” meetings be organized where representatives of the various agencies, foreigners but also Nepali, can meet students and anyone else interested to know what the UN is doing?

Can discussions programs and lectures on the biggest challenges faced by the country be held in partnership with institutions like the National Planning Commission?

\There is also a major need of making the UN System at the local level much closer to the people. This is something that Guterres perhaps has not grasped well, considering his current role and his previous positions as High Commissioner for Refugees and Prime Minister of Portugal.

How to try to organize all these initiatives in a very effective way, maybe in local colleges and schools or maybe in venues offered by the state rather than in fancy (and expensive) venues?

Moreover, the Secretary General might make some announcements about new funding initiatives to help Nepal achieve the ambitious goals and targets of the Agenda 2030.

Perhaps, there will be some news in relation to the Joint SDG Fund, a sort of innovative financing that the UN is pushing its attempts to scale up resources for the sustainable goals. If this will be the case, my hope is that innovative, transparent and bottom-up partnerships will be proposed to roll out new initiatives that Nepal desperately needs to make principles like “Leave No One Behind” a reality.

Mr Secretary General, there is plenty to discuss with you on how to ensure Nepal becomes a thriving and expanding economy that is fair and just to all its citizens.

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE and The Good Leadership. Opinion expressed is personal.