Let’s bring the Finance Secretary back in office

If you are already aware of the background of the case, skip directly to the third section (“How should we do it”).

News: The Secretary of Finance Ministry, Mr. Rameshwor Khanal walked out of his office yesterday following continuous pressure from his minister (Bharat Mohan Adhikari) and the political parties of the current coalition government. He has reportedly submitted his resignation. For details, refer to yesterday’s BBC Nepali Service and all major papers of today. The Nagarik Daily has a banner headline for this news.

Khanal has been praised as being highly competent, skilled, hard working and a clean bureaucrat. He has served under the governments of all major parties. Last year, the Finance Minister (Surendra Pandey of the previous government) had lobbied for his appointment as the Governor of the Central Bank. Lately, he had committed himself for booking the tax defaulters (amounting to billions), including some big business houses, he had stood against political pressure to slow-down the investigations or to obey some other undue pressures, including (among other issues) the acceptance of the promotion and transfers of many corrupt officials close to the ruling parties. According to reports, he was facing pressure and humiliation from the Finance Minister, Prime Minister, the largest party (UCPNM, and the other party in govt- CPN-UML).

What we should do: It is nice to see good coverage from some leading newspapers in support of the victimized Secretary. A parliamentary committee has also started interrogation. But history tells us that there is a high chance for this case falling through. There will be some noise for some days, and then people will move on. Our habit of resigning into the hands of fate, or passing some moral comments like “sati le saraapeko desh ho,” “yestai ho yeha kehi ramro hudaina,” or “hamile garera k hune ho ra” will continue.

Well, here’s an opportunity to try to change things a bit.

We might be unsuccessful, but we might gain some momentum, create a critical mass of people for some similar incident in the future, or achieve some other nice goals on the way. We should not forget that people coming together on the internet social networks have achieved wonderful things in the recent times (read Middle East, Wikileaks etc). Let’s aim in bringing the Secretary back to  his office and creating an environment where he can work independently and in his full capacity. Let’s hope that we’ll succeed in teaching the politicians a lesson and that they do not dare to do similar things in the future.

Let us make this our initial mission for a larger campaign. We can use the lessons and examples from this process in achieving other things of grave concern to our country and people. I have written enough on twitter on why we should do this, examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. We also had a tweetdebate last week on the need for a strong and persistent civil vigilance. This might be the chance for our generation to fix things ourselves.

How should we do it

Here are my proposals:

  1. Let’s continue to discuss things on social media, including twitter, facebook, blogs, youtube and so on. To make things more concentrated, we might need better planning. We can discuss how to do this in this week’s tweetdebate (Friday 10PM to midnight, see http://tweetdebate.net/ for details).
  2. Let us create a close knit community of some people who can coordinate and discuss things. On the long run, this community should expand and be more democratic and open, but to start with, lets start with something like 20-30 people, preferably on twitter. I request leading young journalists like @wagle @deepakadk @UjjwalAcharya @svbel and their friends to join hands.
  3. Let’s call, write and meet as many lawmakers as we can. Let’s make numerous phone calls to thems informing them of our displeasure. Let us demand them to take stands and take actions in the favour of the people. They can raise the issue in the parliament and in their own parties. They can boycott the parliament, they can file for a no-confidence motion against the Finance Minister and so on. In other words, they will use every democratic and parliamentary measure available to them to get the people’s demands fulfilled.
  4. Let’s get young lawmakers like Gagan Thapa on board too. If we can, let’s get young entrepreneurs, professionals (like lawyers, writers, editors, actors like MaHa jodi etc) and business men aboard. But we have to make sure they don’t use their influences to harm the interest of our community. We’ll support them only if they support us. And we’ll keep records of what they speak and do.
  5. Let’s start a petition (if possible, offline too) and collect as many signatures as we can, from Nepalese people all over the world. Let’s increase pressure until the government apologizes and promises never to make such mistakes. The Finance Secretary should be back in office, given reward instead of punishment and humiliation- and the finance minister should go (and booked for abuse of authority) if he doesn’t like it.
  6. If change doesn’t happen immediately, we (some member of the community from the law-profession) can file a case in the court, demand for a compensation and reinstatement of the Secretary.
  7. All the people in the community will do whatever they can from their respective positions. We will use our personal contacts, networks and influences, get together will other people who can do the same, and use the collective strength to bring positive changes.

Update: We shouldn’t allow our campaign to get out of hand- we shouldn’t endorse demands for resignation of PM or change of govt- that’s not our aim at the moment. Also, we should try to stay as far as possible from activities that make us appear unnecessarily closer to one/few political camps. That discredits our larger aim.


Some suggestions for Kantipur daily

Dinesh Wagle of Kantipur asked for suggestions from his twitter followers: “It wld be nice 2 know fellow Tweeps’ views re. Nepali papers, #Kantipur in particular. Suggest wat it shld change/add (no politics, pls).” I have a few complaints regarding the paper’s editorial stances in the recent past, but I will keep that for myself in this post. I assume Wagle wanted to engage the paper’s readers and get some new and possibly radical ideas about what they want to read apart from the editorial or political material in the paper. Here are a few I have in mind. I think these ideas would apply equally to other major vernacular dailies in Nepal. My words might sound a little preachy, and I apologize for that- feel free to comment and disagree.

  1. Conduct a readership survey
    It is high time the papers understood their audience. A lot has changed since Kantipur started publishing in the early 1990s and there’s no official figure about the paper’s readership. For the most part of last year, I have only read the online version of the publication and I assume a lot of people do it that way, but the paper has not adjusted itself very well to such readers. I think this is because they are not aware of their readers themselves. It would be useful to know about the kind of people who read this paper a lot.
  2. Let some fresh air in
    I appreciate that a lot of young and smart people are now part of Kathmandu’s journalism fraternity, including Wagle himself. They write equally well in both English and Nepali, they are very efficient and professional and I’m sure a lot of young readers read the papers only because of them. But a lot of other things in the paper demand change- for example the op-ed pieces are written by almost the same group of people for many years now. For such a young and rapidly changing population, a little more respect would be alright. It would also make the papers more relevant. At least to me, it is an irony that the mainstream of our society, including the media seems out of place and often irrelevant. But only a readership survey could verify it. Are the issues receiving attention and space really relevant to the people who read it? Is it what they want? Or are they misplaced?
  3. Try radical ideas
    • I think Kantipur should try a day or a week if possible, without its regular contributors. Get out to random but relevant people and put their perspective on print. Give importance to the significant opinions of otherwise insignificant people. Give place to young people from villages, cities and businesses. Try to see if your readers like it. I think they will. Op-eds about curbing corruption from a member of a corrupt establishment sound very hollow- let someone at the receiving end of the brunt say it. I’d like it more if I get to read real issues from real people.
    • Try guest editors- maybe for some sections, for some random days.
    • On some random days, and maybe for selected sections, try crowd-sourcing- let people on the internet or elsewhere (I don’t know where) decide what material gets to be published that day. Let them find or write articles, organize them and design them. It is good if you pay, but I guess people would do it anyway and I think your readers will like it. Maybe this effort will help you identify a set of new people and readers who you can consult with in the future too, and keep improving the paper.
    • Break away from the tradition on some days. Declare it beforehand if you want to see how people react to it. Don’t publish what the leaders said at some function- instead write about other people in that function, or the background work and hardworking people related to it. Completely ignore what most people want to be ignored anyway- and value other important events, heroes and issues instead. It might be difficult, but until you try, you don’t know if it’s worth the effort.

      You guys repeat a limited number of issues and opinions so many times that maybe you stress out a lot of people. You spread a lot of negative energy. During a discussion last year with my father, he told me, “your problem is that you follow Kantipur too much,” I tried following his suggestion and found he was right. For sometime, I was listening to 6 AM Kaayaa Kairan (newspaper reading), Kantipur FM 6:30 AM news, Kantipur FM 7 AM talk show and read Kantipur and TKP on a pretty regular basis. In reality, all of them have the same subject and material day-in day-out. I think there are a few, maybe some 100-200 words that occur in different permutations everyday (somebody should do an experiment and come up with an accurate figure). I think you guys make people more irritable and prone to mental conditions 🙂

  4. Take it seriously
    I don’t know how reasonable it is to expect this, given the realities of payments, skills and other daily distractions the writers in the publication might have to face. During the past couple of years when I’ve had the chance to observe the way Kathmandu’s press works, I have been convinced that many journalists don’t want to work hard. They don’t realize the power their words, pictures and visuals carry and their effect on the psyche of the people who read, hear or watch them. Media is very powerful in our society and many common people still follow them religiously. Of course it is ok to treat media as just a business and journalism as just another occupation, but with the kind of influence they have in our society, someone- I don’t know who, maybe the editors, publishers, government, citizen society, businesses- has to gradually make an effort to improve this. It is in a way, like the education system, which can shape the future of the society and the opinion-making process of our whole population.
  5. Do more research, put more effort
    Most journalists want news to come to them, they won’t go seeking for it. They will go seeking for it only if the news is happening in a star-hotel and there are free-foods and special treatment for scribes. In the districts, they go seeking news only if the CDO or the DSP offers them certain favors. Otherwise, they will side with the opposition party, seek their favors and seek news against the CDO and DSP. I will present some example (non-political ones). 

    • Example 1: Most material about telecom or internet in Nepal is copied directly from the press release of NTA and made into a half-page material. When Environment day comes, most papers will have the same thing- some material provided by some NGOs, some interviews with a known set of people and some mundane op-eds.
    • Example 2: I remember a civil servant from the PMO whose integrity I admire (I don’t know him much, I admire him for whatever I know of him). He wrote a piece in Nagarik about the ordeals of his road-travel from his home in Lumbini zone to Kathmandu. I think he did a pretty good job, and I respect him for that. Kantipur carried a story about the same incident, and cited policemen and some political cadres in Chitwan and maligned the civil servant. The paper carried the words of a few of those people as the ultimate truth. It was pretty clear that Kantipur either did it on purpose or failed to check the facts. In a time when good people, especially in government service are rare, and good ones should be encouraged and protected, I felt that the most influential paper was doing a major harm to the society. I totally don’t like it.
    • Example 3: Ok, it wasn’t Kantipur, but it could easily have been (and it often does). This was in Nagarik. I have read some pretty outrageous pieces about VOIP in that paper. There was one very long article which seemed clearly to have been sponsored by VOIP-mafia of Nepal (influential people, including those in NTC, NTA, government, politics, etc). The story essentially was a slew of words about the evils of VOIP technology and how it would cause a lot of losses and should never be allowed. It showed the proponents of legalizing and regulating VOIP in a very bad light, almost like criminals while almost all of the developed world and many of our neighbors have done pretty well legalizing and regulating it. It didn’t say a word about the other side of the argument, and was clearly a miserable attempt to influence/form public opinion of a particular bias. I don’t know what makes some journalists think that Nepal is still in 1970s, when there was only Gorkhapatra, and whatever written there was the official version of truth. There are many version of truth these days, and there are many people who know which one to believe in.
  6. Don’t bluff or beat around the bush
    This is true for other areas too, but especially about technology. Most pieces are just bluff. I have tried talking to some journalists, trying to explain some concept for some material they were preparing- but I found out that they didn’t have either of patience, interest or capability do try to listen and understand. And then they pretend they understand, but in the end, they write what they were writing anyway. Is this a national disease? Do we think not listening and just beating your trumpet is how to do things? And is this what we are teaching to others who might be looking upon us, and to the younger people? Our leaders do the same, our journalists do the same- who will set examples? While I said this is more common with tech-issues, now I think this is a familiar syndrome with everything that is not about national politics, leaders or celebrities, like: economy, and similar specialized subjects.
  7. Miscellaneous
    I will not delve upon other topics that are likely to be suggested by other people on twitter. Things include more interaction in the social media, more youth-oriented material, grammatical correctness, and so on.
  8. Replicate Successes
    Analysts who know a lot better than me have written that many serious material in the press are planted- but that is not the subject of this post. Pieces in our newspapers are so one-sided and carry the biases of the writer or whoever provided the information so blatantly that it becomes hard to realize we are reading news-paper and not a tabloid or a monologue. Of course I am not expert, but there has to be some effort to change this, and there are already a lot of examples amidst Nepalese journalists themselves (right now, I can think of Deepak Adhikari, Dinesh Wagle, Ujwal Acharya, HimalMedia, BBC Nepali Service, some independent journalists who write and correspondent for agencies, and a few younger scribes at Nagarik/Republica and Kantipur too). Journalists should take their jobs more seriously, do more research, back every sentence they write with facts, references or balanced mixture of sources and present a complete picture to the readers. I think the good and successful journalists (mentioned above, and others) should make an effort to instill their values and work ethics in others. Maybe they can start a business out of it- a professional journalism training school- or maybe an experimental niche-market media outlet that practices those values and delivers quality material to its readers, and in process shows how to do it right.