To actually hear about not only the fundamentals of transitioning to democracy – which I would say are covered well in university – but to also hear about the smaller details, has been extremely enlightening for me. The academic understanding is very overarching and big picture, whereas working with and hearing from the local government practitioners in Nepal drills down to the next levels of issues associated with transitioning.
Mid Murray has developed a much greater understanding of the struggles the Nepalese face in ensuring their community now has a voice. We want to ensure the advice we provide is the best we can offer, so it has made us evaluate how we do things and if improvements to any of our procedures, policies, systems can be made simply through reviewing them with the Nepalese audience in mind. By actually witnessing what they are up against, it has enabled us to provide better advice – as we have now seen it all first hand.
How has your council contributed (so far) to the efforts of LG practitioners in Nepal?
We’ve kept in touch with all the fellows who visited Mid Murray in September through email and Facebook, and since our own visit to Nepal, plan on asking our fellows what's going on within their areas and projects. Based on their responses, we’ll work out together how we can offer relevant and productive assistance.
What do you think other councils would get out of participating in the AAF?
I can’t imagine any council participating in the AAF not getting the same out of their involvement as we have. ‘When one teaches, two learn’ is so apt in this case. I just don’t think it’s possible that a council could participate and not learn something from this experience.
Your area of LG expertise is governance. Do you think your understanding of the importance of governance has been a driver in your willingness to contribute to local government in Nepal?
How can you help the Nepalese sector navigate governance?
This depends on how much we are permitted to, and how much each municipality is open to such change. It’s going to be quite a change for the municipalities to understand the absolute importance of transparency, documentation and other governance processes. I think the word governance has been mentioned many times, but I’m not sure the Nepalese totally understand how much good governance and due diligence will change the way they do things.
Again, dependent on how much assistance they actually want, we could provide training around the Acts through skype or facetime, along with example documentation and using our materials as a base for them to work with, including templates and support as required.
Is it true that you are contemplating funding your own return to Nepal next year – along with your CEO and Mayor?
Yes this is true. We are anticipating the next 12 months we will provide support as required –particularly to our fellows – then assess the progress when we go back to Nepal. Given that preparation, the next trip should be more specifically focused and enable a more hands-on approach.
Our CEO is very keen to attend the conference next year, even just in the gallery given he missed out on attending this year. Of course, I too am very keen to attend, along with the rest of the team. If the conference is held in November it may clash with the South Australian Local Government Elections, which may be a problem. Nevertheless, we are all hoping it will work out.
What has spurred that level of commitment and passion?
Our CEO was the first Australian delegate to travel to South Africa several years ago and he experienced arriving to no real support. This has been the driver for him to ensure we do not leave our fellows to fend for themselves while they are part of the Australia Awards Fellowship.
Actually, none of us want to do anything by halves. We acknowledge and certainly respect that these people are coming to us to learn. We have an obligation to do it right. It’s not about us, it’s not about accolades, it’s about helping them. We understand the difference a representative democratic process within local government for their country can make. So, we can’t not be committed and passionate! Anyone who isn’t, shouldn’t be involved.
What has been the biggest/sweetest/most interesting aspect of your recent trip?
One of my highlights was to actually see where one of our fellows, Nisha Shrestha worked in the Dhulikhel Municipality Office. To see the building, to see her desk, what she works with, who she works with, provided me with far greater insight than any words ever could, and means I have a better understanding of how we can help.
The other highlight for me, was to hear our fellow, Shiva Rijal, the Executive Officer of Gaindakot Municipality, present on the changes he had introduced within his municipality based on what he’d learned from Mid Murray Council. That was simply incredible – to think we had such an influence was just so humbling. Priceless.