Transparency and technology and Nepal

I have little idea what politicians do here in Nepal. I read mainly negative things about them, perhaps due to the fact that the press report mainly negative things: a slap of a civil servant here, an attack on a doctor there, a trip to a hospital in Singapore for treatment at the tax payer’s expense; a bit (or a lot) of nepotism and obviously some corruption (because its a perk of the job).

But then if the subject of politicians is raised in conversation, reactions range from frustration to rage. Their reputation among the public (that I speak to) is poor. There is a little praise reserved for a couple of young hopes: Gagan Thapa is one who is often mentioned.

Nawaraj Silwal, Siddhartha Rana, Ashmi Rana, Ashutosh Tiwari, Santosh Shah

I attended a conference around a month ago. It was hastily organised apparently, the audience was stuffed with students from one of the speaker’s hospitality college. The questions from the youth audience were limited and required to be ‘brief and to the point’ while the speakers were allowed to waffle on, off the point.

With one bright exception (though I missed the first speaker). One of the speakers there was Santosh Shah. He is well known in Nepal for his Today’s Youth Asia initiative which comprises of a TV show, magazine run by youth and an education program which has trained hundreds of teenagers in personal development. The theme of his talk was institutions. His argument was that a) institutions are important, obviously, but b) that no individual should be, or think themselves bigger than an institution.

And this is the case with many Nepali politicians, some seem to believe themselves to be bigger than the institution that they work for.

As someone with a background in web development, one organisation I admire is MySociety. One of their collection of websites, it called ‘They work for you‘.

Essentially it aggregates information about MPs in the UK using some clever technology which ‘scrapes’ published documents, such as Hansard, and collates information in an accessible way.

I have seen the fruits of this on several occasions where a journalist has asked a question of an MP who’s answer is flatly contradicted by the evidence available on the site. It’s powerful.

Could something like this work and benefit the public and journalists in Nepal? Possibly, but it would be quite different. The main reason would be that information could not be collated automatically.

But perhaps something could be done as a collaboration between journalists. If journalists reporting on politics and events could post information on a site and categorise it simply, perhaps a public picture can be built up of that politician. Logging where they go, their public comments and public promises, the slaps, the assaults and the gaffs should be easy. Assimilating information on their performance, how they vote, how often they turn up to work, their expenses and outside business interests would be a little more difficult. Perhaps the website would encourage whistle-blowers to bring new information to the table. Perhaps some kind of scoring system could rank their performance and distinguish the wheat from the chaff. Possibly it would be difficult to keep the postings impartial, but not impossible, and who would manage that?

Any thoughts on this anyone?

Dil Bahadur Kidney Transplantee – an update

One of my hobbies is trying to get people to laugh on photos. Its pretty easy in Nepal I think. While having your photo taken is becoming more common, as there are many snapping mobile phones about, having photos printed is relatively expensive and, if not a luxury, something reserved for serious applications to officialdom.

If you can imagine pictures of your great, great grandparents when the world was still sepia coloured, or your youthful great grandparents when the world had turned black white, and then if you can picture the serious scowls they wore on their faces, add colour some colour and you have an idea of how portrait photography is most of the time Nepal.

Anyway, during the few seconds of overbearing stress while waiting for the photographer to click the button, its is really easy to make people explode into laughter.

There you go. Laughter therapy is free. The straight face behind the mask is Dil Bahadur and this tells something of our relationship. For him, because of the donations that have been collected, I am his (small g) god – a term I hate. But given the context of a culture with millions of Gods, I can see where he’s coming from: out of the dust and smog comes someone who agrees to help you (by asking his friends and family to part with some cash). But this luck has just been the cherry on the cake. Dil has done more than his best to get to this point: a great deal of fund-raising in his home town, representation in the press (Journo seeks support) and support from his colleagues, his family came to Kathmandu to help him through dialysis (and his wife donated a kidney), and recently becoming one of the very lucky few in Nepal to reach the operating table in Bir Hospital (which incidentally celebrated one year of successful transplantation on the 12th December 2009).

Back to the photo. Among the family there is a palpable sense of relief, but with Dil, constantly wearing a mask to minimise the risk of infection with his permanently weakened immune system, he knows this is a long term thing. He faces up to the cost of his treatment every time he goes to the pharmacy and parts with cold hard cash. So far, generous donations brought in around 1,300 Euro. This has paid for one of the (two recommended) doses of chronically expensive Zena-pax which increases organ acceptance by up to 40%, plus the initially high doses of immunosuppressants. So far so very good. Still another 600 Euro would required to get to a maintenance state, where the daily dose of drugs becomes much cheaper and (more or less) manageable.

After that the challenge changes: to earn enough money to feed the family and pay the pharmacist. Its possible. A group of patients are looking at a programme where they set up their own specialist pharmacy to cut out the middleman and save around 15% of the cost. A group of people connected with UNDP are planning a training course on how to “Start and Improve Your Business” so that families can improve their income to cover their increase expenditure. Its early days, but there must be some way found to make this self-sustainable otherwise transplantation remains only for the rich.

So, nearly there, nearly out of the woods. Thanks very much indeed for your support to get to this point.

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