Nepal: Building Bridges of Friendship

Ambassador Madhuban Prasad Paudel

With his broad smile and warm personality Ambassador Paudel is among the more familiar faces in Kuwait’s diplomatic circle. As Nepal’s first ever ambassador to Kuwait, he has impressed the country and community with his easy and affable personality.

Recently, The Times had the privilege of conducting an exclusive and in-depth interview with H.E. Madhuban Prasad Paudel, the Ambassador of the Republic of Nepal in Kuwait. Over coffee and gracious hospitality, His Excellency spoke about the challenges he encountered and the fascinating experiences he had during an eventful diplomatic career spanning over three decades. Giving us a brief about his career, “I joined the Nepal Foreign Service in 1978, a year after I graduated with a dual Masters Degree in Arts and Law. I was appointed as a Section Officer in Kathmandu and dealt with bilateral and multilateral affairs in territorial Desks, mainly the India Desk. My first posting outside of Nepal came in 1982, when I was assigned as Second Secretary at the Nepalese Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. After a four-year stint there, I returned to Nepal and was then deputed as Consul at our Consulate in Kolkata, India.”

“In 2004, after having worked as Nepal Director at the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu for 3 years, I had the honor of opening our country’s embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and serving there as its first Charge’ d’Affaires. At different periods during my career I have also undergone training at various American and European institutions, including in Germany, at the UN in New York and at the Near East and South Asia Center in Washington DC and the Asia Pacific Center for Strategic Studies in Hawaii under the United States Department of Defence. After retiring from the Nepal Foreign Service in May 2009, I was reappointed through a special posting as my country’s first ambassador to the State of Kuwait in 2009. So, here I am now,” said the ambassador whose demeanor and energy belie the fact that he has retired from active duty.

Recalling his stint in UAE, the ambassador said, “UAE is unique in that of the 150,000 Nepalese in the country, a large number are employed in the corporate sector and only a few in the unorganized segment. However, UAE was also where I had my first interaction with labor related issues. Up until that time my diplomatic work mainly involved political, regional and multi-lateral relations. It must be said here that when it comes to labor relations, the UAE government has a very positive and proactive attitude particularly in the corporate sector. For instance, whenever there is death from work injury or traffic accidents, the sponsor or the driver causing the accident has to immediately deposit 200,000 Dirhams as a sort of insurance, until the case is resolved by the court. During my tenure as Charge’ d’Affaires there, I brought to close a number of pending cases surrounding the death of Nepalese over the last few years. In some cases, the compensation amounts were awarded to deceased persons and there was no one to make a claim. Through the efforts of our embassy we were able to identify next of kin in Nepal and get the necessary inheritance certificates so that we were able to repatriate around sixty million rupees to Nepal for distribution to the families.”

Speaking about his experiences in Kuwait, the ambassador expressed his profound gratitude to the Government of Kuwait, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Interior, for their assistance during the initial days of setting up the Embassy, and their continued cooperation in ensuring the smooth and effective functioning of the embassy and its services. The ambassador continued, “When I took charge in 2009, the Nepalese in Kuwait had been living for quite some time without proper diplomatic representation or guidance to their problems. So, when the embassy opened, it was only understandable that they expected us to solve all the issues confronting them. Every day on an average, the embassy is besieged with 100 to 150 individual issues, some quite frivolous, but some very serious, and everyone would like to see their problem resolved immediately.”

“The main challenge for the embassy is resolving the innumerable cases related to domestic helpers. Many of these people come to Kuwait without having undergone any sort of orientation to the culture, language, religion and people they would be exposed to. This leads to undesirable outcomes for both, the people who come here and the people who hire them. Due to the efforts of our embassy, the government of Nepal has now instituted over 20 training agencies that impart threeweek long orientation course for potential domestic helpers coming to the Middle-East. Also, to stop the exploitation of young women we have, since September 2012, implemented a new rule that forbids any woman below the age of 30 from traveling to seek employment in the domestic sector. This has had a dampening effect on the number of Agencies in Kuwait and the individuals in Nepal that were thriving on sending domestic helpers to the Middle-East.”

“Another problem facing the embassy is the large number of unrecorded Nepalese in Kuwait. When I arrived in the country, according to information available from Immigration records in Nepal, I was expecting to represent a small population of around 14,000 people. Imagine my surprise when I heard from the Kuwait immigration authorities that there were in excess of 36,000 Nepalese in the country. In other words, over 22,000 people had left Nepal illegally without being recorded by our Immigration officials. Most of them had come through Indian airports, after crossing the porous border between India and Nepal. However, for the moment, there is nothing practical that can be done to close this porous border due to the long historical, social, cultural and economic ties that bind people on either side.”

“Adding to the illegal migration from Nepal is the fact that our handwritten passports are still valid although we already started the MRPs and old but valid are open to fraud and tampering. Nationals from countries neighboring Nepal have been apprehended in Kuwait and found to be using tampered Nepali passports. We have already shifted to machine readable passports (MRP), and in the embassy we now issue over 300 to 400 MRPs every month. But, because the older passports are valid till 2015, it will take few more years before we can fully curb counterfeit passports. “

“The embassy is in the process of making the recruitment of workers from Nepal in the corporate sector quite simple and straight-forward. Companies looking to hire manpower from Nepal will now have to complete five sets of documents that include details of the contract for which employees are being sought and a request letter authorizing an approved manpower agency to hire on their behalf in Nepal. Once the documents receive the necessary approvals and the company meets all stipulated requirements, the agency in Nepal is allowed to select employees. Agencies found flouting the rules are liable to be fined up to 100,000 Nepalese rupees and black-listed from manpower recruitment. This process is aimed at ensuring that manpower hiring procedures are streamlined and that both the rights of employees and the requirements of employers are equitably met.”

Detailing the country’s economy and the importance of remittances from expatriate Nepalese, the ambassador said, “Remittances from the 2.3 million Nepali expatriates living mainly in the Middle-East and others elsewhere, account for nearly a large amount of our country’s GDP. Among GCC states, KSA has 550,000 and Qatar has over 450,000 Nepalese, have the largest number of emigrants , followed by UAE with 250,000 and Kuwait with around 62,000.”

“Tourism is another major source of revenue for Nepal, and since the opening of the embassy in Kuwait, there has been an uptick in the number of tourists from the country. Some of the schools in Kuwait have taken their students to visit Nepal and experience village life there. With its towering mountains, raging rivers, a verdant, scenic landscape and a wide variety of wildlife, the country is a natural haven for tourists providing something exciting for everyone.

From rafting, mountaineering and other adventure tourisms to trekking, wildlife and ecotourism, Nepal provides a full range of exciting activities for tourists.” With regard to bilateral trade between Nepal and Kuwait the ambassador said that direct trade was quite insignificant and most Nepali products found in Kuwait were coming in through agencies in India. “There is considerable scope for increasing trade between the two countries, especially in the agriculture sector and in the carpet and garment industries, as well as through Kuwaiti investments in infrastructure and power generation. Nepal has the potential to generate 83000 MW of hydro-electric power, of which nearly half is commercially feasible.

Currently, the country generates only a little less than 1,000 MW of hydro-electric power and significant opportunities for investments exist in this sector. It is noteworthy that the government of Kuwait has funded a couple of infrastructure projects, including roads and a hydro-electric project in Nepal, through the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development. We have now invited the Nepal Chamber of Commerce to visit Kuwait and interact with their counterparts in the country so as to further boost bilateral trade.” Speaking on a personal level, the ambassador said, “My wife and I have two sons and a daughter, and we are also the proud grandparents of five grand-children. Earlier, as a pastime, I used to write poems and short stories, and I have penned several short-stories in Nepalese language, some of which have been translated into English and Bengali. In addition, I enjoy listening to a wide variety of music and I am also a fairly good cook. Whenever I find time, which is quite rare these days, I enjoy cooking for the family and friends. I believe that cooking while using one’s own hands has a therapeutic effect; you tend to relax and loosen up when involved in cooking, and it is a great stress reliever.”

The job in Kuwait has been quite challenging and was a new kind of experience for me. This involvement in labor issues and personal problems of Nepalese has been an eye-opener and at times a very emotional experience for me; especially when you encounter tragic situations I must add that the Government of Kuwait, and the Ministry of Interior and Foreign Affairs in particular, has helped us immeasurably in this regard, often paying for the air-tickets to send the unfortunate victims back home.” Concluding the interview, the ambassador added, “On the occasion of the upcoming Nepali festival of Tihar, I would like to wish my fellow citizens as well as the people and government of Kuwait, peace, prosperity and happiness.”

-Staff Report