Tuesday, 6 June 2017

“To NRN” or “Not to NRN”

Based on my observation and experience of being a part of the Nepali community in New Zealand since 2005, I am going to outline a few observations about the New Zealand chapter of the Non Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) (from here on “NRNA NZ”).

NRNA NZ was established in October 2005, a few weeks after I migrated to New Zealand. I have thus been aware about NRNA NZ, its activities and the office bearers from the organisation’s early days.

At the onset, I want to make it clear that my commentary here is about the organisation. Any reference to any individuals and their behaviour are based on their capacity as an office bearer, not as an individual. People’s individual (private) life is none of my business. However, I have taken liberty to comment on their public life. Public scrutiny comes hand in hand with one’s public role. In this case, the commentaries are aimed at individuals in their capacity of holding the office of the elected executive committee of the NRNA NZ. I have deliberately left a few open-ended questions unanswered for the readers to draw their own conclusions.  

NRNA globally and NRNA NZ has done many good work over the years. Globally, if and when the dual citizenship agenda becomes a success, it will open new avenues for all those who have adopted overseas as their new home. Globally and within NZ, NRNA has done many outstanding fundraising and charitable work. We must give them the kudos they deserve for those splendid achievements. I personally respect any work anyone does for the greater good of the Nepali community and Nepal.

Victim of its own success?
The NRNA movement has gained a considerable amount of momentum and support from a noticeable proportion of global Nepali diaspora. It is fair to say that NRNA is now an influential organisation within Nepal and in every country where it exists throughout the world.

With its influence and global reach, NRNA it seems has been an organisation where games of vested interests are played at the full throttle. The dramas that are staged prior to the “election” of any body of the NRNA is a testament to the fact that perceived stakes for the candidates are too high for those who keep ambition of being “elected” in any national chapter (known as the National Co-ordination Council - NCC) or the international governing body (known as the International Co-ordination Council - ICC). I will leave it up to the readers to dissect the issue according to their own context and experience. As I see it, the evidence is too long and dirty to re-play.

Rich (and) men’s club?
All three past chairperson of the ICC has been middle aged men with deep pockets. This inherited trait is highly likely to be perpetuated. It is hardly a surprise that this culture has, more or less, been conveniently adopted in the NCC’s globally.

Out of the 24 office bearer team of the 2015-17 ICC, only three are women two of whom are “women co-ordinator”. See this link about the information of the office bearers - http://nrna.org.np/article-office_bearers1517

Should the size of your pocket and gender be a criteria to assume the role of NCC/ICC or one’s capacity to represent and lead?    

Zooming back into New Zealand, all presidents of the NRNA NZ has been men. Money matters in terms of the elected representatives has relatively been of not a great deal of fuss down under. Yet.

The dilemma known as NRNA NZ as I see it
I am in a serious dilemma over whether to give a damn to NRNA NZ or not. This maybe the reason why I find everyone else I talk to about NRNA NZ is in dilemma too. I may be totally wrong and short-sighted. I may have tinted and processed the information with my own filter and personal bias. My myopia over half of my life may have contributed to my short-sightedness.   

Let’s look at some facts. NRNA NZ, although being a nation-wide organisation supposedly meant to represent the entire Nepali diaspora in NZ, is far from having a respectable membership base over its lifetime of over 1.5 decade. Why? NRNA NZ cannot escape the fact that it’s number of members (those who continually renew their membership diligently and regularly) are not that different (or even low?) from the local geography-based organisations representing the Nepali community.

I meet people those who are super-keen in NRNA NZ.My conversation about NRNA NZ with the super-keen type often mostly almost always quickly zooms in towards the “should haves” and “could haves”. I find those topics so unhealthy. Yet, even before I realise we would already be engaging in such futile activity. I am equally, if not more than my colleagues, guilty of this sin that I continue to commit. I have now concluded that I have no right to criticise anyone unless I am prepared to get in and implement my own “should haves” and “could haves”. This applies to all those types who keep complaining by sitting on the fence and don’t intend to get their own hands dirty.

Now let us look at story from the flip side. I hear from people who vehemently abhor (to put it mildly) NRNA NZ officials and supporters. Please note that the hatred is towards the officials and supporters, not the organisation. They even don’t want to talk about NRNA NZ. Many times I have been told off to shut up when I had tried to initiate conversation about NRNA NZ with them. It is sad that number of such people are way higher compared those who are in love with NRNA NZ. I may be hanging around with the wrong bunch, I don’t know.

The not so flash history of an individual’s conducts seem to have come to haunt and taunt like a ghost from the past to those office bearers (and supporters) who are the subject of such unprecedented scale of mass dislike. I have to admit that I have not made an effort to verify the stories of such unflashy histories of the individuals. The way I see it is that an individual must be given an opportunity to prove oneself despite one’s past or mistakes. What matters is what one is doing now and what they are going to do in the future. Past is history and that is where the ghosts of the history should remain buried.

My personal analysis of those love-hate stories is that NRNA NZ has created credibility problems for itself due to providing public platform and having unabated involvement of such individuals who are perceived as “tinted” or “bad guy”. More so, those supposedly baddies (I stress, unverified once again) continue to wash their dirty laundry in the public even after assuming a public role.

It may be relevant to mention here that repeatedly, many members of Nepali community have made comments that those assuming roles in NRNA NZ are motivated by “other” factors than their intention to represent and lead the Nepali community or even their allegiance to the norm of the global NRNA movement. The accusations of “other” broadly constitutes yearning for recognition and hunger for respect. The most interesting accusation is that of developing an attachment towards the organisation developed over many years because of one’s involvement for far too long and at such a personal level that it becomes incomprehensible to them even to think that the organisation will survive if they leave the organisation. Obervation and history is evidence that there are elements of truth in those accusations.

The slips and slides, and oopsie daisies
A few years ago I once went to attend an AGM of NRNA NZ in Mt Albert, Auckland. There were about 10ish members present including only a handful office bearers of the incumbent NCC team. To my great surprise, after a discussion and completion of the topics such as annual report and audit report, significant changes to the constitution of NRNA NZ was proposed. I could not comprehend the courage of the officials’ guts for proposing such a significant scale of change in such low turn-out meeting. I expressed my view that the number of members assembled at the AGM to discuss and resolve the proposed change are too low, and I left. Literally, I felt sick and could not stand the atmosphere. I am to this day ignorant if those proposed changes were incorporated or dropped completely.

A regional meeting (of the Oceania region) was held in Pt. Chevalier, Auckland a few years ago. I was camping 250km away but made an effort to attend the meeting as an observer and a general member of the NRNA NZ. After realising that the overseas delegates almost outnumber attendees from NZ, my friends who came from Australia and are in the Australian NCC asked me, “why such low turn out from NZ”? I heard similar comments in a subsequent meeting held in Christchurch.

When I attend NRNA NZ’s functions, I find them dysfunctional. Turnout is often low (more so if there is no food served) given its status of nation-wide organisation. Lack of preparation becomes obvious and creeps in from the start until the end. Programmes often start late and technical quality (such as audio quality) is often poor. Having said that, last month I decided to go a bit late to attend the Everest Day as Nepali programmes seldom start on time. To my surprise,  when I got there the stage programme was already over. Maybe, this time punctuality was addressed. A quick conversation with those who attended the stage function and were then having lunch revealed that the inherent dysfunctions continued to occur on the day too. I can’t help but make this comment here that if one organises an event that is meant to represent the entire Nepali diaspora, it better be of a good quality one that is well attended by a respectable number of people. Period. There should be no excuse for sloppiness. This sounds harsh but one should be able to make an effort if one claims to represent the wider mass.

There has been a number of occasion where NCC members were seen too keen to take undeserved credit for someone else's’ hard work. This has happened even at very sensitive cases. Here is an example.  During the fundraising on Queen Street after the earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, the end of the first day of street collection turned out to be chaotic. There was no leadership which was not a big issue as the gathering was impromptu that started with a young person’s facebook post. That facebook post (with time stamp) could be retrieved from the facebook group. I was one of the first one to reach Aotea Square in the morning. All those, including myself, who gathered seemed to be crushed because of the scale of what happened back home. In a while after a quick discussion, it was agreed that the collection of the day would be handed over to the NZ Red Cross. I announced that to the gathering as the official present from NRNA NZ would not do so. Many young people came forward and initiated and lead the fundraising on the day. The were least concerned about who the fund would go to. Everyone, including, me was seeking release in company of the others and were kee to be able to do something soon.

I left Aotea Square soon after the collection began to catch-up with other earthquake related work.  When I returned to Queen Street later in the afternoon, things seemed to have changed. There were NRNA banners flying with people taking pictures on Queen Street. After the collection was wrapped up, two organisations (one of which was NRNA NZ) claimed to own the buckets which had collection from the day. I was gobsmacked and could not comprehend what was going on. I asked an official of the NRNA to inform to the mass gathered and to those who volunteered all day to collect fund that the agreement of morning (that the fund collection would go to Red Cross) has changed. They won’t do it.  I was personally told off by another NRNA NZ official for encouraging (apparently always, according to this gentleman) misconduct by the young people. All the buckets were divvied up between the two organisations claiming them to be theirs. A few of them were taken away by the NRNA officials for the collection to be counted at someone’s residence. At that particular moment, it was unknown where and when.

I observed that the emotion of young people who stood all day on Queen Street and did hard work to collect fund were running raw and flying all over. The fact that someone or some organisation could come and take away the fund raised for such a cause seemed to have fuelled the hurt and anger among many young people. A few people got so angry that they were about to take some “action” (भौतिक कारवाही). I personally told the dissatisfied group of young people to not to even think of such silly action against those who apparently caused gross anger and hurt to them. I said to them that two wrongs won’t make it right. I went to the extent of threatening them that if they did any भौतिक कारवाही at any stage, that would be the end of whatever relationship I had with them. No such ugly incident ever happen, thankfully. The young guns were wise enough not to make such silly mistakes. They rather decided to swallow their pride and push on with fund raise for the next week.

There are many such examples. Without going into details, similar incident seemed to have happened when a Nepali student committed suicide in Tauranga few years ago.

It would be a fair observation to conclude that our friends of NRNA NZ are hungry and a little too keen to take credit over things that they really should not meddle with.  

Who represents the Nepali community in NZ?
There should be no contest that NRNA NZ is capable of representing the entire Nepali diaspora of NZ. It is the only organisation of such calibre until now. NRNA NZ, however, has failed to deliver on in this expectation. It does not seem to be interested to take up this role at all.

After the earthquake of 2015, I got opportunity to work with the NZ Ministry of Education, Immigration NZ and NZ police to take some initiatives to provide relief to those impacted by the quake in Nepal. This is a separate topic for discussion sometime later.

One thing stood out during April 2015 amidst the chaos that followed in NZ due to the quake in Nepal. Nepali community in NZ do not have a coordination mechanism among the communities scattered all over NZ. There is a lack of a unifying entity that represents all. Identifying this gap, Tribhuvan Shrestha (I call him Tribhuvan dai; for the sake of detaching emotions I’ll call him by his name in this write up) of Wellington and I started an initiative called “Community of Nepali Community Representatives” (CNCR). Apparently, Mr. Shrestha proposed this model to the NRNA NZ only to be vigorously resisted. He apparently ended up having to nurse some friendship gone bad due to the events that developed. Briefly, CNCR is an informal (not intended to be a registered entity) network of the leaders of all Nepali community organisations throughout NZ. Tribhuvan Shrestha and I co-lead drafting its rules and regulations. Mr. Shrestha already had all the groundwork completed for this to initiate. I only proposed some cosmetic changes.  I chaired its first meeting held on 3 March 2016. If anyone is keen, I can share the minutes and other documents of the meetings of CNCR. The incumbent leader of the NRNA NZ was invited from the beginning to give input and to attend the meeting of CNCR. That never happened. Not until this day.

One might argue that CNCR was stepping over the role of NRNA NZ. My counter argument would be, well, do we wait or take our own initiatives? We are fed up of the waiting game and from inaction.

The so called “election”
The dictionary meaning of election is “a formal and organized choice by vote of a person for a political office or other position

There has never been a voting process for the election of the NRNA NZ. There doesn’t seem to be appetite to accommodate voting and choice. It seems there is no capacity within NRNA NZ to administer a NZ-wide election process.

The so called “election” of until now were decided behind closed doors under wraps and over series of phone calls under the cloak of consensus (सहमती). What was lost over the election cycles was the beauty of democratic process and free and fair competition. Such act of “consensus making” murders meritocracy and encourages partisan politicking (गुटबन्दी). It is the sad case of perpetuation and that of similarity with the attitude, society and politics of Nepal. In the past elections of the NRNA NZ, not only members who stood in election but the volunteers of the election committee were grossly harassed and disrespected by the too passionate candidates.

What next?
This year NRNA NZ will elect a new executive committee. If the past is an indicator of the future about the election process of NRNA NZ, it would be fair to say that the upcoming election would be “interesting”. As a matter of fact, apparently “interesting” events follow NRNA all over the world during their election process. A recent example is the news about a “scam” involving addition of “hundreds of would-be members with an aim to build a VOTE bank” to the Australia chapter of NRNA (Quotation source https://goo.gl/r9o9HD. See the news piece for full reporting of the “scam”). Grape vines suggest that NZ chapter is not immune to “allegations” of such malpractice and other types of agee-bagee.

I remain cautiously optimistic that this year’s election of the NRNA NZ provides its members an opportunity to put the past behind them and prove that they are capable to operate and act differently in a more free and fair manner. In the unfortunate case of repetition of the “same old story” attitude in the election, NRNA NZ risks of further decline in its organisational credibility and social acceptance from the general population of Nepali diaspora in NZ. At the end of the day, relationship building is based on mutual respect and behavioural exchange, be it at a personal level or that in an organisational sense.   

Finally, am I interested in the upcoming NRNA NZ election? Hell, yes. Because whether I like it or not NRNA NZ impacts me on my capacity as a member of the Nepali community and a general member of the NRNA NZ. Will I stand in the election? I don’t know yet. 

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