Budgetary constraints in Finland to impact co-operation in Nepal: Finnish Envoy – By Sharachchandra Bhandary

Kathmandu, March 12: Citing budgetary constraints, Finland is considering withdrawing her support in Nepal from forestry initiatives. As the new government of Finland had to cut public expenditures, this measure has consequences related to the development cooperation budget as well. The decision to cut Finnish development budget implies to all Finnish supported multilateral, bilateral and other projects, including NGO-sector. However, as far as the forestry sector in Nepal is concerned, Finland also sees it is time for the Nepal Government to take the lead as of its new Forest Sector Strategy.

Speaking to RSS, Finnish Ambassador to Nepal Jorma Suvanto said, “Our economy is based on exports and it is suffering for various reasons. It is not bringing adequate money in the state coffer.” However, he pledged continued support in the field of education, water and sanitation in co-operation with Nepalese authorities. . “Our tax payer’s money is giving extremely good results in education, water and sanitation and we’ll continue with them,” he observed.
Finland had been supporting Nepal’s forestry initiatives since early 80s which includes large scale plantation, preparation and implementation of Forestry sector Master plan, support to community forestry and Leasehold forestry, scientific forest management initiatives, national Forest resource inventories and so on, The recent cooperation is being implemented through the Forest Farm Facility project (FFF, multilateral FAO-project in six countries including Nepal), Forest Resource Assessment Project (FRA) and Multi Stakeholder Forestry Programme (MSFP). According to Ambassador Jorma, the Multistakeholder Forestry Programme currently operating will be finalized after the no cost extension till mid-July 2016.
Finland had a significant role in the development of the forestry sector of Nepal in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2010 – 2014 Finland funded a Forest Resource Assessment Project, FRA, which aimed at developing a uniform system to collect and share information about the forest stock, biomass and biodiversity in Nepal. The data, satellite images and GIS data on forest resource of Nepal has been disseminated.
The Multi Stakeholder Forestry Programme, seeks to reduce poverty directly by improving the livelihoods and resilience of women, Dalits, poor, marginalized and disadvantaged people in Nepal. The project is planned to last ten years (2011-2021), of which the initial transitional phase agreed and signed between the three development partners and government of Nepal is now under way (2012-2016). The programme is co-funded together with Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Strengthening of Environmental Administration and Management in Nepal (SEAM-N), 2001-2014) completed in the end of 2014, was a project which aimed at strengthening local administrators’ and industries’ capacity to plan, manage and monitor environmental issues and to reduce pollution from different sources in the project area at Dharan-Biratnagar’s industrial corridor and establishing and strengthening environmental administration, planning and management capacity of the DDCs, Municipalities and VDCs of the six surrounding districts.
Ambassador Jorma expressed his sincere commitment to enhance bilateral trade and business. “It is one of my priorities to increase trade between our two countries. I’m in constant touch with business fraternity of Nepal,” he said. He is of the view that both countries should do something to improve the trade and business situation.
A MoU between FNCCI and its Finnish counterpart was signed in 1993 during Nepali Prime Minister’s Visit to Finland. Similarly, an agreement between Nepal and Finland on Promotion and Protection of Investment was signed on 3 February 2009. On investment, the Department of Industry data revealed that there were 5 joint ventures with the Finnish investment of Rs. 2.5 million until July 2012, which created 149 jobs.

Nepal exports handicrafts, woolen carpets, ready-made garments, woolen goods, wooden and bamboo goods to Finland. Likewise, Nepal has imported telecommunication equipment, machinery and parts, industrial raw materials, fertilizer, electrical goods, radio cassette and parts, guns and cartridges, wooden pole etc. from Finland. Nepal has been experiencing negative balance of trade with Finland over the past few years. Finland has been a major trading partner of Nepal among the Nordic countries for the past few years.
Tourism being an engine of economic growth and main source of generating foreign currency for Nepal, he suggested to participate actively in tourism fairs held every year in Helsinki and other European capitals. He is of the view that aggressive promotion of Nepal’s tourism product is a must as some 1,000 Nepali Diaspora living in Finland could be key persons to spread Nepal’s diverse culture including tourism promotion campaign. Ambassador Suvanto also pledged to use his good office in bringing more Finnish tourists. “I’ll encourage the Finns to visit Nepal. It is a safe country, a unique tourist destination in a global scale, he observed.
A sizable number of Finnish tourists visit Nepal every year. Though the number at present is not very significant, there is prospect of attracting more tourists from Finland. In 2,000 about 1,500 Finnish tourists visited Nepal. In 2004, the number had been dropped to 664. In 2011 and 2012, Finnish visitors travelling to Nepal stood at 2,276 and 2,464 respectively.
Finnish cooperation in Nepal began in 1982 with the grant assistance of 6,000 MT of chemical fertilizers. Such assistance has increased and widened in recent years. Earlier the Finnish development programme in Nepal was focused on energy, forestry and water resources. In recent days, Finnish development cooperation has been shifted towards alleviation of poverty, environmentally sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, and promotion of democracy, human rights, equalization and participatory system of governance.
Nepal is one of Finland’s six long-term development partners, along with Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia and Kenya. In addition to water and sanitation, education and environment sectors, Finland has supported in Nepal’s Peace Trust Fund, OHCHR as well as Nepalese NGOs. Finland provided US$22 million in the Fiscal 2014-2015. Finland provides assistance to Nepal through international agencies such as FAO, UNICEF, UNDP and UN Women.
The main goal of Finland’s development cooperation is stated as to address extreme poverty around the globe, through Human rights-based approach to development. The Finnish development policy claims to aim at ensuring that even the poorest people know their rights and are able to act on them. It states that it promotes values and core human rights principles such as universality, self-determination, non-discrimination and equality, including civil and political rights and freedoms, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Special attention will be paid to the rights of women and girls.
The envoy termed Finland-Nepal relations excellent and promised to expand it further for the mutual benefit of both countries. He informed about the immediate release of assistance during the devastating earthquake last year. “We took our share in assisting Nepal by rendering 3 million Euros.
He expressed satisfaction over the commissioning of the National Reconstruction Authority and hoped that the reconstruction works would kick start as per the aspiration of quake victims. Welcoming the new constitution, he said it would pave passage for peace, progress and prosperity.