As the successful tenure of His Excellency Madhuban Paudel, Ambassador of Nepal to Kuwait, came to an end, The Times spoke to him about the challenges and successes he had during his four year tenure in Kuwait.
Having set up the first-ever Nepali mission in Kuwait in 2010, Ambassador Paudel had an uphill task when he first came to Kuwait as the embassy had to deal with several issues relating to the 35,000 Nepali citizens residing in the country.
Over the years the soft spoken and patient ambassador built a reputation for solving the community’s various problems from illegal recruitment, domestic labor and personal issues facing the community. This very nature of the ambassador endeared him to the Nepali community and his friendly disposition made him popular among diplomats and the locals.
“The Nepali community in Kuwait is hardworking, simple and honest, and everywhere I go I am told this from their employers,” Ambassador Paudel revealed.
During his tenure Ambassador Paudel constantly reminded the community that they have come to work and support their family back home, while seeking financial security for themselves. Hence it was imperative that they respect local rules and regulations.
“I was extremely touched by the warm farewell receptions given to me,” he says pointing out that he will miss the friendly and excellent relationship he had build up with the residents over the years. Giving a brief outline of his diplomatic career spanning over three decades, His Excellency said, “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 Chargé Äaffaires.
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 at the Asia Pacific Center for Strategic Studies in Hawaii under the United States Department of Defense. 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 December 2009. And now, after more than four years in this wonderful country, I will be returning to Nepal with a trove of fascinating experiences and memories, as well as a sense of satisfaction in having contributed in a small way to easing life for many of my fellow citizens in Kuwait.
Speaking about some of 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 mission.
The ambassador went on to say, “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 used to be besieged with 100 to 150 individual issues, some quite frivolous, but some very serious, and everyone wanted to see their problem sorted out immediately.”
“The main challenge for the embassy was resolving the innumerable cases related to domestic helpers. Many of these people came to Kuwait without having undergone any sort of orientation to the culture, language, religion and people they would be exposed to.
This understandably led to undesirable outcomes for both, the people who came here and the people who hired them. Due to the efforts of our embassy, the government of Nepal has now instituted over 20 training agencies that impart three-week 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 that the embassy faced was 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.”
“We have also had several cases in Kuwait where nationals from countries neighboring Nepal were apprehended while using forged Nepali passports. We have now shifted to machine readable passports (MRP), and the embassy issues 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,” narrated the ambassador.
“During my tenure the embassy has worked to make recruiting Nepalese labor for the corporate sector quite simple and straight-forward process. All they have to do now is complete five sets of documents, including one that authorizes an approved manpower agency to hire on their behalf in Nepal. Once the documents receive the necessary approvals and the requirements, the agency in Nepal is allowed to select employees. This has streamlined the recruiting process and ensured that both the rights of employees and the requirements of employers are equitably met.”
Detailing the importance of remittances from expatriate Nepalese to the country’s economy, the ambassador noted that there were around 550,000 Nepalese in Saudi Arabia, 450,000 in Qatar and around 250,000 in UAE, along with the 62,000 Nepalese in Kuwait and smaller numbers spread across other countries in the region.
“Tourism is another major source of revenue for Nepal, and since the opening of the embassy in Kuwait, there has been a steady uptick in the number of tourists from this 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.
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 and elsewhere. “There is considerable scope for increasing trade between our 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, said the envoy.
Nepal has the potential to generate 83,000 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. Exchanges between the Chamber of Commerce in both countries also help to further boost investment from the private sector.
Saying that his work in Kuwait was challenging, exciting and at times an emotional experience, the ambassador thanked His Highness the Amir, the leadership, government and people of Kuwait for their hospitality and kindness to him personally, and for providing the Nepalese in Kuwait with a safe and rewarding work environment. The ambassador conveyed his best wishes to all Nepalese in Kuwait and wished them all peace and prosperity.