In Conversation with the Norwegian Ambassador to Nepal, H. E. Kjell Tormod Pettersen.

His Excellency Kjell Tormod Pettersen was the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Norway to Nepal. He has worked as Senior Advisor to the Department for Security Policy and High North issues. He was Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Norwegian Embassy in Beijing.

Sujeev:How has your experience been in the past 3-4 years? What have been the good things? What have been the challenges?

Ambassador Pettersen: The end of my tenure is a good time to reflect on what has happened during the past four years and how it was different from what I expected when I first came to the country. Things have turned out very differently from what I initially thought. I had come to Nepal with an optimistic mood in October 2013. We saw that the economic growth was picking up at that time. Nepal had national elections for the new constitution and the country was moving in a positive direction. Meanwhile, from the Norwegian perspective, Nepal was stable for investment. However, with time, the economic development became less optimistic due to political unrest in the country, which was further fueled by the April 2015 earthquakes.

Post-earthquake, there has been a strong commitment not only from the Norwegian Government but also from the civil society of Norway, which has mobilized support for Nepal. Since then there has been a change in Norway’s perception towards Nepal. In a way, we feel that we are probably more committed to Nepal after the earthquake. The trade dispute on the Indian border, which happened in the same year as the earthquake, had a huge economic impact. Likewise, when the new Constitution was promulgated in September 20, 2015, I was skeptical on what would be next for Nepal. The economy had started to become less optimistic. However, Nepal finally managed to have the local elections. Nevertheless, it is still a challenge to conduct the national elections. If they turn out be positive, the economic roller coaster is going to go up again.

I am more optimistic now in terms of Nepal’s economic growth as well as our relationship with Nepal than I was a year ago. We are committed to Nepal and we will continue our efforts to prioritize Nepal for Norway’s long term development aid. We do not have any strategic interest in the country and we are here with genuine interest for what is best for our two countries.

Sujeev: In your tenure, in hydropower, we had a lot of Norwegian investments coming in but it did not move the way it was supposed to. Given Nepal’s new developments and as the country potentially moves into a phase of stability, do you think Norwegian companies are going to come back? Besides the development aid side of it, are the investments—which create jobs and bring in the best of technology—going to continue?

Ambassador Pettersen: We have never left Nepal. When we look into Tamakoshi- III project, I think it was a very well-studied project back in Norway before the decision was made to give back the license. This project could not be well financed in commercial terms through the capital market and therefore could not get the expected returns as per the plan. Since such projects are not given as a grant, it required national financing and market, the project was pulled back due to various governance issues and high risks associated with the project at that time. However, I still think Norway can do big projects. Statkraft, which is a huge company in Norway, is still looking to invest in hydropower projects. They want to make sure that they continue their operations in Khimti hydropower till 2020 on mutually beneficial terms. If Statkraft makes newer investments, I am sure other Norwegian companies would like to make investments in Nepal as well.

Sujeev: Looking back at close to four years you have been in Nepal, what are some of your memorable moments?

Ambassador Pettersen: I personally wanted to see the country. I have been travelling quite extensively and have been to many remote areas of Nepal. I have been able to experience the diversity of Nepal quite well. I feel that Kathmandu does not reflect what Nepal is all about. Most recently, I made a trip to Upper Mustang. It was very different from the rest of Nepal in that it has a different flavor in terms of its history and the Tibetan plateau.

Sujeev: How do you see the Himalayan region going ahead in terms of ecological and environmental challenges?

Ambassador Pettersen: There isn’t a clear perspective on how it is going to work. There are going to be many challenges. It is very difficult to create a good regional cooperation environment. There are strategic interests clashing in the Himalayas. Such clashes are expected to be seen more in the future. Besides the traditional tensions, we will also see new tensions relating to water, climate change and the growth of bigger nations. So, in my opinion, the smaller nations need to be very careful. It is important for these nations to invest in brand competence in order to handle all these tensions.

Sujeev: Now coming from the Himalayas back to Nepal, where do you see Nepal? What are some of the things that Nepal needs to get right to move ahead?

Ambassador Pettersen: In order to develop, there has to be accountability and transparency in the public sector. There is a need to encourage bigger private sector. It is the private sector that is creating jobs, hopes and prospects for young people. The youth cannot build their future careers by working only in the public sector, NGOs and donor economy. The private sector is definitely very small and the new politicians need to understand that future of Nepal depends on bigger private sector.

Sujeev: But, you see hope for Nepal?

Ambassador Pettersen: Yes, I see hope for Nepal. There are always possibilities and new opportunities coming out of it. For me it has taken 3-4 years to show that things can move in the right direction. I think that many share this perspective. People will expect a lot from the elected politicians. So, politicians should be accountable. Meanwhile, Nepal is a small landlocked nation with limited resources. It falls in a location sandwiched between two giant nations where geopolitical interests play out. On the other hand, there are nations that have common interest on what other nations are doing. It is a very challenging job to take care of national interests. Therefore, we need politicians who can come up with a forward looking foreign policy and drive Nepal on a bigger route. 

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