A question of trust

  • Like the government, I/NGOs in Nepal too have problems with transparency and accountability
- ANUSHKA BHATTARAI
A question of trust

May 26, 2015-

After the 7.9 magnitude quake hit Nepal on April 25, friends and relatives from across the world began to ask me how they could send whatever they had collected. But not once did any of them consider sending the money they had collected through the government.

Since the very first day of the quake, the credibility of our government has been at stake. Two basic questions have been levelled at the government: what are you doing exactly, and where will all the money go?

Slowly learning

No doubt, the government was unprepared, despite predictions in the Nepal Disaster Report 2009 that warned of a major earthquake within the next five-to-six years. But perhaps we need to give the government the benefit of the doubt. For days after the initial big quake, the earth was still roiling; people were dying, many were injured, thousands were homeless, and even government offices had been torn apart. The roads were blocked, the Nepal Army only had six helicopters at its disposal, the weather was terrible, and the state lacked all kinds of resources. How much could be expected from the government in a state like this?

Still, the government is learning from its mistakes. Response to the second large quake, of magnitude 7.3 that struck on May 12, was comparatively more efficient. Rescue teams and relief were immediately dispatched. The prime minister himself addressed the crisis and visited the affected areas.

With much aid pouring into the country, the government initially took a hasty decision, with the ’Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) issuing a circular to banks stating that all amounts deposited for relief would be automatically routed to the Prime Ministers Disaster Relief Fund. This decision came under much criticism, given donors’ and peoples’ concerns about corruption in the state mechanism. International donors halted their fundraising, fearing the aid would be allocated for political considerations rather than humanitarian need. Dean Nelson of The Telegraph blatantly called the government’s one-door policy “an attempt by the ruling Nepal Congress Party to seize control of millions of pounds of aid donations being sent from around the world.” The same article quoted a senior UN official who said, “There is no way they’re going to co-opt anyone’s funds. They might think that but donors will never allow it to happen. The government does not have the capability to run this, that’s the reality.” Subsequently, this decision was amended.

But many of those doing the criticising were not as concerned about transparency as they seemed. NGOs and INGOs have their objectives and agendas and are often run by people who have political affiliations. I/NGOs have their share of problems when it comes to transparency, accountability, and legitimacy.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering why it doesn’t seem to bother us when someone in an international forum claims that the government of a sovereign nation does not have capabilities to run its state, and how some international agencies undercut the decisions of the government.

Trust, but remain vigilant

The problem with the shrill criticism was that very few even knew of the procedure and mandate of the PM’s Disaster Relief Fund. Many never bothered to understand that, unlike the various I/NGOs, the funds collected shall only be used for victims of the disaster. The Fund is controlled by a committee consisting of the vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission, along with the chiefs of eight other ministries, and is audited by the Auditor General. These facts alone make the fund more transparent and accountable that the hundreds of NGOs that are accountable only to their board of directors (which usually consists of kith and kin).

Furthermore, regarding the huge amounts that have been pledged to Nepal from donor countries, it needs to be understood that these amounts have yet to reach Nepal. The UN issued a flash appeal for funds in the immediate aftermath of the quake for $423 million. But so far, only 21 percent ($89.1 million) has been raised.

I am not arguing that our government is absolutely transparent, neither am I trying to cover its loopholes. I understand that we live in a democratic nation where citizens are free to exercise their choice and provide relief in whatever manner they see fit. However, with all the individuals and organisations involved in providing relief, there will be a duplication of efforts. Accessible areas are being heavily supported while others are left untouched. A systematic record of which area is affected, who needs what, and what has already been provided has not been maintained. Therefore, it’s necessary to work together under one policy.

For proportionate distribution, the government has to be supported. We can act as watchdogs, ask for social audits, and hold them accountable. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority can be mandated to investigate the PM’s Disaster Relief Fund. As responsible citizens of a democratic state, it is our duty to trust in the government’s capacity while keeping watch. But instead, we don’t trust the government, we appeal to all to not contribute to the PM’s Fund, and then, we blame the government for not being able to do its duty.

Bhattarai is a student at the Kathmandu School of Law

anusska1@gmail.com

Published: 27-05-2015 07:13

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