Putting the last first

  • The government’s plan to collect aid from foreign countries is plagued with numerous problems
- Dipendra Jha
Putting the last first

Jun 15, 2015-

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, issues of malpractice, favouritism and nepotism in relief and rehabilitation works have started surfacing. Given that the much-vaunted donors’ conference is just around the corner, it is imperative for the government to address such cases if it wants to convince the international community to provide it with much-needed help.

Over-politicisation

Media outlets have reported that Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat’s personal secretary Ramesh Mahat was found selling corrugated zinc sheets given by the Nepal Investment Bank for quake victims. In the wake of the controversy, it is good that the minister has asked his personal aide to resign, though going by the chain of command principle, the boss takes the responsibility for the assistant’s wrongdoings.

Minister Mahat may not have played any role in this episode, yet people have a few questions on their mind: Is it possible for Ramesh Mahat to do so without the minister knowing about it? How can one believe that the minister was not aware of what his personal aide was doing? If our justice mechanism is still functional, then this matter needs to be investigated further. People have the right to know what really happened.

The Amnesty International has already highlighted the issue of over-politicisation of relief and reconstruction works in its recent briefing. The organisation has also said that the district committee secretary of the Nepal Congress (NC) Nuwakot had provided relief materials only to one ward (where the majority of the population were NC supporters) in his Village Development Committee (VDC). This has also been verified by the Post’s June 8 report (‘Aid irregularities leave victims high and dry) which quoted a high-level monitoring report which claimed, ”relief materials have mostly reached those people who have connections with local politicians.”

The second case, which has been highlighted by the media, is about the Ministry of Urban Development. News reports mention that authorities from the Urban Development Mnistry bought tents of low quality. The ministry has not responded yet, neither do the people know whether or not the concerned agencies are investigating into these matters.

Lack of trust

These types of controversies will directly affect the donors’ conference, as the donor community might raise questions regarding proper utilisation of their money. The international community has little trust in the Nepali government. Take the case of Nepal’s effort to rally foreign support for the quake victims. Despite relentless campaigns, the government could collect only Rs 5 billion for the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, while the UN flash appeal has collected Rs 24 billion. Although the UN’s appeal is yet to collect the required amount, it indicates that donor agencies and foreign countries trust the UN more than the PM’s Relief Fund.

Further, the government’s anti-corruption body has taken no step to investigate such issues of malpractice and corruption. In such a scenario, it will not be a surprise if the government fails to receive pledges for substantial help from the international community.

Wrong size

Apart from corruption and mismanagement, there is another problem throttling reconstruction efforts. The government seems to be preparing for reconstruction and rehabilitation without understanding the needs of the people who have suffered due to the disaster. Cultural contexts and local needs have not been considered at all. The quake-affected communities are just being treated as a passive recipient of aid, their indigenous knowledge and resources have been ignored. How can the government unilaterally decide to relocate 13 VDCs in upper Gorkha, including Laprak, Barpak, Gumdi and Samagaun, that lie along the Manaslu trekking route? Livelihood, land and cultural practices are some of the agendas that the government needs to discuss with the internally displaced people (IDPs) before taking such a step. IDPs should be given a chance to express their opinions and contribute to the decision-making process by the government, since they are not just the receivers of aid but are makers and shapers of the policies that affect their daily life.

Another issue, which has not been sufficiently dealt with, is the disparity in relief and reconstruction works. Dalit organisations have published a report which says that the lower-caste people and those belonging to different indigenous communities are being discriminated in the relief-distribution process. More than 80 percent of the people who died due to quake were from the indigenous community. However, this issue has not been highlighted. Also, there is a need for some kind of affirmative action for women, children and non-Nepali speakers.

The  one-size-?ts-all approach of the government fails to address specific needs and contexts of different communities. In order to ensure equal and effective participation of all, special measures need to be adopted by the government for socially excluded and marginalised communities. Thus, a fair distribution of goods and services, tailored according to the need of the people, is needed to reduce the tension and grievance that exists among the targeted groups due to their perceived unequal access to state resources.

So, if the government wants to win donors’ as well as the people’s confidence, it must try to address all these grievances. Arguing that a large chunk of donor-given assistance goes back to their respective countries in the form of salaries and consultancy fees will not be of any help. The international community seems eager to help Nepal, but wants our government to present a comprehensive need-based plan of reconstruction. Foreign countries are also seeking an assurance against the misuse of their taxpayers’ money and the adoption of special measures for the marginalised community. Now, it is up to the Nepali government to assuage their doubts.

Jha is an advocate at the Supreme Court

Published: 16-06-2015 08:13

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