Print Edition - 2015-06-28 | Free the Words
- Local representatives must be elected for the government to better organise its reconstruction efforts
Jun 27, 2015-The devastating earthquakes of April and May have jolted the entire country. As the government and community are slowly returning back to normalcy, it is pertinent to raise a few points about the lack of the elected local bodies, how it affected the relief and rescue efforts in the initial days and how it is likely to affect the upcoming reconstruction phase.
Had there been locally elected representatives in place, we would have 53 community representatives at the VDC level and 5 at the ward level working to ensure that the relief and reconstruction carried out by the government reached the right people.
As rightly said by many, this would have had a positive effect in the government’s efforts. These people would have had extensive knowledge of the damage, victims and ways to better address the communitys’ need. Further, since they would have been accountable to the people, the chances of irregularities in relief distribution would have been minimal. Targeted and effective rescue, relief and rehabilitation would have been possible, and even the transmission of information would have been quicker and more effective in the initial days of devastation.
But since the body does not exist, the government was found lacking in many aspects in the wake of the disaster. For instance, authorities even faltered in identifying the true victims. There have been numerous instances whereby actual victims were left out while false victims were seen cornering relief materials. Even while assessing damages, VDC secretaries, who are bureaucrats without wide knowledge of the communities, were unable to provide true picture, and their absence was also felt during the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA). In some places, political parties ganged up to present exaggerated figures of damage in order to arrange more benefits for their sympathisers. And even now, government authorities in districts and villages are finding it very difficult to distribute identity cards to quake victims, the basic document that entitles them to relief as well as other government benefits in the days to come.
Immediately after the disaster, there was a chorus of reports accusing the government of mismanagement. Some of the reports even indicated that it would be better to channel relief through non-governmental agencies. In any case, there was also a degree of reluctance on part of donors to channel all their assistance through the government. Had there been locally accountable bodies, donors could have acted more confidently, and such reports would not have surfaced.
The PDNA prepared by the National Planning Commission (NPC) with the involvement of multi-sectoral government agencies, as well as donor partners, has stated that the government will need nearly Rs700 billion to undertake the reconstruction efforts, which will continue for many years to come.
Again, here comes the importance of the local bodies. As authorities are now talking about the need to ‘Build Back Better’ and create integrated settlements that are better prepared to deal with future disasters, it is pertinent to understand how the elected and accountable local bodies can be of tremendous help in these efforts.
Currently, the government is facing tough challenges in identifying settlements and villages that need to be resettled. In cities, too, the government is confused about how to implement the revised building code. This kind of confusion and indecisiveness cannot last for long. In the near future, the government is going to need tremendous support from the local communities as it goes ahead in the reconstruction phase. Only elected local representatives can effectively help the government in this front. They can act as a bridge between the government and the people and facilitate reconstruction. The mobilisation of a huge amount of resources cannot be carried out smoothly and transparently without involving the elected and accountable local bodies.
Walk the talk
Despite realising their importance, these local bodies seem to have been ignored by the government. The recent 16-point agreement by the four major political parties—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, UCPN (Maoist) and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik—had increased some hopes regarding constitution making and the local elections. One of the points of their agreement even states that the parties are committed to hold the local elections at the earliest. But even after recognising the importance, politicians seem to have conveniently forgotten to walk the talk.
It would be appropriate for parties and the government to come together and announce the date for the local elections later this year, around November 2015. The Election Commission has already said it is ready to hold the local elections. The government has already submitted the proposal to amend the Local Self Governance Act and Local Elections Act to Parliament, where it is being considered by the Development Committee. Even the Committee’s Chairman Rabindra Adhikari has publicly said that they would quickly approve these legislations.
Thus, the government should hold the local elections as soon as possible. Having the local bodies in place would not only make its reconstruction and rehabilitation works easier, it would also create a proper environment for these works to take place.
Pradhan is an Executive Director of Nepal Law Society
Published: 28-06-2015 07:53