25-31 August 2017 #873

Chronic Dysfunction

Nepal Food Security Unit, Ministry of Agricultural Development

‘It is the chronic dysfunction and selfish ambition across the political spectrum that most prevent the changes that we deserve.' That was Miguel Syjuco writing about his country, The Philippines, in a New York Times op-ed last week. But he may as well have been saying that about Nepal.

There are other passages that are hauntingly analogous to Nepal’s current 3-party dictatorship: ‘…it seems that loyalty is first always to the self, and a far second to the country. Our rulers, however, would have us believe that they are our heroes.’ 

Or: ‘… as with (Game of Thrones) we can only watch and wait for the next episodes of deceit, betrayal, impunity and corruption. Meanwhile, our rulers readily wield accusations of contempt against any who refuse to cooperate. They miss the obvious irony. The contempt is ours, for them. For respect is earned, never demanded. They forget who, in a democracy, has every right to demand leaders worthy of our respect.’

There is a message here for prime ministers who don garlands while parachuting in for 15 minutes on a flood-ravaged land, for presidents who close down half the capital when their motorcade moves anywhere, for Parliament that behaves like a Chamber of Commerce to pass bills favouring the medical-industrial complex, for self-important officials whose sense of entitlement extends to extorting those they are supposed to serve. ‘Respect is earned, never demanded.’

Last week’s flood disaster is not over. The bungling of relief and delays in reaching marooned villages is a disaster within a disaster. The floods affected 20% of the country’s population, and exceeded the impact of the 2015 earthquake. A column of cloudbursts over the Chure Range was the trigger event, but there was sufficient early-warning, and the subsequent inundation was the result of decades of neglect and corruption by successive kleptocrats. Poorly planned infrastructure, encroachment, deforestation, sand mining of river beds and raised road embankments right along the border that acted like dams: all played a part. The rivers took revenge, and nature punished us for our folly.

As our reports this week from Chitwan and Rautahat show, relief has been better organised and more fairly distributed in areas with newly-elected local governments. Even if Kathmandu bungled relief, mayors and village council heads realised the disasters provide an opportunity to perform. There isn’t much accountability in evidence among public servants in Province 2, the worst affected by the floods and the only region which hasn’t had elections yet.

It may be a generalisation, but the moral of this story is that if there had been responsible local governments answerable to the people, the inundation would not be as extensive, and relief would be quicker and better coordinated.  

To paraphrase Syjuco: In a democracy the people have every right to demand leaders worthy of our respect.

Read also:

Taking politics out of economy, Om Astha Rai

Polluted politics, Editorial

Bhagbana politics, Editorial