8-14 May 2015 #757

Earning back the people’s trust

Public misgivings about the government were confirmed by its unhurried response to the earthquake
Tsering Dolker Gurung
The death and destruction caused by the earthquake of 25 April was so vast that it overwhelmed Nepal and its people. It didn’t just kill tens of thousands of people, destroyed homes and temples, but it also put out on full display just how badly governed the country is. Not that we didn’t know it here.

A decade after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, two Constituent Assembly elections and multiple deadline extensions later, a new constitution is in limbo. By now, all Nepalis know that the bickering among the leaders was not so much over the contentious issues of the new constitution but over power.

If Nepalis distrusted their government before the great earthquake, the state’s delayed response to the disaster, lack of coordination among its entities for rescue and relief, followed by reports of all earthquake relief funds coming into the country being automatically directed to the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund only deepened it. Citizens joined up on social media to raise a hue and cry.

Despite the strong backlash from the public as well as international community no official from the Central Bank made an effort to clear the confusion about its directive. Finally, National Planning Commission member Swornim Wagle had to go on Facebook to clarify.

Wagle wrote: ‘I have been swamped with queries on what the recent Central Bank directive on transfer of funds after the April 25 earthquake means. I share your concerns. But it only affects bank accounts that were opened in the last 6 days under the direct subject of “quake relief”. People, agencies, NGOs, donors with established bank accounts before April 25 can continue to receive and mobilise funds just as they used to in the past.’

He went on to explain the structure, accessibility and transparent nature of the fund, consoling everyone there was no way it could be misused by any officials.

Wagle’s post helped donors and individuals who had sent money to the country breathe a collective sigh of relief. However, the damage had already been done. It is unlikely that people around the world will feel the urge to donate when there is so much uncertainty, and so much distrust of government.

While civil society has done a great job coming forward to help others in need, forming volunteer groups, arranging supplies, and transporting relief to areas which haven’t received government aid, in the long run it will be the state's responsibility to provide rehabilitation to survivors and support rebuilding of lives. That means the government needs all the support it can get.

The first few weeks after a disaster are considered to be the most crucial days for aid collection. This is also the period when aid pour from world over. But soon the world’s attention will move towards some other country afflicted by another disaster, public’s energy and enthusiasm will fade just as the international media’s interest in Nepal has already started to.

Rather than saying ‘don’t give us more money’, it is perhaps in everybody’s best interest to stay vigilant, scrutinise the government’s use of the money and ensure transparency is maintained.

The government’s lax attitude in the aftermath of the earthquake also showed just how disconnected Nepal’s rulers are with the people. Few parliamentarians made an effort to visit their constituencies and check up on the people who voted for them. Seasoned leaders of political parties would do well to learn a thing or two from young political force Bibeksheel Nepali whose members have been proactive and working at grassroots, filling the space left by major political forces and earning appreciation and possible votes of a disgruntled public.

For too long Nepali people’s resilience has been tested by its government’s inefficiency. Successive governments led by three major political parties have failed to deliver on promises. While Nepalis forgave them for a decade long war, and another decade wasted in constitution-writing, they may not find it in themselves to forgive their rulers for not helping enough in their hour of need.


Read also:

A more responsive state, David Seddon

A state in aftershock, Victor Rana

Shaking things up, Editorial

A slow start, David Seddon

Real story on PM Relief Fund

Giving to the living

Rebuilding lives, Stéphane Huët

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