The Government Under A Cloud

Could Nepal’s messy politics hamper relief efforts?
Big earthquakes happen in Nepal roughly once a century. More than 7,000 died in the last one in January 1934, a life-defining caesura for those old enough to remember it ..... Nepal’s ability to co-ordinate efforts unfortunately look likely to be hampered by unresolved political issues and a lack of strong leadership. ..... It might be tempting to think that delays over writing Nepal’s long-awaited constitution don’t matter, that life can go on as normal without political resolution (and many Nepalis, bored with the games of political musical chairs in Kathmandu, had begun to think just that). But the earthquake shows just how vital it is to have political institutions that work, both at the centre and, even more importantly, at the local level. ..... Panchayat rule was milder than the preceding Ranas – it was more nationalist and developmentalist and spoke the language of democracy and equality. But it was ruthless with opponents, banned political parties, and, in practice,

institutionalised ethnic and social exclusion

...... Even when hostilities ceased and parliament was reinstated, the old game of sharing the spoils in a series of coalition governments continued. The hard work of thrashing out what a new reconstructed federal state would look like was repeatedly put off to the last minute. ..... Earlier this year, the prime minister himself torpedoed any chance of compromise and the timely declaration of a new constitution, as success would have meant handing over his job to his UML counterpart, as part of a coalition deal. ..... The fact that Koirala is 75 and and physically weak does not help in producing a vigorous response to the crisis. The lack of strong, co-ordinated leadership at the top is evident. ..... Apart from coming up with a constitution, there is a great deal of unfinished business from ten years of civil war, which will inevitably be put off still further by this natural disaster. One important example is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is supposed to look at serious human rights abuses that occurred during the war. Another, which really should have been dealt with by now, is local elections.
उद्धार र राहतमा भेदभाव भएको छैन: सरकार
पछिल्ला खोज तथा राहत काठमाण्डू, गोरखा र सिन्धुपाल्चोकमा बढी केन्द्रीत रहेको भन्दै अति प्रभावित दुर्गम पहाडी गाउँहरुमा पनि राहत पुर्याउनुपर्ने आवश्यकता औल्याएको थियो। .... अबको ६ हप्तापछि सुरु हुने भनिएको वर्षायाम अघि नै भूकम्प प्रभावित सबै स्थानमा दिगो उद्धार तथा राहत पुर्याइसक्नुपर्ने जोड राष्ट्रसंघको रहँदै आएको छ।
सहयाेग रकम दातृ निकाय आफैं खर्च गर्ने धुनमा
मुलुकलाई राहत र पुन:स्थापनाका लागि रकम आवश्यक भइरहेका बेला अधिकांश दातृ निकाय भने सिधै गैरसरकारी संस्थामार्फत खर्च गर्न खोजिरहेका छन्। सरकारले सहयोग रकम प्रधानमन्त्री दैवीप्रकोप उद्धार कोषमा दाखिला गर्नुपर्ने अनिवार्य व्यवस्था गरेपछि लबिङमा लागेका दातृ निकायले सोमबार परराष्ट्र मन्त्रालयमा भएको छलफलमा यसलाई प्रमुखताका साथ उठाएका थिए। ..... दातृ निकायले हालसम्म रकम कबोलेर करिब ३ अर्ब रुपैयाँबराबरको प्रतिबद्धता जनाइसकेका छन्। तर, कुनै पनि रकम प्रधानमन्त्री दैवीप्रकोप उद्धार कोषमा जम्मा भइसकेको छैन। सरकारले अहिले मुलुकभित्र दुई वा दुईभन्दा बढीबाट उठाइने रकम र विदेशी सहायता कोषमार्फत परिचालन गर्नुपर्ने व्यवस्था गरेको छ। दातृ निकायले अनौपचारिक रूपमा सरकारको खर्च गर्ने संयन्त्र कमजोर भएको र जवाफदेहिता पनि नरहने दाबी गर्दै कोषमा रकम दाखिला गर्न चाहिरहेका छैनन्।
Nepal's disastrous politics could hold back its recovery
Over the past nine years, Nepal has had eight prime ministers. The country still has no permanent constitution. And the same vested interests that once shaped its civil war, have become entrenched once again in its politics.
Bureaucratising relief
according to one international rescue and relief worker, in the four days after the earthquake, over 200 international teams had arrived in the country. Coordination for any functioning government would be an uphill challenge. ...... But this is not just ‘any government’ and it has never been the most ‘functioning’ even before the earthquake ....... an issue of a ‘lingering lack of governance’ ..... The state, based on inherited feudal structures and cultures of government, has built upon and expanded patronage networks prioritising the distribution of state funds among elites (read the now resurrected all-party-mechanisms [APM]) and has continued to treat inhabitants as subjects and not rights-bearing equal citizens. ........According to an international relief worker, in the immediate days following the earthquake, the Israeli rescue and relief team had been ready to take off in its helicopter at the airport at 6.30am. However, they were made to wait until 9am when the bureaucrat whose signature they required to be able to fly in the helicopter, arrived for work. Such permissions are still required on a day by day basis. When every second counts to save lives, especially in the early days of rescue, the feudal state mechanisms ambled, and ambles, on; literally causing death by bureaucracy. ......... The same feudal logic informs the holding up of vital relief supplies at the airport. Home Ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal is quoted as saying the inspection of all goods from overseas “is something we need to do”. At a time of emergency, that what the government ‘needs to do’ is save lives appears to be missed. An international source stated that a few days ago, a Japanese team had arrived ready to spring into action at 7am but were forced to wait until they received their goods 12 hours later. How many lives could have been saved in that time? ....... Official clarifications that organised relief materials and ‘individual’ relief materials are not taxed, but the latter require additional paperwork and post-work confirmation have been useful. However, doubts have been raised on the actual implementation of these rules. That taxes on tents and tarpaulins were only lifted on Friday raises the issue of how Nepali custom officials had defined relief materials before this date and what had and had not been consequently taxed. There are reports from the eastern part of the Tarai of taxation on relief materials crossing the border by land. ....... “The taxes the state is forgoing is not trivial…It wants to ensure that the implicit state subsidy is targeted towards genuine relief. Do not underestimate the scale of cheating that goes on when there is no monitoring or voluntary code of honour in place.” .......

here the ‘business as usual’ mentality holds sway in the face of the biggest tragedy the nation has faced in decades. Concern over loss to the national treasury trumps the need to save lives. Underlying the monetisation and clear devaluation of people’s lives is the logic of a state that seeks not to serve citizens, but to accumulate power to justify its existence along feudal lines of authority.

...... “Lying by the road in the village was a pile of supplies under tarpaulins. These had been delivered by the government the previous evening. However, the officers at the small police station there had not been authorised to distribute them, so they lay untouched.” ........ it has been the internationals and the non-state sector (with the exception of the Nepal Army) which have played key roles in responding to the needs of the people. With few exceptions, the state has so far performed miserably in the aftermath of the earthquake. While there is a real need to not undermine state authority, and indeed to build state capacity, it must be made clear that rebuilding/strengthening a feudal state is not the goal. The feudal legacy embedded in an antiquated bureaucracy and reinforced by a political elite centered on power and its preservation, must be fiercely critiqued and resisted by all citizens. Prioritisation of the lives of citizens—not the policing of restrictive rules in a time of emergency—should be central. The expedient delivery of relief materials from the airport and other locations to citizens in need must take precedence.