Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Nepal, Completely Confusing - Inefficient Government, Efficient Civil Society.

Chaos is endemic in Nepal, both before and after the recent disaster. Although the earthquake caused wide spread physical and physiological chaos throughout the country, chaos has its roots in both the inefficiency of the government and narcism that's endemic throughout the bureaucracy.

I and many others have so many questions for why certain things occurred in the aftermath of the earthquake. One of those pressing questions is; Why are/were people stranded in Nepal? Governments such as Australia and Canada constantly stated they had citizens stranded in Kathmandu. Six days after the earthquake the Australian government and other foreign governments sent in military aircraft to ‘rescue’ stranded Australians. Such governments constantly stated that they had citizens who were ‘stranded in Kathmandu’. However, why? Why were they stranded? Commercial flights were readily available, the airport was open, flight prices were inexpensive for those who wanted to leave Kathmandu. 5 days after the quake a friend of mine purchased a one way ticket from Kathmandu to Bangkok for $190USD. Another friend of mine purchased a ticket to Kuala Lumpur for $290 USD. At the same time the Australian government was ‘evacuating people’. Why did they need ‘evacuation’?. Yes, there were problems in Kathmandu however by no means was it devastated or dangerous. People could have booked their own flights and left the city. Is this a case of countries using disaster to strengthen their own political positions in their own countries?

Back to the issue of government - Hotel staff, taxi drivers, waiters, and individuals on the street all constantly reiterated how unprepared, corrupt and inefficient that Nepalese government was, both pre and post earthquake. They say it with a sense of sadness, the feeling of having been let down and cheated. They speak in a manner that demonstrates the almost ‘non-existent’ nature of the Nepalese government, or that the government they do have is nothing more than a corrupt guardianship or body. The Nepalese take pride in their country’s natural and historical beauty and traditions and monuments, however, there is a shared ‘embarrassment’ of their government. Last weeks earthquake has reiterated and demonstrated how inefficient and out of touch the Nepalese government is. There was absolutely no preparation or contingency planned for the inevitable earthquake, and Nepal’s already decrepit infrastructure has made recovery near impossible. Last week government ministers had a televised meeting where they sat around a boardroom table at the Hyatt Hotel in Kathmandu smiling and talking rather causally about how they can respond to the disaster. It looked staged and completely out of touch with reality. 

The Nepalese government is also getting nervous. It is obvious it is their desire to intentionally or unintentionally make ‘corruption’ part of the disaster, however with so many foreigners on the ground and with the Nepalese civil society strengthened due to the devastating earthquake, this is complicated and unchartered territory for the Nepalese government. In a similar way the Malaysian Government was embarrassed by their haphazard approach to the missing Malaysian airliner, the Nepalese government has been thrown into the spotlight, with accountability in question. 

Three weeks ago the Nepalese cabinet announced all foreign search-and-rescue teams must leave the country seven days after their arrival, thus international teams were forced to leave. This was incredibly problematic and concerning as there was still a large search and rescue need in remote villages, and the Nepalese authorities were not equipped to handle the devastation responsibly. A local contact I have in Kathmandu told me this will result in 1000’s of bodies not being recovered and potentially individuals not being rescued. 

There is a complete lack of understanding by international governments and organisations in how self-serving, illegitimate and corrupt the Nepalese government and bureaucracy is. The ADB, AIIB, departments within the UN, and numerous foreign governments, including Australia, UK, U.S, Germany, Thailand, Singapore, and France, are all donating directly or indirectly to the ‘Prime Ministers Earthquake Relief Fund’, set up by the Nepalese government. Everyone that has any understanding of the Nepalese government continually tell me that the Nepalese people will not see one cent of this money, and it will primarily go to officials or those connected to officials in someway. This is going to make the rebuilding of Nepal incredibly slow and problematic, with endemic poverty growing in strength.   

The level of faith the Nepalese have in their government is significantly concerning. A close friend of mine and a local tour operator explained to me that most Nepalese would rather not go to hospital than go to a government run hospital. Another lady I met who works in a respected profession stated that there is no point sending children to school if they are going to go to government schools. Both points clearly demonstrate the complete lack of respect, faith and confidence in anything related to government. 

It is also important to single out the Nepalese people from that of the Nepalese government. Too many media reports have been painting a very incorrect picture of Nepal, as they criticise the whole country or they lump every Nepalese into the same category. This is not the case, again, with the vast majority of Nepalese highly critical of their ‘so-called’ government. The service the Nepalese civil society has provide its fellow citizens deserves much praise. And, they too are incredibly critical of Government relief efforts. Youth lead organisations, local clubs, university groups and youth associations have attracted tens of thousands of individuals who are desperate to assist with the relief process. From what I witnessed and heard, these civil society groups and organisations are well organised, strategic, increasingly well-equipped, and passionate. The majority of the time they deliberately bypass government agencies and institutions and have much more efficient results. They have elaborate plans, maps and reasonably good organisation to organisation communication platforms. In what takes government 2-3 days to plan, takes youth lead organisations a few hours to plan and undertake. I have worked within civil society in numerous Asian countries and I have never seen such passion, team-work and efficiency. The earthquake has drawn light on the disastrous government, yet highlighted the importance and strength of civil society and youth lead organisations. There is no doubt, the Nepalese absolutely love their country, a country of beautiful people and outstanding nature. 

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