Nepal | March 31, 2020

Not much relief


The Himalayan Times

Irregularities in handling relief materials had started surfacing soon after the major earthquake struck on April 25, and relief supplies started arriving from various places, people and organizations, both domestic and foreign. A major part of the relief work has been completed, as it is nearly two months since the disaster. Apart from the inept handling of the relief supplies, including food and tents, by the authorities, greedy and selfish people concerned robbed many quake victims of relief supplies, as tents and tarpaulins went missing, and several cases of them being stacked in private individuals’ premises and godowns were uncovered. Items, such as foodstuffs, went bad because of the delay in distributing them for whatever reasons. The act of giving tents away to the lawmakers had to be stopped midway under pressure. These and other kinds of anomalies happened on a scale that should raise concern among the general public. Now, the parliamentary National Disaster Management, Monitoring and Direction Special Committee, headed by Speaker Subas Chandra Nembang, has demanded  clarification from the government about the irregularities in relief distribution.

The only correction the government can make now is to identify those responsible for misappropriation and bring them to book

The special committee has, among other things, sought information about the investigation into the attempt to sell 300 bundles of corrugated zinc sheets provided by the Nepal Investment Bank Ltd for some schools in Nuwakot; it wants to know about the Social Welfare Council’s inquiry into the purchase of tarpaulins and foodstuffs amounting to twenty million rupees; and it has also directed the government to make the probe report public on the tarpaulins and tents bought by the Ministry of Urban Development and to implement the recommendations of the report. There are many more cases of irregularities in relief management as reported in the media. But only a couple of instances have come under scrutiny. That means most of the culprits may well go unpunished.

About cash relief, the Rs. 15,000 initial relief pledged by the government to the people whose houses have been destroyed or made inhabitable by the earthquake, does not seem to be going into the pockets of the real victims in many cases. Fake victims have appeared, and they have managed to pocket the money for lack of strict screening process of the government so much so that two or more members of the same family are grabbing the benefit separately. The distribution of cash assistance before issuing identity cards to the real victims seems to have contributed to this situation. While this will unnecessarily increase the cost of relief distribution to the government, the real victims who stick to truth are being deprived of any relief facility, such as cash grant and soft loans for house reconstruction just, for example, because their another but very old and very ordinary ancestral house in a far-flung district where they no longer live has not been destroyed. The only correction the government can make now is to identify those responsible for misappropriation and bring them to book. It should do everything possible to carry out the remaining relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction work with minimum of irregularities and other shortcomings.

No excuse
The bureaucracy is considered to be a permanent body of the government which carries out its policies and programmes through its chain of command. It is the civil servants who are supposed to provide government services to the public in peaceful times and in times of emergency. The government also provides incentives, allowances and other benefits to them for working extra hours and in difficult situations. The civil servants, however, were found to have skipped their duties when their presence was needed the most after the great earthquake.

Minister for General Administration Lalbabu Pandit has rightly advised them to quit their jobs if they are not satisfied with the salary and job placement. The minister also told the civil servants not to be involved in politics; report to their duty and deliver the services to the people suffering from the disaster. Reports from quake-hit districts suggest that the relief assistance could not be distributed to the quake victims due to poor performance of civil servants.

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