Security situation puts budget implementation under cloud

KATHMANDU: The deteriorating law and order situation in the country will pose a serious threat to the present government to implement its ambitious programmes as well as the populist budget.

The CPN-UML-led coalition government, which introduced a budget of Rs 285.93 billion on Monday aiming to uplift the status of rural people, has failed to assure the countrymen that the budget and the development programmes will reach the target groups. The effective implementation of the periodic and long term plans and progammes of the government is directly related to the security situation in the country.

The development budget of Rs 150.34 billion will not reach the grass-root level if the government doesn’t pay attention towards maintaining law and order in the country, says Dr Shankar Sharma, vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission.

Though the specific objectives of the new budget are to bring the ongoing peace process to a logical end and draft a new constitution within the next 10 months, the government also aims to reach the poverty-stricken people through ambitious development programmes. Sharma added that the commitments were made in the past but not implemented. “Bandh, strike and violence are the main obstacles to the government to reach the poor people,” he said. According to him, institutional, political and social problems should be addressed at the earliest.

Public movement, daily life and general operations have been hit over the past six months due to the protests, strikes and roadblocks, explosions, threats and abduction.

In the first six months of 2009, 513 bandhs, nearly three bandhs per day, were called across Nepal: 69 by the UCPN-Maoist, 15 by the Nepali Congress, 17 by CPN-UML, 175 by local citizen groups, 175 by armed groups, 145 by transporters and 92 by traders.

The street protests organised by different groups blocking the traffic movement in the past four days have put a question mark on the government’s capability. The Home Ministry had to issue a statement early this week prohibiting strikes in the Capital.

Sundry groups have been obstructing the functioning of the government offices due to a variety of reasons for the past six months. Abduction cases have risen alarmingly not only in the capital but throughout the country, especially in the Tarai districts. Ransom and personal enmity are the main motives. Taking advantage of the unstable and volatile political situation, the business community and children have been targetted with impunity.

Local governments have failed to perform, as 40 per cent of VDC secretaries have moved to district headquarters due to physical threats by underground armed groups and criminal gangs in Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusa, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Bara, Parsa and Rautahat districts.

Violent threats reportedly resulted in civil servants being reluctant to attend work in Tarai districts in May. Consequently, around 25 offices in Siraha and Saptari were without chiefs, while others faced a severe lack of manpower.

Deputy Inspector General of Nepal Police Bhisma Prasai said he would hold discussions with the political parties to end the culture of bandhs and strikes in the eastern region. Police force has been trying its best to curb crime in the region but parties’ support was necessary to maintain political stability, which directly effects the security measures, he added. In a bid to control crime in bordering areas, the Nepal Police established 10 special police units in five districts of eastern Nepal, in addition to the increased police presence in other Tarai districts. The units have been established at Bishnupurkatti, Silruwa-Pachhuwari of Siraha District, Patthargada and Lodjara of Saptari, Kaptangunj and Basantapur of Sunsari, Damak and Birtamod of Jhapa and Dobhana and Pathri of Morang district. They will deal with criminal activities and also provide security to ongoing development and reconstruction projects. More than 35 armed groups are currently operating in the Tarai.

The donor agencies also maintained that the peace and stability were prerequisites for development in Nepal. “We are concerned about public security as the security of development workers and service providers is paramount and we cannot allow our staff or the staff of our partners to be put at risk,” said Sarah Sanyahumbi, country representative, DFID-Nepal.

“Political instability also makes corruption and mismanagement of funds harder to deal with, as the focus tends to be on the politics and less on the implementation. There is also a widespread feeling of impunity, which makes it difficult to send strong, positive messages on corruption and collusion. We have voiced our concern to the Government of Nepal and are pleased that they share our concerns and will be working with us to tackle this,” she added.

Norwegian Refugee Council has decided to close its programmes in Nepal from August. According to NRC, the major reason for leaving the country is the changed political situation, which should permit the Nepali government to assume the responsibility to uphold the rights of IDPs with the support of the international community. The NRC is a non-governmental humanitarian organisation and has six offices located in Kathmandu, Nepalgunj, Biratnagar, Rukum, Surkhet and Lahan, covering 17 districts.

The law and order situation in the eastern hilly districts has been deteriorating after some of the armed outfits, including Kirant Janabadi Workers Party, intensified their activities in the region. KJWP has intensified its extortion drive directed against government officials in Khotang, Udaypur and Bhojpur districts. In June, KJWP cadres directed VDC secretaries in the three districts to provide it with Rs 200,000 each, warning them of physical attacks if they failed to do so. Other staff at the District Education Office, District Development Committee and District Water Office was similarly approached by KJWP for donations. The KJWP has been carrying out armed activities in the eastern hills, seeking an ethnic Kirant state.

Janabadi Hill Tiger, an outfit which has been carrying out armed activities in parts of the eastern hilly districts, demanded large sums from businessmen of Bhojpur, stating that the same was needed to continue the ‘People’s War’ started by the Maoists.

In May, extortion and setting up of parallel government and tax structures by sundry groups was reported. The Federal Limbuwan State Council-Revolutionary has also been creating obstacles in the state functioning. The Kirant Autonomous State Transporters’ Association intensified extortion drive targetting vehicles plying on the Diktel-Bhojpur-Dhankuta route and Ratnapark in Dhankuta, Khotang and Bhojpur districts.

In April, there was an increase in reported abductions in the eastern Tarai districts. On April 20, cadres of Partik-led Akhil Tarai Mukti Morcha captured land registered in the name of Surti Bikash Company at Ramnagar Mirchaya in Siraha District. ATMM has threatened to take physical action if the captured land is sold or bought. Extended bandhs continue to disrupt humanitarian and development activities, as well as affect the daily lives of people in most districts. Road travel restrictions due to strikes in different parts of the country has been affecting the operations of UN agencies and their partners.

In March, the use of IEDs (improved explosive devices) by groups increased notably. Madhes Mukti Tigers, Tarai Janatantrik Mukti Morcha-Prithivi Groups, Akhil Tarai Mukti Morcha and Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha-Jwala Singh owned up the responsibility for the IED explosions.

In February, INSEC, a national human rights organisation with networks throughout Nepal, released its human rights report for 2008. According to the report, political party cadres, including cadres of the ruling UCPN-M and CPN-UML, were involved in cases of murder and abduction. National Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the involvement of political activists in criminal activities. The report highlighted the prevalence of crime in 20 Tarai districts, where 369 individuals were killed last year, with 18 armed outfits claiming responsibility for 79 of the reported killings and 148 abduction cases.

Government services, especially in areas outside the capital, continues to be affected. Strikes and extended power cuts continue to disrupt economic activity and daily life in most districts of Nepal. Under these circumstances, the implementation of ambitious budget is sure to prove a tough task.