By the bookWhile building back better, a degree of centralised planning will be necessary
The relief effort is underway, and there are a great many actors currently involved with it. The government had initially tried to impose control on the relief effort and had required various aid and volunteer groups to overcome cumbersome bureaucratic obstacles. Thankfully, after widespread protest, the government backed down. It recognised that the scale of the disaster was such that the government needed as much help as possible in dealing with it, and that it needed to simplify procedures to enable the swift delivery of relief. There are still some problems on this front, however. We hope that some of the remaining difficulties between the government and non-governmental groups will soon be sorted out. This is no time for a turf war.
Although the government is allowing a diverse group of actors to participate in the relief effort, senior government officials, including the Finance Minister, now state that for the reconstruction phase, there should be a ‘one-door’ policy with all funds channeled through the government. A new agency will likely be formed to deal with this. This is a positive step. Reconstruction will require a great deal of planning and effort and a new agency will be needed if this task is to be fulfilled well. In addition, there is a need to avoid haphazard and chaotic reconstruction. If all government and non-governmental agencies are left to their own devices, reconstruction could turn into an anarchic process with duplication in some areas, while other areas not receiving much attention at all. Furthermore, it is essential to avoid a situation where the state is weakened through the activities of myriad organisations all competing with each other. If the task is to rebuild better than what existed before, a degree of centralisation in planning and channeling funds is essential.
This does not mean, however, that the state should bear sole responsibility for reconstruction. There is a need to avoid a scenario where reconstruction is politicised, where politicians view the funds that the state has received as a resource to distribute among their constituents so as to increase a particular party’s power. The government should also recognise that it might not possess the expertise to deal with all the tasks that reconstruction requires. There should therefore be a great deal of cooperation with non-governmental organisations that have expertise in specific fields. For example, in rebuilding heritage sites in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, the government should seek the expertise of architects and art historians familiar with those areas. In rebuilding villages in, say Sindhupalchok, the government needs to cooperate with organisations that have expertise in sustainable and locally sourced housing. At all times, a high degree of transparency needs to be maintained, and the government should be open to coordination with aid agencies while the aid agencies should bear in mind that their contribution should help build national capacity long term, not erode it.