Temporary reliefGovt, opposition have agreed on releasing reconstruction money but that’s a small step
The Nepali Congress (NC) has been complaining about the delays in post-earthquake reconstruction for some time now. Over the past few days, it had even been obstructing Parliament, demanding that the government agree to disburse the Rs200,000 per family to reconstruct destroyed homes in one instalment. There have been several rounds of negotiation between the government and the opposition on this issue, and it seems to have finally been resolved. The two sides have now agreed that the funds will be released in two instalments of Rs 150,000 and Rs50,000 respectively.
The fact that parliamentary business has now resumed is a relief, as there is much work for the legislature to do and many bills to pass. On the other hand, the NC deserves some appreciation for holding the government to account. Much too often, it seems that Parliament is obstructed by one group or another for narrow partisan goals. At least this time, the NC was fighting in favour of earthquake victims, a group of people who have suffered much from the inefficiencies in the post-earthquake reconstruction process. But the NC must have also realised that the continued obstruction of the House could snowball into a major political backlash. Indeed, the last one week, the main opposition seemed a little confused about what its major agenda against the government should be.
On a broader scale, the central issue of negotiation itself was somewhat misguided. Of course, earthquake victims require funds to rebuild houses as soon as possible. In fact, the delays so far have been unacceptable. But there are larger issues at stake than simply providing money in one or two instalments.
The main opposition should have, in addition, sought a clear timeline for the disbursal of funds, and extracted guarantees from the government that earthquake victims would receive money within, say, a month. They should also have negotiated some of the intricacies of the process.
For example, many earthquake victims do not have bank accounts. There have been delays in providing funds because government regulations state that the funds can only be transferred directly into the bank accounts of victims. The opposition should have discussed alternative ways to transfer funds to the victims. In the absence of firm time commitments and negotiations over other complications in the earthquake reconstruction process, there is still a high likelihood that major delays to the process could remain despite the agreement between the government and the main opposition on Wednesday.
There are also other problems in the post-earthquake reconstruction process that have not been addressed at all. For one, weak bureaucratic capacity has led to major inefficiencies. In addition, there has been severe politicisation of the process. In districts across the country, many complain that they cannot get government support unless they are connected to the ruling party leaders. There is a dire need to establish channels for locals to directly convey their needs to the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). In the future, leaders of the government and opposition will have to address such issues if the reconstruction process is to be made truly effective.