Carefully now

Published On: January 17, 2017 12:45 AM NPT By: Republica

New NRA monitoring 
A change in leadership of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) seems to have heralded a definite shift in the authority’s working style as well. Along with rebuilding destroyed infrastructures from the 2015 earthquakes, the authority was also mandated to keep a close eye on the NGOs working on post-quake efforts.

NRA had thus issued a list of directives for these organizations, the breach of which would lead to immediate termination of their contracts with the authority and thus also halt their work on the ground. Yet the authority under (its now ousted chief) Sushil Gyewali had carried out no monitoring activities to ensure compliance.

But under its new chief, Govinda Raj Pokharel, the authority is preparing to start field-based monitoring of NGOs in the 14 districts that were hit the hardest by the 2015 earthquakes. Five separate committees are being formed to oversee each of the five reconstruction areas: shelter and livelihood, education, health, heritage, and training. The authority is reportedly starting this monitoring drive following accusations that many NGOs involved in post-quake efforts are in open breach of its directives.  

This is a welcome development. As Republica has reported from quake-affected districts, many of these organizations are blatantly misusing the resources meant for the rehabilitation of quake victims. The Nepal Red Cross Society, for instance, seems to be spending a big share of its quake funds on expensive shindigs for its staff. Then there is the case of duplication.

Most organizations seem to be concentrated in a handful of pockets areas, while other affected areas have received no help whatsoever from any of them, and hence the need (and justification) for monitoring. Yet even while we welcome the new initiative, we are skeptical of its success. Early last year the NRA had barred any organization from working in quake-affected regions without its prior approval.

This ‘one window’ policy was also adopted to remedy the kind of ills that are now being flagged to justify new monitoring: duplication, shoddy work and lack of accountability. But the policy last year seems to have made no impact whatsoever on the old modus operandi of errant NGOs. Now that the authority has set up new committees for pretty much the same purpose, there is again room for doubt.
It would be a great tragedy if instead of ensuring the accountability of NGOs the new 
monitoring activity just added an extra layer of bureaucracy that these organizations must deal with.

For not all NGOs are rotten eggs; many are in fact making meaningful contribution to post-quake efforts, for instance those involved in mapping the damaged infrastructure. So the government will have to be careful that in the name of reining in the excesses of some NGOs it does not, in any way, hinder the work of others and with it the timely rehabilitation of around 600,000 people rendered homeless by the 2015 quakes.

This is why it is vital that the prime minister directly oversees reconstruction efforts so that any hurdles created at the bureaucratic level can be quickly removed. Having the prime minister’s own pick leading the authority should make this easier. 


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