The June 25, one-day International Conference for Reconstruction of Nepal, (ICRN) has concluded. The message emanating from it is seemingly one of optimism. The Conference was significant for Nepal in many ways. First, it proved loud and clear that her immediate neighbors, international community and development partners were by her side, at this hour of profound national crisis. The gathering was also the moment for rekindling once again universal human values of compassion, care and empathy. The poignant and moving references of Japan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs to the token assistance of Nepal to Japan a few years ago and the help of Nepalese people in Japan to care for the earthquake victims then may have touched many Nepalese hearts, at home and abroad!
The Conference also brought into sharp focus the global interconnectedness and growing interdependence among nations of the world to combat natural calamities of all kinds together, in a spirit of global solidarity. From this standpoint, putting together of the Conference at this point in time was found by many as being relevant and timely. It also vindicated that it was not merely “about asking, giving and taking” only, if I may quote Finance minister, Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat! The open and generous pledging of support made at the Conference stands as a happy reminder that Nepal has not yet lost its international credibility and trust. She must take heart from it in preparation for her collective journey to rebuilding and reconstructing anew what has been destroyed.
Pledging, programs and the purse
Pledging ceremonies often are seeming acts; they appear to be one thing from outside but may mean something else inside, if international pledging ceremonies are anything to go by. In other words, there always is a big gap between the pledged amount and the actual purse made available for program implementation. Even the purse that arrives may have several preconditions, covert and overt attached to it! There is thus a need to be aware of any underlying conditionality that may come attached in a subtle way to the amount delivered. This is not to say that all that have been pledged by our friends and development partners in the Conference may also contain such undesirable elements. It is hoped, the international community and our development partners will show the same generosity as was shown during the pledging ceremony, while delivering the actual purse for program implementation. Meanwhile, attempts at integrating the pledging amount with programs have to be made by the government, so as to avoid any possible gap between the amount pledged and the actual purse received. Effective planning and well articulated program implementation roadmap, with each sector-wise priority well identified, in close consultation and coordination with development partners may be the one way out. Some additional confidence- building measures may also be necessary to undertake to earn further trust and credibility of the development partners.
We must be informed of the fact that earning international community’s trust is as difficult as it is easy to squander. Because, with trust comes expectation. In fact, the deeper the trust, the higher are the expectations to be fulfilled. Trust is, therefore, about testing of our ability to perform effectively and deliver on the expectations made of us. Therefore, the optimism generated by the Conference must make us act with wisdom and prudence. We must bear in mind that International trust can endure only through our credible and consistent behavior that we demonstrate in an open and transparent environment. This we must strive to create and build upon continuously, as we embark upon the enormous task of post-disaster reconstruction, or rebuilding of the country.
The great quake, despite its devastating consequences, has surprisingly served as a uniting factor for all our political parties. Together, they were seen in the quake-hit villages trying to wipe the tears of the victims and to uplift their spirit. This is one important step to earn public trust as well as to enhance international credibility. The second big steps taken, as has been said by others, too, is the four major party consensus reached for the promulgation of a new Constitution, as early as possible. It can send a powerful signal to the international community, our immediate neighbors and other development partners to convince that Nepal is now on its way to securing political stability and peace in the country. The post disaster national reconstruction and rebuilding phase is certainly not a cake walking.
Several factors have to be taken into consideration. It may require, among others, streamlining of several existing internal institutional mechanisms, , while creating, as necessary, newer ones, in order to render them capable of functioning effectively in the emerging national reconstruction and development needs , and also in a manner that is seen as being clear and convincing to our development partners. The reported creation of a “National Reconstruction Authority” under the Chairmanship of the Prime minister is one welcome development in this connection. But the choice of the CEO and other members, to implement aggressively the reconstruction and development works and willingness of the Government to allow it to operate independent of interference is still a big question. In fact, this will be the test of the government’s resolve to sincerely carry out the reconstruction and development works through the NRA. The public clamor for appointment of a CEO and other members on the strength of their proven professional background and impressive performance track records must not be lost on the Government, particularly, the Prime Minister, the Chair of the NRA. This will be another convincing step of the government to earn additional trust of the international community. Any exercise for appointment of a CEO , who is pliant and can easily buckle and bend under government pressure and who is prepared to work at the beck and call of the government will be an exercise in futility, to say the least. He must be the one who values his principles more than anything else and has integrity of character and courage of conviction, apart from his professional ability.
In carrying out his mandated duties, he must be bold enough even to take issue with the PM and any other Ministers, who are members of the Authority, should a situation demands so. He must be prepared to sacrifice the job, rather than compromise on his mandated authority. Perhaps, such a person may be a rare commodity, but, government- willing, it is not impossible, either. The government must also empower him to work smoothly by enacting relevant enabling laws, clearly delineating his authority, administrative roles and responsibilities, including accountability. Among others, these steps may enhance governments bargaining power with the development partners. Additionally, a great deal of their apprehension on our capacity for capital expenditure on budgeted programs. In the ultimate analysis, the success, or set back to rebuild the post disaster Nepal anew lies to a great extent in our own ability to perform well and deliver effectively. This is an opportunity to transform the tragedy into triumph! We must not fail, falter, fall and fade at all cost!
(Thapa is a former Chief of Protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)