Coordination and Partnerships in post quake recovery

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Coordination is essential in any development work and it is a prerequisite to establish effective partnerships among key agents that have the potential to bring long term, sustainable change.

In times of post disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction coordination not only is essential but it becomes a must but concerns remain on the effective capacity of the entire system (not only the government) to ensure it.

It is important to talk about a systems approach. Oftentimes we blame the government for its inaptitude and incapacity to act as “playmaker” in such circumstances. Again, well before the earthquakes, we were all well aware about the intrinsic fragmentation of the development sector with a multitude of actors including national and international NGOs, development partners and last but not least the state’s units and agencies working at central and local levels.

Development is complex and the entire system underpinning it, despite all the policy work at the global level in terms of aid effectiveness, is not well suited to nourish coordination and partnership.

Will the current emergency, offer new room for rethinking, the way development assistance is delivered?

If this indeed happens, we have a unique chance to lay the foundation for a much more effective aid system.

Should the immediate focus on any aid response necessarily be on relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction be effectively mainstreamed in long term overall development strategies?

Lots of attention has been given to the “one window” policy according to which all the aid for reconstruction would be channeled through the government.

Obviously such an approach, conceptually correct, has met with a wall of resistance from all the development partners, which are pragmatically correct in doubting the effectiveness and efficiency of a centralized mechanism in a country where everything that is centralized does not really work.

Both parties, the government on one side and the development partners on the other have legitimate reasons for pushing for their own solutions but obviously no one can really prevail in their reasoning unless a compromise can be forged.

What we need is a middle ground approach: neither a rigid, centralized one window policy nor business as usual with all its inefficiencies and fragmentations. I believe there is room for maneuvering a good compromise that can ensure  control by the government on the resources coming that is also able to offer a certain level of autonomy and flexibility to  development partners.

It is all about effective coordination driven by pragmatism and good will. First, pragmatism is key because we know that relief operations, especially in the very initial stages were mostly fueled by the extraordinary level of social capital that mobilized thousands of volunteers with the creation of innumerable spontaneous rescue groups. The government has already admitted its own weaknesses and acknowledged the contributions of the Nepali citizenry. Second, good will: in order to have  fruitful cooperation among different parties and especially among parties who have some level of suspicion among themselves like in the case of government and development partners, everybody needs to show positive attitudes towards the other. Past conflicts, misunderstandings and claims must be set aside to ensure that all energies are channeled towards common and shared goals.

Common and shared goals: this should be the ultimate objective of any cooperative framework that government and development partners must think about while forging a fair compromise.

The same approach should apply to another contentious issue that is strictly linked to the idea of having or not having a one window policy: should we establish one new agency in charge of the entire reconstruction or should we use the existing mechanisms already in place?

Again the issue of coordination and partnerships: yesterday the first page of the Kathmandu Post had a piece titled “Ministry seeks Rs 5 billion for rebuilding, rehab” explaining about the actions to be taken by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development that include Rs 1.5 billion for community building construction programs for each election constituency in the 14 worst affected districts, Rs 1 billion for ‘Cash for Work”, Rs 2 billion for road constructions among others.

In the article, I did not find anything about the idea of “cash coupon” that has been discussed by the government last week: affected victims receive coupons that can be used to acquire food and other basic survival items in shops which are part of the initiative. I have also read about many other plans of the National Planning Commission in the last 10 days and I am wondering what, at the end, will be really delivered.  Look also at the resolution passed by the Parliament with a long list of actions being demanded or better imposed to the Government.  It seems that there is no real coordination among the government on who is going to do what.

To give you an idea, yesterday, another daily, Republica published an article with the title “Government releases Rs 4 billion to MOHA to build temporary settlements”. The article describes how the Ministry of Home Affairs will use resources from the Ministry of Finance and from the Prime Minister Disaster Relief Fund to reach out the victims of the earthquake so that they will be able to buy corrugated roofing sheets to build temporary shelters. I was really puzzled by reading this story and I wondered why the Ministry of Home Affairs should be involved in such tasks.

While I do not believe in what I call the “rulings by committees”, a system whose governance is driven by ad hoc committees of senior officers as often happens, I am certainly of the opinion that it is indispensable to draw boundaries and set clear terms of reference on what each ministry can and cannot do.

What we need here is a “playmaker”, the key player who ‘organizes” the team and sets the pace of the games in basketball. Probably the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) with the National Planning Commission part of it, is better positioned to play the role. “Playmaking” is needed among the different ministries, the donor communities, the formal national and international NGOs and last but not the least the informal groups who played an essential role in the aftermath of the disaster. 

This is certainly not an easy job. Prime Minister Koirala can delegate to the Chief Secretary, a highly competent and effective officer the role of playmaking. If this will happen, the development partners will surely take note and this will help create good will. Then, a good compromise on the overall framework of the post disaster reconstruction will not be an impossible task.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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