Nepal must not fall prey to donation scams

Survivors wait as a relief helicopter lands at their remote mountain village of Gumda, near the epicenter of last month’s massive earthquake in the Gorkha District of Nepal. AP

The catastrophic earthquake of 7.9 magnitude and the powerful aftershocks that hit Nepal last Saturday and Sunday took the lives of more than 6,000 people — and the death toll continues to rise. The devastation that affected a quarter of the Himalayan nation’s population has caused unprecedented loss of life, physical property and heritage sites.

Since the disaster, foreign governments and international aid agencies have been scrambling to help those in distress. The suffering has drawn the attention of the whole world and the results can be witnessed in that the only airport connecting the country with the rest of the world is now congested with relief materials and rescue aircraft.

Foreign aid has been trickling in to Nepal in a largely instinctive manner. The total commitment of foreign aid has already crossed US$50 million (1.6 billion baht). Aid has been flown in from all over the world. The United Nations has allocated US$15 million from its emergency fund, and the Asian Development Bank also announced an initial release of US$3 million. In addition, the US government has announced US$9 million, making a total of US$10 million including US Aid. Among other donor nations are the United Kingdom with US$7.6 million, Australia with US$3.9 million, China with US$3.3 million, Thailand with US$3.13 million (excluding the contributions from the Thai Royal Family), the European Union with US$3 million and Bhutan with $1 million.

Furthermore, spontaneous fundraising events and organisations willing to support the ailing nation have emerged around the world. Thailand is no exception. Fundraising campaigns have swept the entire Thai nation. The initiatives range from individuals to organisational campaigns. Almost all the leading media outlets as well as humanitarian organisations have set up relief funds and have appealed to the general public to contribute.

Undoubtedly the intentions of the majority of relief agencies, governments and kind donors are good. Nonetheless, the presence of criminals trying to take advantage of the anguish cannot be denied. In a scenario like this, the philanthropist has a very crucial role to play to ensure the effectiveness of funds through a proper channel.

It is the donor’s responsibility to make sure that hard-earned money does not fall into scoundrels’ hands. One way to avoid the criminal element is to contribute to trusted relief funds like the funds set up by government or international humanitarian agencies like Thai Unicef.

We have witnessed several online donation drives going viral on the internet over the last week including scams. One piece of caution in bequeathing to these organisations is to ensure that they are registered charities and that the donations they receive are tax exempted. Otherwise, not every baht of your contribution might reach the people that need it.

It needs to be understood that the real job of the donors starts when they make the decision to donate part of their income to support those in need. Deciding to donate means portraying love for the cause. If the donor’s love for the cause is genuine, it should go beyond the donation itself and the donor should check whether or not the donation is reaching the hands of the destitute.

I have no intention of discouraging the kind-hearted donor. Nonetheless, in a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude, donors must be mindful of the fact that contributions might not reach the rightful beneficiaries.

These concerns are founded on past experience from the Caribbean nation of Haiti. In 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the country, causing the deaths of an estimated 230,000 people. In the aftermath, multilateral and bilateral agencies poured in billions of dollars in relief and recovery efforts to alleviate the pain of the country. Five years down the line, some 85,000 people still reside in awful conditions in crude displacement camps leaving major questions about how the aid money was channeled and utilised.

In a quest to answer this question, American author Jonathan M Katz in his book The Big Truck That Went By; How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster implicates mismatched and mismanaged interests among a complex array of stakeholders: foreign governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business groups and public personas. He blames the vested interests of each actor as contributing to the ineffectiveness of aid and blames them for the stalled aid delivery.

Crucially for Thai donors, Katz also sees a problem in the “noble and narrow mandate” of the private donations which were larger than the foreign aid. The private donations stressed humanitarian aid but not development assistance, causing projects to repair infrastructure and restore normality to become victims of what Katz calls “diminishing returns”.

It is the nature of the news and of social media to quickly flitter from one story to the next. Therefore, private donors, foreign governments, aid agencies, NGOs and business groups need to be mindful of what we have learnt from Haiti and undertake not to repeat this failure of commitment anywhere in the world.

Nepal is in dire need of resources to restore normal modes of human existence. The Nepalese government and the country will not be able to bear the cost of recovery alone. This beautiful Himalayan kingdom does not just need short-term support but requires a long-term partnership to heal the lives and restore the physical property – chiefly the 600,000 homes of the poor as well as the lost cultural heritage such as ancient temples.

Development in the aftermath of disaster is not an easy task. The UN appeal itself calls for a total of US$450 million, and Nepali government sources estimate US$2 billion will be required to rebuild the country. However, if the stakeholders work closely and forego vested interests, the task, while difficult, will not be unnecessarily complex. We have seen Asian giants like Japan and Thailand recover from disasters and Nepal and its people will, after a sustained period of hardship and convalescence, no doubt be revitalised.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 04, 2015.

Out with Old

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Free Students Union (FSU) elections, political parties are going all out to strengthen their position ahead of the upcoming student election. Extravagant promotional materials inside college premises hint of a celebratory mood. But rumors of fake admissions and extravagance in campaigning definitely raise a big question about the source of money that is being pumped into these elections. The FSU election is supposed to elect a body that addresses the concerns of college-going students. However, the effectiveness of the FSUs is highly questionable. Over the years, political agendas have been put on the frontline rather than academic agendas. The FSUs have become a metastasizing tumor.
Over last few weeks, FSUs have been vehemently criticized in the media, but FSUs have turned deaf ear to the comments and suggestions coming their way. Ideologically blindfolded leaders see nothing except what serves their narrow interests. Hence they openly flout election guidelines they themselves created. Apart from FSUs, the silence of academic and administrative leaders of Tribhuvan University and students is also to be blamed for this unruliness. 

Time has come we started to question the rationale behind political FSUs and to look for an alternative to FSUs, which routinely fail to raise academic and other issues faced by students. Rather than invest millions for election of student body, it would be wise to invest in welfare of students. But this can happen only when university authorities and students partner for promotion of quality education rather than petty politics.
The alternative is a new system for formation of FSUs in colleges. The new system of students union should incorporate the concept of clubs and other sub-divisions under the leadership and supervision of the union. Elections should start in the classroom. This can be in the form of electing class representatives (CRs) or class captain every year. To make election inclusive, one male and one female can be elected from a class for representation in the student’s union where all CRs meet. The executive team can be elected from among them. For instance, if a college has 15 different classrooms, there will be 30 elected CRs in the council and the executive team can be elected from among them. The size of the executive team can be need-based. 


Republica

Furthermore, multiple student clubs addressing the varied interests of students must exist in colleges under the supervision and leadership of the union. The clubs should have a democratic system where members of a particular club are free to choose their desired leadership. Students should be free to open a new club under student union after getting enough members and after making a strong case that their need is not being met by existing clubs.

The student’s union should act as an umbrella body that guides and governs the plans and activities of all other clubs in the college. The student’s union thus formed can sit with college administration with plans of the union and clubs and try to fit the activities in the academic calendar. This way, student’s union will essentially be a student’s body. Exams, results and other academic activities start happening according to the calendar and everybody benefits.

There should be clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities of student union and college administration. Student union should not be provided the right to hamper academic programs and college administration should not be allowed to meddle in the activities of students.
This model has multiple advantages for universities, students and the nation as a whole. The academic calendar comes back on track. Large number of students will directly benefit as several kinds of activities will occur at the college and they can participate in the one they feel meets their interest.

Furthermore, a large chunk of students get the opportunity to practice leadership. They can organize programs under different clubs or they can take charge of any club or student union itself. The model further helps in actualization of student’s issues as they can directly be carried to the student’s union by CRs.
The model is already in place at few private colleges of Kathmandu and is serving pretty well. The KCM Student Council is a case in point. The council started in 2003 and is independent from college management and political parties, yet its annual financial transactions exceed Rs 1,500,000, which is essentially student earned money for student council. Ultimately, the amount is invested in various student activities.
This is a viable alternative to the existing FSU system. As time passes, traditional institutions need to be reviewed and updated. If the FSUs are not ready to mend their ways, students and the universities should be ready to adopt the new model.
Republica

Twist in the Story: Prachanda Resigns

Few minutes back, Prime Minister(PM) Pushpa Kamal Dahal a.k.a Prachanda resigned from his post. With this action, he has given birth to a new chapter of Politics in Nepal. A chapter that is full of uncertainity and wild guesses. Having conflict over the army issue, he resigned from the post.
With this move, Prachanda a amateur but a strong player of Nepalese politics has leaped a great succes. He has left the post and government with this he has been able to meet his long seen dream. He now doesn’t have the post but he has street in his hand. Now, I see Nepal full of burning tyres and a lot of Bandhs.