By Deepak Gajurel
As Nepal prepares to switch from rescue and relief to reconstruction and rehabilitation, irregularities at various levels have begun to surface. Nepalis from various walks of lives have been reported to have been involved in one or another kind of irregularity, which include, government ministers, lawmakers, political leaders/workers, government employees, non-governmental organizations, social workers, and many others.
Ministers and their assistants are reported to be indulged in embezzlement of relief materials meant for earthquake victims. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat's personal aide (PA) Ramesh Mahat has been implicated in the embezzlement of corrugated roofing sheets meant for the quake victims. (Annapurna Post Daily May 31, 2015).
Irregularities have also been recorded by international organizations. "… while some families had secured more than one tarpaulin, others had none. Residents said that only those with muscle (meaning political connections) were able to get them," Amnesty International said in its latest report. ((https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ASA31/1753/2015/en/)
Irregularities are also recorded to have been done by international relief organizations. World Food Program distributed substandard rice to the earthquake victims, and authorities were forced to issue public notice not to consume rice given out by WFP. (Nagarik News, May 20, 2015)
Countering Right-wing Populism
The right-wing populists that promote xenophobia, fundamentalism and violent radicalization seem to be on the rise and winning the debate in Europe, USA and South East Asia.
Political and economic marginalization aggravated by the financial crises in different continents since the 90’s have contributed to undermine established political leaders and stirred popular discontent. Many voters responded by electing maverick politicians who promised to target corruption, establish fresh agendas and radically solve all problems. In many cases, populist leaders based their appeal on the frustrations and aspirations of groups excluded from political power or afraid of the current socio-economic challenges.
There are several reasons why they seem to be winning: they are well organised and they seem to care what people think. But the latter does not necessarily relate to facts, on the contrary it rather relates to perceptions and emotions. There is a need to consolidate the consensus in our societies around tolerance, fundamental rights and pluralism. As our societies become more diverse and immigration reaches more communities, more people ought to become less prejudiced and more supportive.
We need to rebuild public support by tackling issues that lie at the root of public anger. Inequality and social injustice are fuelling the frustration of traditional left-wing voters, especially when they see elites benefiting from privileges, tax evasion and misuse of public funds. By strengthening tools to combat corruption and tax evasion and by establishing remedies against discrimination and exclusion, progressives can show that institutions serve more than the interests of economic elites. By speaking truth to power that be, reaching out to our traditional base of support from the ordinary people, and continuing to pose concrete but strategic solutions, progressives can remain alternatives to short-term, divisive and often hollow populist calls.
The conference brought about various stakeholders and progressive thinkers from across the region to discuss best practices in local democracy and participatory governance in the 21st century, taking inspiration from various grassroots movements, which have transformed the political landscape of countries such as Indonesia, the new president of which, “Jokowi”, has risen to the pinnacle of power thanks to his effective brand of participatory local governance during his earlier stint as a mayor. The pattern of these political dynamics is clear: regimes across the region are being confronted by the large-scale popular demand for greater democracy, facilitated by an increased political awareness as well as the usage of social media technology.
The activity in Penang opened up the opportunity for like-minded, progressive politicians to discuss among each other valuable inputs and strategies to deliver good, effective governance to their constituencies, especially in areas where social democratic forces are (or are poised to be) in position of power. The event served as a crucial platform for sharing of social democratic alternatives, with the aim of consolidating these experiences and discussions into a broader roadmap for bottom-up reforms, which will be of utmost importance to progressives in and beyond the region.