| October 24, 2018

Breach of trust

Opaque UN agencies

According to a recent report of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the UN agencies in Nepal have spent around US $237 million (which comes to over Rs 25 billion) in emergency relief in the eight months after the April 25th earthquake. So where has all this money gone? The report does not provide any detail on how the bulk of this money—raised from our donors, various agencies and individuals—was spent. Among the UN agencies, UNICEF has spent the most (US $124 million). While the report mentions a small UNICEF expense in the fields of human rights protection, health, education and drinking water, it does not account for the bulk of UNICEF's expenditure. The WFP, for its part, spent around US $60 million, but again there are no details. The expenditures of other UN agencies working in Nepal like FAO and UNDP are as opaque. News of porous government channels and self-serving INGOs misusing post-earthquake aid are now common. But it is sad to learn that even UN agencies haven't felt the need to maintain clear and transparent accounts.
We understand why many of our major donors don't trust the government with their funds. The line ministries and the associated bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient and corrupt, as reflected in Nepal's lowly ranking in the Transparency International's annual Corruption Perception Index. In the case of other INGOs, it has been found that they repatriate up to 70 percent of their budget in the form of high fees for consultants hired from their native countries. Some have even been blamed for fanning ethno-nationalism and for helping Nepalis convert to Christianity. For all these reasons the UN, the umbrella body of all countries in the world, was increasingly seen as the last source of hopes for up to 770,000 earthquake victims who still don't have permanent roofs over their heads. And this is why the new UNOCHA report is so disappointing. The UN mission in Nepal must come clean on this. Maybe they do somewhere have details of these expenditures and that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

But if the post-quake funds being handled by the UN have been misused, thereby breaking the trust of dozens of our bilateral and multilateral donors who entrusted the agency with their money, then those responsible for such egregious breach of trust must be punished. In these volatile times for Nepal it is important that there is at least one agency that is trusted by all the sides. The UN adeptly played that role after the 2006 changes, most notably with the help it extended in the management of former Maoist combatants. Nepal needs a credible and trustworthy agency like the United Nations by its side at this crucial time. This is why we would again like to urge the UN to thoroughly investigate the case and if there has been foul play, to punish the wrongdoers at the earliest. That is the only way to restore UN's credibility in Nepal. That is also the only way to restore some hope among the hundreds of thousands of desperate earthquake victims.

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