Some days ago I saw a picture of the Prime Minister on the front page of a national daily busily cleaning the debris in the Bagmati River and trying to convey a message that we as a nation must show the determination to get rid of the dirt and filth that seems to be a part of our daily living. I do appreciate his efforts to symbolize a new trend and yet, the irony is that the sleaze and corruption that seems to characterize his government seems to have escaped his attention. This government is perhaps the most corrupt in the history of Nepal and it is a sad truth that the leader is no other than Baburam Bhattarai who has always proclaimed his determination not to compromise on principles.
In fact, the people of Nepal would have supported him if he had shown the courage to use his broom against the corrupt colleagues of his own party and that of his coalition. We would have appreciated if he had shown the courage to uphold certain bureaucratic norms and values that would make the bureaucracy more responsive to the needs of the common people. And this is precisely what he has failed to do. The bureaucracy has been treated as an instrument for facilitating the loot and corruption of the political class to the extent that we are now experiencing a classical form of “roving banditry” where those who are in power follow the principle “make hay while the sun shines,” with no apprehension. Sadly it is the PM who has given the approval signal to this kind of values and behavior. Given this reality, the picture of the PM with a broom in his hand hardly enthuses the people.
THE RIGHT QUESTION
The ministry of local development is led by a young colleague of the PM´s faction in the Maoist party. The minister of local development should have been able to provide leadership and guidance to the Kathmandu Municipality since it is his ministry that has a major role in the appointment of the chief executive officer. The municipality is not short of either physical or financial resources. It has waste management equipments given by friendly countries that remain unused. Why are they rotting in the garages of the government when they could be used for cleaning the city?
Apparently the Municipality is not short of money as well for it spent millions for the new campaign inaugurated by the Prime Minister. It is not the lack of money or resources that seem to be the constraint. Why then is it unable to collect waste properly from the streets of Kathmandu? It would have been sensible for the PM to seek answers to these questions from his political colleague and the bureaucracy. But he has chosen the easy way out and gone for showmanship instead of focusing on developing the management of the system.
Political showmanship has its own advantages but it is no substitute for sound management principles. In the Baburam government, there is an excess of showmanship but unwillingness for serious work to enhance the competence of the administration to serve the interests of the people. Perhaps it would be useful if attention was given to some sane advice given by management guru Peter Drucker a few years ago. Drucker suggested that those aiming for positive results should ponder over a few questions before they make their decisions. The most important question is: What needs to be done and what is the right way of doing it. I do not think this question was ever considered seriously before the showmanship program with the PM as the main actor was finalized.
We are told that the total waste of Kathmandu city is 380 tons per day but the Kathmandu municipality is simply not able (or willing?) to collect more than 330 tons per day as a result of which the national capital accumulates 50 tons every day and 1500 tons of uncollected waste in one month. If this is the problem why are we not able to raise our collection of waste by 50 tons per day? We read in the newspapers about many modern equipments donated by friendly countries to keep our streets clean.
Similarly, it is safe to assume that our officials in the municipality are well versed with the management of waste collection since they are often heard to be busy in foreign orientation trips even without the knowledge of the concerned minister of even the PM. The PM himself has gone on record expressing his dismay and helplessness for not being able to stop a certain chief executive of the municipality from a foreign “learning junket” even when the said person had been transferred to another ministry.
We need to have a clean and healthy Kathmandu and this is the common objective of both the government and the residents of the city. To achieve this objective, the government has to ponder over the question of what needs to be done and the correct way of doing it. Looking at the fondness for showmanship displayed by the PM, it is clear that he has not tried to find an answer to this crucial question. What is it that is needed to improve the competence of the municipality so that it can collect an extra 50 tons of waste from the city? Is it just the lack of money or something more that remains hidden?
A healthy Kathmandu is the objective of both the government and its residents and the former must find the most appropriate way to achieve this.
It may sound somewhat unconventional, but there is every reason to believe that there is an interest lobby in the local development ministry and the municipality eager to keep Kathmandu dirty. Keeping Kathmandu unclean could be a way of demanding more resources, more foreign aid, and more “learning trips” abroad. Preserving the present level of inefficiency and corruption is a way of ensuring the privileges of the few including that of the political class. The classic example here is the construction of the so called ‘sky bridge’ that is in fact a new shopping mall even when it is clear that these structures will have to be dismantled when the present ring road improvement project under Chinese assistance is implemented.
Our architect Prime Minister knows this well and he is also aware of the instructions of the public accounts committee on this issue. It is sad to see that while he can enter the dirty waters of the Bagmati, he turns a blind eye to the sky bridge for the simple reason that the ministry is headed by his own friend and loyalist. This gives reason to believe that an interest lobby that is willing to ignore the concerns of the residents of the city remains active to protect its interest, while maintaining the present level of dirt and filth in Kathmandu.