What went wrong in the National Assembly during the flood session is important to analyse. We lost three important days and I say lost because we could have had a policy statement of some worth by the government. Instead, we saw a brawl on whether we support democracy and we arrived at two resolutions: one pro-democracy and another against feudalism.
The statistics on damage assessment remained as much a question of debate and continue to challenge the government’s credibility since most of the sources for the figures themselves are not that credible. If the prime minister’s policy statement on the floor of the National Assembly is not credible and we have to rely on the World Bank’s damage assessment to manage the flood fiasco then we truly don’t have a sovereign government.
Moreover, if between the prime minister and the opposition leader can’t even decide on having an all-parties conference on the flood nor can we agree to trust the government with flood contributions then it reflects poorly on the senior leadership of both sides and is indicative of their inability to work with each other.
This flood has been a divider not a unifier. I say that because neither the government nor the opposition has any kind of unified or common approach/strategy on how to deal with its consequences. Even in the case of the federal government there seems to be some kind of issue between it and the provinces on how much each is to get in funding and a squabble seems likely with each province seemingly trying to present a picture of greater damage to get more relief funding. As for the ruling party, the less said the better since its MPs seem to be busy fighting each other trying to save their lands from the floods. So where is the national glue? I, for one, don’t see it anywhere.
The issue clearly boils down to that of leadership and unity of command which is required in dealing with such disasters. One’s words can be noble and perfect but if they are not matched by actions then they don’t mean anything.
The government needs to understand that there isn’t much time. Twenty million people have been affected by the flood and they are not going to spare the government when the promises of relief and rehabilitation fall miserably short. And if things go wrong, we could even expect a popular uprising, given the large number of people affected.
So what should the government do? It should adopt austerity measures and rein in its fiscal expenditures. Equally important, it should adopt transparency in its spending, especially on those related to flood relief. It should also set up an independent commission which investigates with impartiality the whole issue of breaches of embankments and dykes and punish anyone, regardless of their position and status, found diverting floodwaters away from their lands just to save them from flooding.
The government should give a clear account of how much money is being spent and exactly where. It should get rid of the VIP presence in the flood-affected areas and give judiciously to the provinces based on a damage assessment that is realistic and based on credible sources.
My point also is that such a leadership does exist in the country. It just has to step up and take control and lead the victims of the flood to deliverance.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2010.
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