by Muddassir Rizvi
(IPS) ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's army, which was heavily criticized for not acting fast enough to help survivors of the Oct. 8 earthquake, is now taking flak for its control over a multibillion-dollar relief and rehabilitation program.
International and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are demanding transparency and greater people's participation in decision-making, while opposition political parties accuse the military-controlled government of bypassing parliament to supervise long-term reconstruction.
The international community has pledged as much as $6 billion -- half of it in soft loans from international monetary institutions -- for reconstruction.
Additionally, generous amounts, for which no estimates are available, have been flowing in through non-official channels, in response to appeals from Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Devastated by the quake were Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and the adjacent North West Frontier Province (NWFP), militarily sensitive areas wedged between the Indian part of disputed Kashmir and Afghanistan. At least 75,000 people were killed and 300,000 of the survivors left without shelter in the Himalayan region.
"The military has shown complete disregard for elected institutions in its hastiness to put together plans to undertake the reconstruction of the earthquake-hit areas," said Siddiquul Farooq, who is information secretary for the opposition Pakistan Muslim League party, headed by exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
"Parliament was completely bypassed and so were the recently elected local governments, which have no role in making development decisions (or) distribution of compensation money to the affected people," he said.
Within a week of the earthquake, the government set up an Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), headed by a major general and the army's engineer-in-chief. The ERRA is also staffed by officers drawn from the Military Engineering Service (MES).
Similarly, administration of the Federal Relief Commission (FRC), housed in the prime minister's secretariat, has also been handed over to a ranking major general.
The entire relief and reconstruction apparatus, at the local level, is run by military officials -- ignoring local governments and civil administrations legally mandated to perform the tasks.
To add salt to the wound, the government has granted immunity from prosecution to uniformed officers working in the earthquake-hit areas.
"The powers bestowed on the ERRA and its officers mocks the demands for transparency and accountability," said Farhatullah Babar, who is spokesperson for the opposition Pakistan People's Party.
Babar said ERRA officers should not have been given such protection given that the country's auditor general has, in the past, brought up serious charges of financial irregularities against the MES.
"To entrust reconstruction projects of several hundred million dollars to such a body and indemnify its decisions is a recipe for a national disaster of another kind," he said.
Many of the national and international NGOs also think the military is squeezing them out.
"Although the military's response was commendable in the initial rescue and relief work, their long-term presence in these areas at the helm of decision-making processes is squeezing the space for civil society to work independently," says Ayyaz Kiyani, executive coordinator of the Islamabad-based, Network for Consumer Protection.
The network was asked by local officials to pack up the 200-bed medical camp it set up on a football field in Abbottabad days after the earthquake struck. "They said we would ruin the football ground."
"Absence of civil society and local governments from the scene is also limiting the space for the participation of people in the reconstruction of their areas, raising fears of exogenous and inequitable development. Many of the areas may be left out of the reconstruction loop," says Kiyani.
Similar views were echoed by Sarwar Bari, national coordinator of the Islamabad-based Pattan Development Organization, which is running a tented village in Balakot, a town that was reduced to rubble on Oct. 8.
"We have no way of knowing how much money has poured in so far through governmental and non-governmental channels and where it has been spent," Bari said. "We also don't know if the money is being spent judiciously and in a transparent way."
Bari was critical of the "arbitrary manner" in which the military has been dealing with the NGOs and affected communities, saying that the military is not suited to handle post-disaster social and political issues.
In the first week of November, Pattan's volunteers at the camp in Balakot were thrown out by military officials who gave no explanation. It was only after the intervention of senior officials of the federal government that they were permitted to resume functioning.
The military's role violates the Local Government Ordinance (LGO), under which local governments take a lead role in disaster and post-disaster situations. The LGO empowers nazims (local government heads) to take charge, organize and prepare for relief activities in the event of disasters or natural calamities.
"The civilian administration is completely missing," said John Lane, who works with Britain's Voluntary Service Organization in Balakot.
The army has a different story to tell. Federal Relief Commissioner Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan says he is working under the prime minister's secretariat and not taking orders from army headquarters. He noted that last week he announced restoration of civilian administration in areas below 5,000 feet in altitude.
But Khan's decision seems to have been influenced by demands at an international donors conference in Islamabad in the third week of November for greater involvement of local governments and affected communities in reconstruction.
According to an official of the European Union, who requested anonymity, the donor countries are uncomfortable handing over money to the military with no clear mechanisms for accountability in place. "Unless the international community is certain that the money is subject to democratic spending and scrutiny, the pledges may not materialize."
At the donor conference, the president of the Asian Development Bank, Haruhiko Kuroda, was categorical that the bank would insist on anti-corruption safeguards.
"History shows that ownership by all stakeholders, inclusive of government, civil society, local affected communities, private sector and other development partners, is essential to curb corruption in the aftermath of such large-scale disasters. It is our mutual aim and obligation that every dollar, every rupee of our assistance goes to restore the livelihoods and property of earthquake survivors," he said in his speech.
On its part, the government is setting up a parliamentary committee to supervise reconstruction, though its powers are limited. Opposition leaders have rejected it as a cosmetic and toothless body and are demanding that the ERRA and the FRC be handed over to civilian control.
"This (reconstruction) is a civilian role to be performed by elected representatives under the country's laws. The natural disaster should not become a reason for legal and constitutional deviations," said Bari.
December 7, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.