A section of a footpath is swept away by landslide near the international airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. The roads are slippery and difficult to walk on or even drive due to potholes and delayed maintenance in the valley. These are just few difficulties that I endure during my everyday commute, but what do I actually do about it? I complain about it with my friends, we all nod in agreement and we get on with our everyday chores.
Pranish Thapa, on the other hand, is an exception. A 17 year old student, he has complained on issues ranging from public infrastructures, abuse of power, the quality of education, good governance or the lack of it, etc... His complaints have gone beyond 3000 over the last five years. He lodges his grievances through Hello Sarkar, which literally means Hello Government in Nepali.
Pulled by the abstract of the event organized by Martin Chautari, I decided to see how the case of Grievance Redress Mechansim (GRM) is working in Nepal. The event information stated: Hello Sarkar aims at making the government more accountable to the people by addressing citizens’ grievances on public service delivery directly. It is located at the heart of the state machinery, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. Concerned citizens can approach the system via phone (toll-free number- 1111), mobile texts, email, social media or website.
Does it work?
Taking Pranish’s case into consideration, the answer is yes and also no. Though the Hello Sarkar officers claim that the success rates are pretty high, in his case, only 40% of the complaints had been addressed. Though commended for a really good start up in terms of government accountability to its fellow citizens, the redress system has challenges of its own, says Pradyumna Prasad Upadhyay, an officer in-Charge of Hello Sarkar, Under Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers: “Our work is to channel the concerns, not to solve them directly. However, ours is a very important role, and we are serious about improving it.”
How does it work?
Once the complaints are lodged through various channels, the information is then passed to various line ministries or departments. The Hello Sarkar team categorizes the concerns according to their urgency and classifications as per their existing template. In Mr. Upadhyay’s words, “we work as a medium to record the complaints and then distribute them to the line ministries. The ministries then take it into their hands to solve those issues.”
This is where it gets difficult. In a 2014 press article, Hello Sarkar stated which ministries have not resolved any of the issues forwarded to them.
The future of GRM
The staff at the grievance receiving centers are already overburdened, says Mr. Upadhyay. Two staff members have already experienced adverse medical conditions (ear-related) due to listening to complaints every day. Receiving prank calls instead of genuine grievances is another problem. The Hello Sarkar toll free number receives bluff calls mostly in the evenings from 4pm – 6 pm. This is an implementation challenge that the center has to face daily.
Keeping up with the new technology
The other important aspect is the lack of technology friendly staff at the center. These days, the complaints are made through social media more than ever. “The staff members should be aware of the impact of their replies/reaction on social media as they are being watched closely and publicly,” says Mr. Upadhyay. He is worried that the concerns won’t be addressed properly if staff members themselves aren’t trained to use the new technologies.
The next step
Though at a slow pace, embedding GRM in a government system gives its people the voice for improvement. It is already the first and the biggest step in mitigating unforeseen oversights of projects and public systems. However, the next step is helping the people know their rights as citizens to complain and show concerns on matters of public scrutiny. The tendency of not complaining due to the mistrust in the government should be broken. The best way to accomplish that goal is to speak up – especially when there are GRM centers like Hello Sarkar assigned by the government – just to hear them out.
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