Nepal Peace Trust Fund (NPTF) along with support from development partners has been carrying out the reconstruction of police buildings destroyed during the conflict period. The project is now nearing the end of its third phase. Foundation for Development Management (FDM), a development management consultancy, carried out an impact assessment study of the reconstructed police buildings in 17 districts. Abijit Sharma talked to Dr. Shailendra Sigdel, Director of FDM regarding the study and various other issues surrounding the reconstructed buildings. Excerpts:
How has the impact of the new police buildings been on the overall peace process of the country?
Post conflict situation is a very vulnerable time for any society. After a decade long armed conflict, the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) was a remarkable achievement for the country. But it was equally challenging for us to steer the peace process to a meaningful conclusion.
Police buildings have played an important role in this vulnerable situation. Most importantly, they have helped re-install law and order situation in the society and usher in a sense of security. The conflict had a very negative psychological effect on the society. The new police buildings have helped bring back a sense of positiveness. It might be difficult to directly assess the role of police buildings in the peace process, but it is without doubt that they have been an important part of it.
What was the finding of the impact assessment study conducted by FDM?
When we began the study, we never thought reconstructed police buildings could have a major impact. But our findings suggested otherwise. The biggest contribution has been in the improvement of security. The conflict period was marred with lawlessness. The new police buildings have helped re-install rule of law in the society. Right from petty crimes like theft to serious ones like murder, dacoity and smuggling, the police has been able to bring all of them under control.
We also found that the police’s performance had drastically improved post the reconstruction. Since the new buildings provide a better working environment, police officers’ performance level had remarkably shot up.
What sort of impact has the police office had in the local development?
Security is imperative for development. As I said earlier, the newly constructed buildings have helped re-install security. As a result, businesses have flourished in these areas. Cooperatives, shops, hotels etc. have opened up. For instance, in one of the study sites in Banke, murder, loot and extortion took place in broad daylight. Businessmen, however, said that there is no fear whatsoever now. Local economy has seen a big boost in almost all the places.
Although our impact assessment study showed considerable development, a stronger impact of the new police buildings will be seen in the coming years. The people were quite sure, too, that were would be more economic activities in the days to come. This is definitely good news.
You said that service delivery has increased by a great deal now. Was it not up to the mark earlier?
After police buildings were destroyed during conflict, many of the police offices were shifted to a temporary shelter. The condition of the temporary shelters was deplorable. Some of the still existing temporary shelters we visited did not even have the basic of amenities. They had thatched roofs with just two/three rooms. Some of the temporary shelters were even about to collapse.
Since the temporary shelters were located in public sphere, they could not provide space for secrecy or confidentiality for the police. Service delivery to women was also affected as there was no separate women cell. Officers would have to vacate their own room for women police officers to deal with women victims. Crammed custodies raised serious issues of human rights. In some cases, the police even had to let go petty criminals due to the lack of enough custody space.
Then there was already a fear for life due to the conflict. All this had a huge blow to the morale of police. How can someone, who has the responsibility of providing service to the people round the clock, provide a proper service in such situation?
News reports have shown that there has been delay in the reconstruction project in some of the districts. Did you witness any problem as such?
Yes, there has been delay in the reconstruction of some of the buildings. In some of the places, even the buildings reconstructed in the second phase are yet to get a finishing touch. The main reason for this is primarily because of the carelessness of the contractors. This is also because of the lack of provision for monitoring of reconstruction process.
But the cases of delay are just exceptions. Out of the 17 reconstruction sites we visited, we did not hear any such problem. Instead, compared to the reconstruction from the first phase, buildings reconstructed in the third phase were done even more efficiently. Lessons learnt from the first two phases along with an effective Building Construction Committee are to be credited for it.
How has the participation of local government bodies and communities been?
Normally in Nepal, you see community participation in the form of community forest, school management committee and health support committee. But our study showed that community was also equally interested in contributing to the security sector. The Building Construction Committee, a major partner in the process, consisted of members from the local community itself.
Although the level of commitment was different from place to place, almost everywhere the community had mobilized resources to help. In one of the newly reconstructed buildings, the local people had provided furniture. In another, they had collected money to buy a motorcycle for the police. In an exemplary case in Siraha, old people had collected their old age allowance to contribute in the construction of boundary wall. In the tourist friendly Bhedetar, local businessmen had taken the responsibility of providing repair cost, fuel for police vehicles. Even VDCs in some of the places had allotted a certain amount of their annual budget as an operational help for the police office.
Has lack of operational costs been an issue?
Yes, it has. Government should have provisions for operational cost, too. For example in one of sites in Lamjung, the VDCs under police jurisdiction were very far. Without vehicles to reach these VDCs, what is the benefit of the new police buildings for the people living there? There should be a policy for providing operational cost.
Many police posts have women cells but it has been reported that there are no women officers deployed there. Instead cells, barracks for women are being used by male police officers. Was this a problem in majority of the reconstructed buildings?
Yes, this was seen in some of the new buildings. For this I suggest Nepal Police to consider a policy whereby it should be mandatory to have at least one woman police officer in the reconstructed building. This way the women cell and women barrack will at least be utilized. Since cases of women violence are one of the most reported crimes these days, I feel this policy should be introduced as soon as possible.
The project has already entered into its third phase. How has the maintenance of the buildings been till date?
One of the biggest drawbacks of the reconstruction process has been the lack of maintenance policy. As high has 2 crore rupees have been spent on the buildings. But for operational efficiency and maintenance, there is hardly any budget. Many of the buildings built during the first phase are already in dire need of maintenance. But there has been no move from the government on this front.
What the government can do is it can encourage a Public Police Partnership model for maintenance. Even the community has said that they would help in the maintenance if the government allots funds. For example, out of the total budget of 1 crore, say, if 8% is spared for maintenance, it would amount to 8 lakh rupees. If another 8 lakh can be raised from the community, a total of 16 lakhs would be enough for maintenance. This can be deposited in a revolving fund. A Police Management Committee can be set up to coordinate the whole process.
How has the police buildings helped in addressing cases of women and socially excluded groups?
In terms of service delivery towards women, there has been a vast improvement. There are women cells now in the reconstructed buildings. Even in places where there were no women police officers, local women were mobilized to facilitate between the women victims and police.
The new police buildings, as I mentioned earlier, have bought a positive change in the attitude of the police officers asd well. Police officers now handle cases related to socially excluded groups more sensitively. I would say more training on GESI, service to excluded groups should be provided to better the service delivery towards these groups.
Development partners, who have been an integral part of the reconstruction process are now considering to pull out from it. If in case that happens, how do you see its impact?
As you said, development partners have been an integral part of the reconstruction process. The government and Nepal Police should be thankful for their support. If development partners pull out of this project, there can be nothing more unfortunate than that. Police buildings have brought such big positive change. Along with maintaining law, order and security, they have helped in boosting the local economy. The police’s morale has shot up. If in case development partners pull out abruptly, it is going to be a hugely disappointing.
If they are not sure about the impact of their project, they can carry out a long term impact assessment study. It will show the huge impact reconstructed police buildings have had. If lack of resources is a problem then the construction modality can be changed. The cost can be minimized, say, by using local materials and mobilizing local workforce.
It will also not send a good message. With more than 50% of police buildings yet to constructed, people will question the credibility of all three: the government, Nepal Police and of course the development partners. I humbly request development partners to reconsider their decision.