Survey is wakeup call for Nepal government

Pic: Sneha KC

There was great hope among Nepalis that the first local government elections in two decades, in 2017, would finally improve accountability and help raise living standards, but a recent public opinion poll shows that their optimism has faded.

Two years after the local governments were formed and a year after provincial and federal governments took office, most Nepalis say they are disillusioned with their elected representatives in all three tiers of government.

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There is a yawning chasm between slogans and performance. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government that promised ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis’ and ‘Zero Tolerance of Corruption’ is seen to not be walking its talk. Public disdain for politicians and their parties has never been greater.

There appears to be a correlation between widespread media coverage of the executive, legislature and judiciary being under the control of vested interest groups and the public’s negative perception. For example, when asked if they trusted President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s office, only 7.8% said yes while 14.6% said they did not trust it at all. This is likely due to press coverage of profligacy of her office, and frequent traffic snarls caused by presidential motorcades.

The survey results, carried out by Sharecast Initiative Nepal among a sample size of 4,129 respondents in 42 districts, reveal that disillusionment is greatest in areas and among groups with greater access to the mainstream press and social media.

While most of the results indicate growing public dissatisfaction with the government, 41% agreed that the country was headed in the right direction, while 27% felt it was going the wrong way. This is a slight decline compared to last year’s Sharecast survey, when 43% of respondents felt the country was on the right track.

This result corresponds with findings of A Survey of the Nepali People, carried out by Inter Disciplinary Analysts and Kathmandu University among a much larger sample size (7,056) in 73 districts in 2018. That poll showed that overall 51% of the people felt the country was headed the right way.

Responses to the question broken down by province are identical in the Sharecast and KU/IDA surveys even though they were taken a year apart.

The highest percentage of those who think the country is headed in the wrong direction is in Province 3 (34%), while 4.9% of respondents in Far-Western Province say Nepal is on the right track.

It is not unusual that Province 3 is so cynical, since it includes Kathmandu Valley, whose citizens are most exposed to media reporting of corruption and the lack of accountability. Residents of the Far-Western Province and Province 2, by contrast, still seem to hope that things will get better. Indeed, overall the people of the Tarai seem more convinced than those living in the mountains that the country is moving in the right direction.

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A cross-tabulation of the responses shows that the more educated Nepalis are, the more they seem to think the country has drifted off track. And among ethnic groups, the Newa population seems to be the most cynical about where the nation is headed.

The Sharecast survey also shows that the Nepali people were at best apathetic and at worst negative about the work of the federal government in the past year. Only 4.2% were satisfied, 35% were dissatisfied and nearly 61% said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

The greatest discontent about the conduct of the federal government in Kathmandu is in Far-Western Province – indicating that despite devolution people living in the periphery still feel neglected. But even the centre is not impressed with the centre. Most respondents in Province 3 had a dim view of the federal government’s functioning.

Amid allegations that political power today is centralised among advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the level of distrust of the PMO (16.2%) was much higher than those who trusted it (10%), with 36% rating it ‘so-so’.

The national Parliament also suffers a trust deficit, with more than a quarter of respondents saying they lack faith in the federal legislature.  Only 7% said they trusted Parliament, while 43% were ambivalent.

Views of the track records of local governments and municipalities are also not encouraging. More than a quarter of respondents were ‘completely dissatisfied’ with their work, and only 7.4% were pleased. Again, the highest level of discontent with local government is in Province 3, while people in Province 1 seem to be most content with the performance of local municipalities.

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General dissatisfaction with all three tiers of government appears to be linked to confusion within infrastructure projects, corruption in sand mining and quarry contracts, obsession of elected representatives with their own perks and privileges, and poor governance.

When asked how much they trusted political parties, nearly 45% said they did not trust them at all, while in Province 2 more than half said they had no faith in the parties. This figure has gone up: in last year’s survey 38% said they did not trust the parties. Nationwide, leaders of parties do not fare much better: 54% of respondents did not trust them, and it was a whopping 63.4% in Province 3.

In a wakeup call for journalists, a full 47.2% said they did not have much faith in the media. Politically-slanted content and the over-commercialisation of the media appear to be behind this. Lawyers fared even worse, with 63% saying they don’t trust them much. But the most untrustworthy profession seems to be contractors, with 57% saying they do not trust them. This figure is even higher for Karnali Province, which is plagued by delays in infrastructure projects.

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Nepal Media Survey 2019 is the fourth in a series by the research group Sharecast Initiative Nepal. It was administered in January-February 2019 through face-to-face interviews among 4,129 respondents in 42 randomly selected districts spread over seven provinces. Data was collected using mobile devices with ONA software, indicated by grey dots in map (above). Respondents were 18 years or above, residing in the same household for at least 6 months. All data is weighed back to the Nepal Census 2011 and data quality-control measures were employed.

Social Indicators

The Sharecast Initiative Survey conducted in January also included questions about socio-economic development and migration.

The most encouraging sign is that the government's emphasis over the past decades on rural electrification, water and sanitation appears to have yielded results. Of the 4,129 individuals surveyed in 42 districts, 94% had electricity, 95% had latrines and 74% (which is still low) had a drinking water supply. However, it is a sign of development that 75% now live near some kind of road, while 70% of Nepalis seem to use LPG for cooking.

With four million Nepalis working outside the country at any given time (half of them in India) responses to survey questions on migration and remittance show just how dramatically society is changing.

A quarter of respondents had a household member working abroad, highest in Muslim (36%) or Hill Dalit (34%) families. Tarai Caste and Tharu households had the fewest members abroad. The proportion of families with at least one member working abroad was highest in Far-Western Province.

Asked how overseas workers sent money home, most now use bank transfer (48%) while a third still use the informal hundi channel, while only 1% say they send money home with friends. Province 6 tops the rest in bank transfers — 81%.

Asked to name the top three items that they spend remittance money on, 60% say they use it to buy food, 42% for clothing, 36% for medical treatment and 35% for children’s education. Some 10% used earnings to buy land, while only 6.5% saved it in a bank.

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