The PJ Tatler

Nepal Proves the Bureaucratic Mindset is Universal

More than 7,000 people lie dead in Nepal, victims of a massive earthquake. Hundreds of thousands are sitting in ruined villages with no food, no clean water, and no shelter from the elements.

But as the New York Times reports, relief supplies are piled high at the Kathmandu airport, and desperately needed food and medicine is not reaching the victims as intended.

The reason? Nepalese bureaucrats refuse to cut the red tape that would speed the relief supplies along.

Relief supplies for earthquake victims have been piling up at the airport and in warehouses here because of bureaucratic interference by Nepali authorities who insist that standard customs inspections and other procedures be followed, even in an emergency, Western government and aid organization officials said on Sunday.

“The bottleneck was the fact that the bureaucratic procedures were just so heavy,” Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations resident coordinator, said in an interview. “So many layers of government and so many departments involved, so many different line ministries involved. We don’t need goods sitting in Kathmandu warehouses. We don’t need goods sitting at the airport. We need them up in the affected areas.”

The United States ambassador to Nepal, Peter W. Bodde, said he had spoken to Nepal’s prime minister, Sushil Koirala, about the issue and “he assured me that all the red tape will be stopped.”


“Everyone was panicked, everything was closed, and we all tried to save our own lives,” Purna Bahadur Khadka, joint general secretary of the governing Nepali Congress, said in an interview at the prime minister’s official residence. “And some critics can say there was no proper coordination for the first two days.”

But sometime over the past week, the government revived, Mr. Khadka said. And that is when, Western aid officials say, government officials began insisting that an entire list of rules must be followed, even for emergency relief supplies.

Mr. Bodde said it was a problem that the United States intended to help fix, as a huge C-17 transport plane unloaded a UH-17 helicopter and, separately, four Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft flew into Nepal on Sunday to help carry supplies from Kathmandu to devastated rural areas.

“That’s why we’re here today,” Mr. Bodde said as the C-17 rolled to a stop.

But even that help had been delayed, according to Marine Lt. Col Edward Powers, the helicopter pilot.

“We’ve been sitting on a ramp in Okinawa for the last 72 hours” waiting for permission to land at Kathmandu, Colonel Powers said at the airport.

The bureaucratic foul-ups are also occurring at border crossings with India , who is trying to get relief supplies overland into the interior of Nepal. The same heavy handed “inspections” are happening there as well.

Nepal, being a third world country, has no doubt experienced problems with crooked customs inspectors with sticky fingers. But this doesn’t look like any illegal activity is going on. Rather it is the perfect storm of bureaucrats who take their jobs seriously meeting a situation where they shouldn’t. For bureaucrats the world over, dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” even though the end of the world is nigh, is what we should expect.