Republica Repost–Open Letter

Dear Managers of PM Disaster Relief Fund,

Once again, I just failed to donate to the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund from the program’s website at www.pmrelief.opmcm.gov.np. This was probably the fifteenth attempt in 28 days. I have asked many other Nepalis across the US if they have tried, and I haven’t come across anyone who has been successful with any Visa or MasterCard. Some believed that it was their card, others weren’t surprised because it is Nepali PM office, and yet others joined the chorus of people who say that you are either incapable of fixing the problem or you don’t care. Many, including me, don’t know or try to use the alternative bank transfer method for contribution. I am still waiting for the site-based method to work.

Two weeks ago, I spent a night here, trying to call the technical number on the website. Without naming names for now, one person I contacted said that he only deals with the local payment system (NPay), adding that he shouldn’t be bothered about the credit card- based system for international donors. It was truly frustrating to listen to his lecture about how complicated the systems is, which I didn’t believe, because fir those who have access to all technical points of contact get together, they should be able to fix things. I sensed that he had not much concern that potentially millions of dollars could be lost because international site visitors have no one to contact when the system says, “an error has occurred.” No information on what to do when a known error occurs, no explanation of how to use an alternative method, no acknowledgment for the visitor for their goodwill. We see a dead end, in red letters, and that is it.

Then I somehow learned that Himalayan Bank Limited processes international credit cards transactions—and it takes guessing to know that—and I called that bank. Staff members there also seemed unaware and not very knowledgeable. I kept trying, in spite of long waits on the phone. I am in a very different time here. I missed one call, then I never heard back—though I don’t expect more. The system still doesn’t work.

One week ago, to use no names again, I got all the way to the top and talked to the official running the system. I’ve talked once again and I’m waiting to hear back. But everyone I talk to blames the system, shows no interest in listening to the public, and doesn’t sound apologetic, and essentially say “ke garne” about being unable to get to the bottom of the issue.

In this situation, I want you to respond to the public about two things. First, here is a two-part set of things that I believe would make the system work then put an effective campaign in place, possibly raising millions of rupees every day:

  • Fix the credit card issue within 24 hours and add a notice on the website; add other options, including crowd-funding sites, and link them on the site;
  • Directly contact potential donor communities around the world (such as NRN organizations), inform them that the system is now working, explain the benefits of donating to PM Relief Fund, and request them to educate their members through different channels;
  • Run a (social) media campaign, starting with Nepali journalists, then educating Nepalis around the world about the Fund, eventually making people feel proud about using an established system and turning people into advocates in their networks.

These are just one person’s humble suggestions. Just examples.

Second, I want your office to inform the public about the following questions:

  1. Why is the PM Relief Fund site still not working for those who want to use credit cards from around the world? If it is working for some, what portion is affected? Assuming that Himalayan Bank’s system has been logging in all the failed attempts, would you please release the sum total of money that people have “tried” to donate?
  2. Who made the decision to save the 3% credit card processing fee and lose the 97% potential donation by trying to contact individual banks around the world to get that fee waived? I ask this because most people donate in the first 24, 48, 72 hours after a disaster. Can you scrap that idea and just let people easily donate using credit cards from around the world?
  3. Did you notice the news items last week that called people’s attention to the system and process in the PM Relief Fund—which encouraged a whole host of people who tried once again, or the first time, and failed?
  4. Is it not clear to you that the total amount raised is so low because the system still doesn’t work? You have the door closed. When is anyone going to take responsibility and inform the public? How do those assigned to run the system, including you, justify their salary from the public funds? Do you go to bed, day after day after day, without having fixed that one thing and have no sense of guilt or shame?
  5. Are you willing to engage the public, including Nepalis around the world, in a conversation about how to make the system work, build trust, and achieve tangible goals like the ones I listed above? If you engage the public, I am sure you will find many ideas, and many partners and advocates to work with. Are you willing to do that?

I am not writing to blame or complain. I want to see things working. In other words, I want us the public trust our systems. Let me give you an example of what that means. Yesterday, a group of university and industry professionals in Lansing, Michigan had a heated discussion about whether the majority of people in our bureaucracy are corrupt, inept, or still untouched by the disaster that has shattered too many lives across the country. The very fact that that was a topic of conversation is saddening, but there’s no good hiding it. The personal experiences and evidences given by these Nepalis, including someone who worked in the system himself, were unnerving even to a crazy optimist like me. I must say that the conversation did come to a halt when I shared my experience of trying to get in touch with your system in the last four weeks. We all agreed that maybe we have a role to play. Maybe we should ask these questions publicly. And that’s what I am doing.

Thank you in advance for your answers.

Sincerely,

Shyam Sharma

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