Get a move on
New leadership at NRA must ensure speedy post-earthquake reconstruction
The sluggish pace of reconstruction activities in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of 2015 has raised questions over the leadership at National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) and its underperformance in the progress of reconstruction works. The devastating impact of the earthquake is still fresh in survivors’ mind as their homes are yet to be rebuilt. Many survivors have already spent two monsoons and winters in temporary shelters constructed with tarpaulin sheets and corrugated tin.
The emergency management authorities and security forces had brilliantly carried out immediate search and rescue operations along with relief distribution and temporary sheltering programme. But, in case of permanent reconstruction, the political unwillingness and inefficacy spelled shaky start for NRA. At first, the bill that was required for the formation of NRA was delayed and even after its formation, NRA was left in disarray in the absence of leadership as it took eight months just to appoint a CEO. The instability continues as three different CEOs have been at the helm of NRA in the past two and half years. Furthermore, the fact that NRA had to rely on external assistance to design its working framework for relief distribution and reconstruction process also made it difficult to smoothly mobilise its resources in full capacity. It is fairly plausible to say that NRA had numerous opportunities to learn from its mistake and strengthen its operation but it appears that NRA is still missing the mark.
NRA had surveyed 996,162 houses in the wake of the devastating earthquake to find out the actual number of partially and completely damaged houses that need reconstruction, retrofitting and restoration. Out of the surveyed houses, 767,705 houses were considered eligible for the housing grants and 24,991 retrofitting beneficiaries had been identified.
For receiving the housing grants, beneficiaries have to sign housing agreement with NRA after evaluation and certification of their houses and as of October 17, 2017 NRA has signed agreements with 641,310 beneficiaries. However, the slow reconstruction of these houses is a worrying factor as only 62,923 houses have been rebuilt whereas 148,093 houses are under construction.
On the other hand, there is a disparity in the deployment of the housing grant. 620,646 beneficiaries have received the first tranche of 50,000 out of 300,000 that the government is providing for the reconstruction of private residence. But the numbers fall short when it comes to the beneficiaries who have been approved for the second and third tranche as the numbers stands at 97,700 and 18,976 respectively. The regulation by NRA demands that only after evaluating the construction works executed under first tranche will the beneficiaries receive the second and third tranche.
To expedite the distribution of housing grant, NRA has announced that all the beneficiaries should collect their housing grant within this fiscal year and has set the deadline for mid-July, 2018. Speaking to THT Perspectives, Manohar Ghimire, Under Secretary at NRA says, “In order to speed up the reconstruction work, NRA will make sure that all the beneficiaries receive all the tranches of their housing grant within this fiscal year. This will definitely expedite the reconstruction work and also confirm that people aren’t misusing the tranches they have received.” Ghimire further informed that it is not compulsory to follow the 23 housing designs under NRA scheme leaving people free to choose any design; however, the structure has to be certified as ‘earthquake resilient’ by NRA for the release of housing grant.
Right after the earthquake, Nepal organised International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction during which donor countries pledged for $4.4 billion in aid for post- earthquake reconstruction. However, Nepal could not come up with Detail Project Report (DPR) and areas for aid mobilisation to attract the donor countries immediately after the conference. As a result, after two years, Nepal has just signed agreement worth $3.07 billion with donor countries and development partners for assistance in the form of grant and soft loan for the reconstruction activities. According to the International Economic Cooperation Coordination Division (IECCD), under the Ministry of Finance, government will be able to mobilise grant assistance worth $1.56 billion and loan assistance worth $1.51 billion.
Shiva Sharma, Under-Secretary at MoF says, “Nepal has inked agreement on loan assistance and grant with donor countries and development partners. Besides these agreements, we are also engaged in dialogue with other partners for financial aids as NRA estimation for post earthquake reconstruction requires more budgets.” The delay in collecting pledged grant from donor countries reflects the unwillingness and lack of commitment exhibited by the government towards reconstruction.
The fact that Nepal ranks 131 in corruption perception index also makes it difficult for donor partners to put their faith in the Nepali government authorities for utilisation of grants. As a result, majority of development partners prioritise carrying out their own projects in Nepal without any active involvement of government bureaucracy. Furthermore, in case of direct grant or loan assistance, the donor agencies and countries often seek a DPR and preparatory work frame but Nepal’s lack of expertise and inexperience in disaster risk management prevents it from coming with efficient plans and policies to cater to the demands of donor partners.
Room for serious improvements
First of all, NRA must work to make its grant distributing mechanism effective as survivors of the earthquake are struggling to receive second and third tranche even after two and half years since the distribution started. NRA didn’t focus on the manpower training and orientation due to which the officials stationed at municipalities and rural municipalities aren’t adequately trained to carry out all the tasks efficiently. Krishna Parsad Phuyal, a resident of Tarkewshor, Kathmandu is yet to receive the first tranche because of the mistake committed by his ward secretary. Phuyal shares, “Apparently, the ward secretary has made a mistake in my agreement paper because of which I could not collect the first tranche of government housing grant. I have registered my grievance at NRA and waiting for the things to resolve so that I can get the first tranche.” Therefore, NRA must provide proper training to its manpower and keep them updated with procedural practices and techniques for the efficient execution of overall reconstruction process.
Furthermore, NRA should also boost its monitoring mechanism to ensure that the government grants aren’t misused in other purposes beside reconstruction. In the initial period, the surveys were carried out immediately in the absence of required manpower and many people took advantage and indulged in signing fraudulent agreement to collect the first tranche of 50,000. Explaining the delay in the reconstruction process, engineer Bed Prasad Gaudel at NRA who is stationed at Nuwakot shares, “There have been many cases of misuse of grant, especially during immediate relief operation which has delayed the reconstruction process and added further burden on NRA. In Nuwakot, NRA is tasked to rebuilt 80,000 houses but we have been able to built only 12,000 houses in past two and half years.” He further adds, “There is a need for serious reforms in NRA, otherwise, it will take five more years to rebuild all the damaged residences.”
The scale of reconstruction work is so enormous that it is impossible to continue the recovery process and put the country back in the normal course of development without igniting sense of ownership among people. Rohit Ranjitkar, Programme Director at Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust shares, “Reconstruction activities must be carried through public participation. Once the people take ownership in the reconstruction of their locality, it automatically makes the work efficient and also creates trust between general public and government.”
The task ahead
With the current pace of reconstruction work, NRA surely has a big mountain to climb. Therefore, the newly appointed CEO, Yubraj Bhusal must inspire confidence in NRA and implement new plans to properly administer the ongoing programmes in order to boost reconstruction work and achieve the goal within the given time period. Furthermore, political interference at NRA must come to an end and its governance should be freed from the burden of political pressure and lobbying.
There is also a growing concern over the fate of NRA as its term will come to an end after two and half years. Many stakeholders believe that NRA will be served with additional time frame to achieve its target. However, a highly placed source at NRA expresses, “There is a high possibility of political leadership coming together to form a permanent body to take over the reconstruction work under NRA and also address other task related to disaster management and recovery as Nepal is vulnerable to natural disaster.” No matter what the future holds for NRA, it must kindle trust and hope among the earthquake survivors and ensure that they won’t have to spend another season in temporary shelters.