KATHMANDU, July 15 It has been almost a month since the government introduced the Ordinance on Reconstruction of Structures Damaged by the Earthquake to effectively and efficiently execute works related to rehabilitation and reconstruction in the aftermath of the devastating quakes of April and May. The Ordinance was introduced expeditiously ahead of the June 25 International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction to show the country’s development partners that the government was serious about rebuilding parts of the country ravaged by earthquakes. Promulgation of the Ordinance was one of the reasons why different countries and agencies that took part in the conference promised to extend grants and loans worth around $4.4 billion to support the government’s reconstruction drive. But since the conclusion of the conference, the government has not shown any sign of rebuilding infrastructure damaged by quakes or restoring productive means of livelihoods for people who lost income sources and assets worth billions of rupees. The latest turn of event has not only upset hundreds of thousands of people who are yet to come to terms with losses — both human and financial — triggered by the quakes, but is expected to dampen economic growth in the next fiscal. The country has set economic growth target of six per cent for next fiscal. “We hope to achieve this growth target on the back of investments made by public and private sectors in reconstruction works,” Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat had said yesterday, unveiling an expansionary budget of Rs 819.47 billion for fiscal year 2015-16. This implies achievement of six-per-cent growth rate hinges on reconstruction drive. In this regard, Minister Mahat has allocated Rs 74 billion for National Reconstruction Fund, established immediately after the April 25 earthquake. But this money cannot be used until the National Reconstruction Authority comes into operation. The centrepiece of the Ordinance on Reconstruction was the establishment of the prime-minister-led Authority, which can override existing legal provisions related to land acquisition and registration, public procurement and environmental impact assessment. Such a powerful body was envisaged considering the existing bureaucratic labyrinth which ends up delaying project implementation. But so far government has not been able to appoint a chief executive officer (CEO) of the Authority. Nonetheless, appointment of CEO alone will not give full shape to the Authority, as several experts, deputy CEO or CEOs and other staff members also need to be hired. Once these appointments are made, ‘the Authority needs to prepare a work plan’ to implement programmes and projects on rehabilitation and reconstruction, former finance secretary Rameshwor Khanal told an interaction held in Kathmandu on Wednesday. As of now, the only credible document on damage and losses triggered by the quakes is the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report prepared by the National Planning Commission (NPC). The PDNA report was finalised on the basis of information and data gathered from 23 different sectors. It says the country needs at least Rs 669 billion to pursue rehabilitation and reconstruction works over a number of years. However, NPC has made it clear that PDNA is rapid assessment of damages and losses caused by the quakes and ‘detailed rehabilitation and reconstruction strategies should be crafted after diving deeper into each of the 23 sectors’. In other words, Authority will have to coordinate with various ministries to prepare these strategies. So, the delay made by the government in appointing the Authority’s CEO is expected to further push back this plan. And this has created suspicion on whether the Authority will come into operation within next fiscal year and spend Rs 74 billion to provide impetus to economic activities. This suspicion has become even stronger as the government has appropriated additional budget of Rs 17 billion to different ministries so that they could implement programmes and projects related to rehabilitation and reconstruction till the Authority starts functioning. The Ministry of Finance calls this a stopgap measure, but many have started questioning whether the government decided to allocate such a handsome amount due to uncertainty about the Authority starting operation on time. Although most of the programmes and projects on reconstruction would ultimately have to be implemented through ministries and other state agencies, the government had decided to form the Authority to expedite works related to procurement, land acquisition and environment impact assessment — some of the major factors that delay project implementation here. So, many say the government should focus on bringing the Authority into operation rather than rely on other state agencies to execute reconstruction works. “There is no clue on when the Authority will come into operation. Instead, the government has handed over the responsibility of executing reconstruction works to government agencies. This is nothing but hogwash because one can’t expect government agencies, which have always failed to utilise funds extended to them every year, to undertake this task,” former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai told Parliament during budget discussion on Wednesday.
Government’s seriousness in question
Published: 10:19 am Jul 16, 2015