Positive spirit: Yokoyama ends five-year Nepal tenure on a high noteKenichi Yokoyama, the outgoing country director of the Nepal Resident Mission of the Asian Development Bank, was always a ball of energy. Those who worked with him were surprised to see him working for long hours, even during weekends and in coffee shops, and keeping abreast with domestic affairs by thoroughly going through local news reports.
Rupak D. Sharma
Kenichi Yokoyama, the outgoing country director of the Nepal Resident Mission of the Asian Development Bank, was always a ball of energy. Those who worked with him were surprised to see him working for long hours, even during weekends and in coffee shops, and keeping abreast with domestic affairs by thoroughly going through local news reports.
No wonder, he ended his tenure in Nepal on a high note, meeting 89.5 percent of the fund disbursement target and 89 percent of the contract award target in 2016. These results were the best since the Manila-based multilateral lending institution started working in Nepal over 50 years ago.
Yokoyama, a soft-spoken Japanese citizen with a penchant for Newari food, joined the ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission as its country director in March 2012. Generally, the ADB appoints country directors for a period of three years. But he stayed in Nepal for five years, which made him the longest serving country director for Nepal Resident Mission.
Over his stay in Nepal, the water resource engineer and agricultural economist witnessed some of the dramatic and even terrifying events of historical importance.
This included dissolution of the first constituent assembly, which was followed by the second constituent assembly election. He then saw the devastation of the country by massive earthquakes of April and May, 2015 that took away lives of over 9,000 people and shaved off over Rs36 billion from the country’s gross domestic product of that year.
These disasters did unite the people, and to some extent bickering political parties, which led to the promulgation of a new constitution in September 2015. The new charter was expected to usher in an era of peace and political stability. But that did not happen. Instead, it ruffled feathers of those in the Tarai who were not happy with some of the constitutional provisions. Soon protests spread like wildfire in some of the country’s southern belt. This prompted India to impose a trade blockade for over four-and-a-half months. The trade embargo chocked supply of everything from daily essentials, raw materials to petroleum products and sent the economy into a painful tailspin.
“I saw a lot of dramatic events during my stay here,” says the 56-year-old, who left Nepal on Tuesday evening and will now be based in India.
He was, of course, referring to epochal political developments, destructive natural disasters and the crippling supply disruption. But he was also alluding to unfavourable developments that posed threats to ADB-funded projects here. Yokoyama faced the first big challenge as the country director in 2013 when the Chinese contractor of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project made a fuss and delayed tunnel construction works.
This was one of the ADB’s flagship projects in Nepal and any delay would have further pushed back the completion deadline of the project, which still has not been completed since the construction began in 2001.
Eventually, the ADB had to terminate the contract with the Chinese company. Since then a new contractor has been hired and the ADB is eagerly waiting for completion of the first phase of the Melamchi Project in October when 170 million litres of water will be channelled to the Kathmandu Valley from the Melamchi River in Sidhupalchowk.
As Yokoyama was heaving a sigh of relief after seeing some progress in the Melamchi Project, he faced another shocking event when Energy Minister Radha Kumari Gyawali scrapped the consultant selection process for 140-megawatt Tanahu Hydropower Project initiated by the ADB.
The minister’s decision raised the prospects of Nepal missing an opportunity to build a reservoir hydroelectric project that could provide relief to electricity consumers during winter when energy production falls due to low level of water in river basins.
That was the time when Yokoyama showed skills of an able manager. To save the project, he attended calls of almost every journalist and provided them all the information they sought, (while the energy minister kept herself detached from the media). Journalists loved this hands-on attitude, which gave him a fairly good press.
As pressure started building from all the corners, the Cabinet intervened in the process and overturned the decision made by Energy Minister Gyawali, clearing the decks for the ADB to give continuity to the consultant selection process. This was probably the biggest victory for Yokoyama during his tenure here.
What would have happened if the government had not intervened in the Tanahu case?
Yokoyama: The ADB probably would not have been active in the energy sector.
So, does the resolution of the problem mean the ADB will invest more in the energy sector?
Yokoyama: Yes. We are providing around $50 million to Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) this year to support the project of laying underground power cables in the Kathmandu Valley. This will support NEA’s plan to expand distribution network in the Valley. This support is being extended, as NEA is planning to increase electricity consumption in the Valley from around 400 MW to 2,000 MW.
What other energy projects is the ADB eyeing in Nepal?
Yokoyama: We will help prepare the detailed design of [300MW] Dudhkoshi [Storage] Hydroelectric Project. We are also looking at the possibility of helping build east-west transmission line, and 410MW Nalsing Gad Storage Hydroelectric Project under the public-private partnership model.
These are pretty big projects. Over the years, the ADB has started investing in smaller number of bigger projects so as to create an impact in the development works of the country.
One of the these projects is the Second Phase of Melamchi Drinking Water Project, which aims to bring in additional 340 million litres of water to the Valley per day from Yangri and Larke rivers. Other projects include: final phase of Tribhuvan International Airport expansion project, expansion of Mugling-Pokhara road segment, and regional urban integrated infrastructure improvement project, which aims to develop crucial urban infrastructure in Biratnagar, Birgunj, Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa. These projects, according to Yokoyama, are “ready for approval”.
“This means we can commit $500 million every year for Nepal, but we are intending to start will $400 million from next year and see how the implementation takes place,” says Yokoyama, who likes walking around ancient alleys of Kathmandu, Patan and Bakhtapur, and staying in old Buddhist temples. The ADB currently provides $300-$350 million per year to Nepal.
But since the ADB channels all its funds through the state coffers, it will definitely need the government’s support to make proper and timely use of the available budget.
To begin with, the government should end the practice of extending project completion deadline without any justification, says Yokoyama, who joined the ADB in April 1999. “The Office of the Auditor General should look into these issues and sound alarm bells, because contractors must be made aware that they were hired to complete projects on time. If this is not controlled, the government will never be able to increase capital spending.”