'Pvt sector should come up with innovative ideas for rural economy'Four months after the quake, the government has finally appointed the vice-chairperson of the National Planning Commission Govind Raj Pokhrel as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Reconstruction Authority.
Four months after the quake, the government has finally appointed the vice-chairperson of the National Planning Commission Govind Raj Pokhrel as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Reconstruction Authority. The newly formed team consists of Home Minister Bamdev Gautam, Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, Tourism Minister Kripasur Sherpa and Urban Development Minister Narayan Khadka along with Pokhrel. Darshan Karki spoke to Pokhrel about the priorities of the Reconstruction Authority, the challenges it faces and concerns of political meddling and financial transparency.
After you were appointed the CEO of the Reconstruction Authority, you said that you would begin start work from the very next day. So what have you begun to work on?
First, we have finalised the office space for the Reconstruction Authority which will be inside the Singha Durbar. We have also finalised the organogram and held a meeting with the development partners to discuss on ways forward. We have also collected all documents related to the Authority. And soon, we will hold a consultation with all the stakeholders. The Terms of Reference (TOR) to appoint a Secretary will perhaps be approved by the Cabinet soon.
The Reconstruction Authority was formed quite late, four months after the quake and two months after the donor’s conference. What challenges do you see ahead due to this delay?
We will definitely make up for lost time in the five-year tenure of the Reconstruction Authority. But due to this delay, the reconstruction process could begin a bit later than planned. In addition, I need to put a lot of thought into building my team. It might consume some time too. But it is better to make adequate preparations before starting work than begin the reconstruction process in a haphhazard manner.
So what are your immediate priorities?
For now, our priority is to set up our office; bring in required bylaws; establish a proper delivery mechanism, disbursement modality, financial system; select experts and prepare their TOR. We will also coordinate with various ministries and collect information about post-quake activities they have completed. Then we will sit down with the donors and list the sectors—the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment lists 21 sectors—they are interested to work in and see if they corroborate with the priority areas of the government. Then we also need to finalise the programmes. We will also finalise the norms of construction, design of houses by coordinating with the concerned ministries within the next two months.
You spoke of team-building, but many argue that the formation of the Authority was delayed due to the tussle between the ruling parties, the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, regarding the appointment of the candidates.
It is not true. There has been a delay because the organogram is to yet to be approved. For instance, I will have authority only after my TOR is approved. Until now, I have only received an appointment. The team will be built through two channels. First, the development partners will hire people. Second, we will form a team of experts from within the government. Until now, I have not got calls from political parties demanding posts or positions at the Authority. Nevertheless, I do get calls from individuals who want a job every other minute. That is a different kind of pressure.
But the argument is that the selection of the primary team consisting of you along with two ministers from the Nepali Congress and two from the UML is the outcome a political bargain.
The selection of the four ministers and their party affiliations is merely a coincidence. The Home Ministry is responsible for handling disasters in Nepal. Then we need the Finance Minister as he is responsible for handling the aid coming in through donors and friendly nations. Likewise, the earthquake caused massive destruction of houses and heritages, thereby the inclusion of the urban development and tourism ministers. It would not be logical to include other ministries apart from these. Though this selection might seem like a sharing of portfolios among political parties, it is a rational decision.
So how will you ensure the transparency of the funds?
According to the ordinance on the Reconstruction Authority, we must release information on every penny we have or spend (our resources, expenditure, activities conducted according to the budget) in every four months. We will also form an independent committee consisting of development partners and civil society members which will monitor the Authority’s financial activities and its outputs. They will help us make our activities transparent and ensure that there is no corruption. There are valid concerns that the tenders for various projects might be given to political party cadres without following the due process.
That will not happen as all public buildings will be constructed according to the Public Procurement Act. All the basic principles of procurement will be respected though the time for procurement will be significantly shortened. I am certain that political parties will also focus their energies to rebuild the country and not to secure their vested interests. Had there been political meddling I would have been forced to chose a deputy by now. But I am preparing a TOR and an organogram first.
Moving on, there is a point in the ordinance which talks about training young people for reconstruction. Given that most men in the affected-districts are currently abroad for work, have you considered bringing in programmes specifically targeted at employing women?
As most of the men are either away in Gulf countries or in India, we can encourage them to stay back by assuring them that they will find a job in Nepal at least for the next two years. Though men have traditionally worked as masons and electricians, women can easily learn the skills required by the job if they are trained at it. We plan to train women on masonary, electric works and plumbing and give them certificates to acknowledge their skills.
The ordinance also talks of compensating house owners and tenants if their residence has been destroyed. How will you implement this plan?
We will rely mainly on the data from the Disaster Risk Reduction portal of the Home Ministry. Discussions are currently underway to mobilise the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) too. Perhaps, they will conduct a survey. Once we collect the date from the Local Development Ministry, Home Ministry and the CBS, we will have reliable information. Based on that, we will develop a modality to distribute the relief package. Money for reconstruction of houses will be provided in various installments. Owners will first get 25 percent of the total amount and after they complete 25 percent of their houses, they will get the next installment. No family will receive more than Rs 200,000 as relief. But they will be entitled to soft loans, a maximum of Rs 150,000 in rural areas and Rs 250,000 in urban areas respectively.
What about the reconstruction of historical sites?
Anyone—the private sector, civil society, philanthropists, development partners, donor nations—interested in helping Nepal rebuild itself is welcome to do so. But they need to stick to our modality. Interested partners should respect our culture, and be careful so as not to create disharmony in society. The essence and originality of those heritage sites also need to be retained by working in collaboration with the concerned communities. We will seek financial, technical and advisory help of the donors as we need to mobilise maximum resources and ensure maximum participation of the people.
But we must avoid duplication and project overlaps.
Due to the delay in the formation of the Reconstruction Authority, many people have lost hope that the government will do anything for them. How do you plan to win back the trust of those people?
That is the reason I am pushing for the speedy formation of the Authority. We have a Cabinet meeting today [Sunday]. To win back the trust of the people, we need to get some work done first. To begin with, we should proactively contact locals and foreigners who are keen on restoring the Newari heritage sites in the Valley. This could assure people that the government has begun to its work. After that, we need to immediately begin rebuilding schools and provide clean drinking water.
Are you optimistic that the Reconstruction Authority will complete its work within five years in a nation which has taken almost a decade to write a constitution?
I think bandas will be our biggest hindrance. Since I was appointed the CEO about a week ago, four days have been wasted in strikes. This has not only hampered people’s mobility but also disturbed the work of the Authority. But I guarantee you that the most of the reconstruction work will be completed within the next five years. The residual work can then be handed over to the concerned ministries.
Could you explain what you mean by most of the work?
I mean the construction of houses, schools, hospitals and heritage sites. However, rebuilding heritage sites might need more time as those involved in its reconstruction will have to carry a detailed study of its history, original design, etc. Building new integrated settlements might take time too. However, it should not be a problem as the National Planning Commission, during the rescue and relief phase, had requested the affected families to construct temporary houses to last for at least six months to two years.
Lastly, how can the private sector and civil society be of help during the reconstruction process?
Many people have a misconception that reconstruction only means building houses, bridges and temples. It is not true. I request the private sector to come up with innovative ideas to enhance the livelihood of those who have been injured, handicapped by the quake, the widows and the Dalits who have lost everything. Instead of merely coming up with proposals to rebuild houses, which the government is already doing, they need to come up with plans to make the rural economy vibrant.