Donors, Nepali officials divided over who leads rebuilding works

Opinions are divided over the institutional framework that will oversee the massive rebuilding activities that need to be carried out–whether it should be through an existing government mechanism or a separate new entity.

The government itself has not reached a decision. However, Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat has been dropping hints that the government was considering setting up a high-powered reconstruction authority.

Speaking at a government-donor meeting on Friday, Finance Secretary Suman Sharma suggested that there should be an early decision on forming an institutional mechanism.

“The government is undecided on the matter. I just propose that there should be a decision on the matter as a food for thought,” said Sharma.

Officials believe that forming a separate body for reconstruction would be a good idea instead of relying on the existing mechanism given the urgency in reconstruction efforts.

“For a speedy reconstruction, there should be quick decision-making and procurement which cannot be done under the current mechanisms because they have been formed for regular activities,” said Sharma. “Those who are opposing the idea of a separate body should first suggest an alternative.”

Former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai is also in favour of a separate entity and has expressed readiness to serve as a member in such a unit.

However, donors are not on the same page on the oversight body.

According to the World Bank, a key donor to Nepal, global experience suggests that there are many disadvantages to establishing a new government entity to implement such a programme.

“While it may be useful to have a single agency coordinate the overall reconstruction programme, global experience suggests that there are many disadvantages to establishing a new government entity to implement such a programme,” said the World Bank Country Manager for Nepal, Johannes Zutt, in a letter to the editor to the Post last week.

Establishing such an entity, according to the World Bank, could waste time and energy early in the recovery period; create competition between itself and the line ministries for both budget and experts; blur mandates and responsibilities and slow down decision-making; weaken the capacity of existing ministries by taking away their best officers; and potentially result in a permanent agency that will struggle to find a new mandate once the post-earthquake emergency has ended.

However, a senior official with another leading donor agency thinks that forming a separate authority as a “special purpose vehicle makes sense” as the reconstruction process needs quick implementation, decision making and efficiency.

“We are, however, more concerned about how it is formed and how the human resource is made available to such an institution and whether they would bring a shortage of human resource in other agencies of the government,” said the chief of the donor agency. According to Rameshwor Khanal, former finance secretary, the existing government institutions, such as the National Planning Commission, could work as the oversight body. However, any agency assigned to carry out reconstruction activities must be legally empowered to take quick decisions.

“The institution should have a certain deadline to complete the reconstruction programme and the officials appointed to such a body should not be changed as long as they are not found to have been involved in corruption,” he added. The idea of forming a separate Disaster and Reconstruction Ministry has also been floated.

One major worry is that a new entity could be resisted by the existing government agencies, a vivid manifestation of which is the case of Investment Board Nepal. The IBN has been struggling to get support from various government agencies.

As far as international experience is concerned, the Indonesian government had established a special agency called the Agency for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation in Aceh and Nias with a four-year mandate to conduct reconstruction activities in Banda Aceh and surrounding areas after they were devastated by a tsunami.

In India, a separate Gujarat Disaster Management Authority was set up to coordinate reconstruction following an earthquake in 2001.

In the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir in 2005, the Pakistani government had formed an Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority.

Source: eKantipur