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  • Political meddling, the cumbersome bureaucratic hierarchy and processes within the NRA have delayed reconstruction

Mar 6, 2018-Three years and three CEOs later, the performance of the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has been, at best, lacklustre or, at worse, an utter failure. A huge number of quake victims are still living in makeshift accomodations, showing that the work of the apex reconstruction agency has been far from satisfactory. 

The official NRA statistics shows that, of a total of 767,705 identified beneficiaries, 607,113 households received the first instalment of aid. This first tranche of government assistance is available to all those who have signed beneficiary agreements with the NRA. However, since payment of the second and third instalments is conditional upon compliance with the disaster resistant housing standards mandated by the government, only 15 percent of the households have received the second tranche of aid, and only 4 percent of the households have received the third and final tranche of cash. Consequently, only a tiny portion of the houses have been rebuilt, drawing widespread criticism regarding the way the NRA has handled the reconstruction process.

Incongruity by design 

Besides excessive political meddling, the cumbersome bureaucratic hierarchy and processes within the NRA and associated agencies have also delayed the reconstruction process. More importantly, decision making bottlenecks at different levels of government have led to failures in redressing grievances of beneficiaries, thereby impeding timely reconstruction and recovery. 

There are incongruities in two main strands of the reconstruction process. The technical or regulatory requirements of rebuilding do not correspond with the financial assistance (housing-aid) provided by the NRA. In other words, the additional cost of building earthquake resilient houses far exceeds the financial assistance 

provided by the government. Such additional costs, in some cases, account for nearly 40 percent of the total building costs. 

The rebuilding process should follow the building requirements in line with the National Housing Code. For example, disaster resistant construction techniques should follow technical norms, standards and guidelines. Adherence to such a code, although desirable from the ‘building back better’ perspective, incur additional costs for the house owners. While the government will provide limited assistance to all eligible homeowners, it is expected that the remaining resources required for reconstruction will be mobilised by the households themselves.

Moreover, financial assistance is conditional upon compliance with the quality assurance measure and is designed to leverage such compliance. That suggests beneficiaries will receive money only after the government or NRA engineers are assured that technical codes have been meticulously followed. 

This gap between cost-augmenting regulatory requirements and limited access to financing is a major reason why there has not been timely disbursement of the funds. This is a major source of grievance and a cause for delay in the reconstruction process. 

Scattered decision-making 

This incongruity is well known to the NRA and related agencies. Although the NRA is the apex body for reconstruction and determines the related policies and processes, line ministries such as the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development and the Ministry of Urban Development play a vital role in implementing these policies.

Similarly, local level authorities play an important but less pronounced role. They each hold key decision-making powers. For example, the NRA manages finances, whereas ministries are responsible for technical monitoring and policy implementation, and finally, local governments are the frontline authority to redress beneficiary grievances. However, the process has been delayed because of a lack of coordination among these key decision-making actors.     

Now the question is, how do the local governments exert their role as the ‘rule-maker and enforcer’ in their jurisdiction and expedite the reconstruction process? The constitution has given several autonomous rights, duties and responsibilities to local level governments, including those related to reconstruction, under the purview of larger domain disaster risk reduction (DRR). Hence, elected representatives in local level governments are likely to play a crucial role in easing the decision bottleneck that is derailing the reconstruction process.       

There are at least two ways that the reconstruction process can be moved along. First, the technical regulatory requirements for rebuilding earthquake affected houses 

could be relaxed. That might include, among other things, a waiver of certain conditions of the National Housing Code. While this option could be applied in the case of certain traditional and old settlements, the local governments are unlikely to be able to waive the conditions for all affected beneficiaries. 

The second option is to increase the access to finance for all beneficiaries. The local government could ask for discretionary disbursement power from the NRA, enabling them to receive the reconstruction fund in bulk and distribute the instalments to beneficiaries themselves. However, the central government and the NRA might not be supportive of this option due to a lack of regulatory and monitoring capacities at the 

local level. The draft ‘Disaster Management’ bill has also centralised disaster related activities as the majority of the policy making and decision authority remains with the central government. 

Alternatively, the local governments can look for reconstruction funds elsewhere. They can work with civil philanthropists and local NGOs for reconstruction assistance. Many local governments have already established a Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to collect such funding so they can mobilise the funds collected for disaster rescue, relief and reconstruction. The constitution and the recently enacted ‘local government’ bill as well as the draft ‘Disaster Management’ bill allow the local governments to operate such funds. 

However, money received from non-budgetary sources (i.e., other than inter-government transfers from the federal government) may be outside the purview of the government monitoring and auditing process. Hence, there should be a greater capacity building and accountability framework in place for transparent operations of the funds, as well as the reconstruction process at the local level.

- Paudel is a central committee member of Bibeksheel Sajha Party

Published: 06-03-2018 07:49

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