I have joined not only with a commitment but also with a clear plan. I have full confidence. The implementation part was clear even while making the five-year-plan.
Sushil Gyewali has again been appointed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) at a time when post-earthquake reconstruction hasn’t taken speed. Gyewali, who was removed from the position earlier due to a political game-plan just as the reconstruction was gaining momentum, has again been given the important responsibility [of reconstruction] by the government. Bimal Gautam and Manisha Awasthi of Lokaantar talked to newly-appointed CEO Gyewali about his plans. Excerpts:
You have joined as leader of the NRA again. How are you beginning your work?
A five-year-plan was developed for reconstruction. First of all, we are reviewing the progress on it, how much work remains, the amount of money provided by the government, the amount of money agreed by the donor agencies, and the sources from which to collect the deficit. We are working on developing plans to make work efficient, and expedite the construction of personal housing, cultural heritage and various other areas where reconstruction is ongoing.
Three years have passed since the earthquake. Reconstruction work hasn’t progressed as expected. In such a situation, you said you will do some exemplary work when you joined again as the fifth head [of the reconstruction authority]. What exemplary work will you do?
We had made some plans, but they could not be executed. We could not work as planned the last time around. Things did not progress as planned due to financial uncertainty.
Work has been delayed in some areas. We are striving to resume the work as soon as possible. The second thing is that there are ancient settlements in urban areas, and houses inside the urban areas have not been reconstructed. Not even 15 percent of the work has been completed in this area.
In the past, there was a practice of reconstructing traditional settlements of urban areas exactly as they were. This is not about one or two houses; it is about the construction of an entire settlement in a traditional way. The third thing is that we are contemplating how best we can help improve the financial condition of the earthquake survivors.
Earlier, we heard that the bureaucracy did not cooperate with you. This time, what plans do you have to work with the bureaucracy?
When you talk about lack of cooperation from the bureaucracy, an employee’s attitude will remain as it is. Very active participation is required [to change this]. This is extra work. It happens because it is quite difficult to implement government policy through the bureaucracy. But, it's not that all employees are not cooperating. They are active, there is no such difficulty.
However, at the present context, we have to proceed with two things simultaneously to work with the staff. We specify the responsibilities we give to them with a clear action plan. The action plan consists of the tasks to be completed in the whole year, and will be broken down into tasks to be done in four-months, and tasks to be completed every month.
We will prepare performance indicators for the tasks that are completed and proceed with the evaluation process based on that. We have proposed that we should encourage those who perform well, and link the under performers with their career evaluation. This is not a new idea, we had proposed a similar plan in the past also, but it was not executed. If we can do that, it will help in staff mobilization and encourage them to work in a result-oriented way.
You established the foundation for reconstruction and are fully aware of its background. But people are still living in temporary huts. How and when will they be able to leave their huts?
There are two ways. One is that the survivors build their own houses. The authority and its mechanism will support that. Second, we provide technical support. We will go down to the Ward level and manage that.
What we are thinking is that we will complete the construction of all private houses within the next year. We will create that environment. With this, the heritage reconstruction, and the reconstruction of the ancient settlements of the urban areas might take some time. This is not something we can do alone. But, we have goals to complete the construction of private houses within the next year.
In the meantime, what challenges did you and do you face which poses problems for your work?
Mainly, political instability created problems. The Authority’s leadership changed time and again. Each new leadership takes some time to take stock of the situation. This will create some delay. Now that there is political stability, that won’t happen.
Another issue is the difficult geographical terrain. Since the earthquake damaged houses in hilly districts, it took longer for transportation of construction materials and also for monitors to reach the remote places. This is also one reason why reconstruction hasn’t taken momentum as expected. We have remote mountainous districts and remote hilly districts. These are our challenges.
The third challenge is that we lack manpower. The young workforce is out of the country. Reconstruction in the villages needs a young work force.
The next challenge that we are set to face is a financial problem. From the outside, it appears that there is big support from the donor agencies. But out of the Rs. 938 billion we need, only Rs. 353 billion has been collected. Even the government is not in a position to spend money at present. The government is already facing a financial burden due to increased expenses caused by the federal system.
As such, financial constraint will also come as a major problem going forward. To address it, we have to develop a procedure and plan and clarify how much money we need and find sources to collect what is necessary. We can also talk to the donors. At present, many donors have not even been able to give the amount they had pledged earlier.
If the financial crisis is looming, will the reconstruction of cultural and archaeological heritage suffer?
The situation is not exactly that dire. The Ministry of Finance has arranged some money for the reconstruction of cultural and archaeological heritages. But we ourselves have to arrange money to complete the projects. There have been agreements with donors to spend the money only on what was agreed on and that is the problem. To address this, we are now talking about spending it in other areas.
There were talks about another donor conference.
Rather than going for a donor conference now, first of all we will assess what we need at present, and only then we will think about it. Even if we organize a conference, we first need clarity on what exactly we will be asking for.
At present, what’s the situation of the entire reconstruction process looking like?
I just joined. I am still in the process of internally understanding what has been going on and getting up to speed on the decisions that have already been made. But, overall the work is ongoing and moving forward. The situation is not depressing. I am not in favor of negative comments and blaming others for what didn’t happen in the past. We will proceed with collaboration and cooperation from all. As mentioned before, the entire process was victim to the political transitional crisis more than other specific and personal problems.
We hear that the middlemen are involved in irregularities in reconstruction work due to the political transition. How are you dealing with this?
At the beginning, there was a problem in establishing a system. I managed to take a clear stance ensure that work was started. The system that has been set up for private housing reconstruction has been very effective. It was designed to allow for least possible corruption. I decided to provide a grant of Rs. 300,000 for private house reconstruction, and when we discussed the modality of the transfer we developed a system to transfer it through the banking channel so that the problem of irregularity or corruption is thwarted. We will however probe the few incidences that might be the exception.
There are grievances that many of the earthquake survivors have not been included in the beneficiary list and, instead, that many people who were not affected by the earthquake have been taking the benefits. What do you say to that?
We have to view this in two ways. If someone has been skirting with the procedural integrity of the reconstruction process, then we will look into that, with a local level complaint mechanism. In the past, we had established a procedure to undertake such probes. But its execution was stalled.
We have formed Community Construction Committees in every neighborhood. That committee can sift through facts to identify which individual is right and who is wrong. The committee knows which individual has how many houses, and where. Likewise, now we have elected local levels. The locals of an area will identify the problems that are happening at their local levels. They won’t have such problems going forward.
We have to confide in the people’s representatives at the local level. We should be able to trust the democratic process. If they themselves are involved in the irregularity, they could be removed [from the position] through a political process. So, we have to engage the community and their representatives to establish a functional system. The monitoring and other things to be done from the central level are in addition to that.
We have seen controversies in the reconstruction of cultural and archaeological heritage. How will you manage this?
The important thing is that all cultural and archaeological heritages have their own uniqueness. For example, Ranipokhari’s design is different from Kasthamandap’s design. Our ancestors used various arts and styles at that time. It is our responsibility to preserve that. We will work in order to preserve that.
Another thing is that we have to make these structures strong in terms of engineering. We are working to make the structures as strong as possible by using the same materials and the same design used in the past. We will coordinate with the concerned local level and other government agencies for this.
It looks like there is no coordination with the Department of Archeology and other agencies. How will you ensure that there will be no internal conflict?
I met and talked with the Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City soon after rejoining the Authority. Likewise, we have also had one round of discussion with civil society members who have shown interest in the reconstruction of heritages. What I have felt is that there is no problem in this area. The only thing is that there hasn’t been necessary coordination. We will manage it and proceed. We will soon sort out the issues of Ranipokhari and Kasthamandap.
At the end, do you want to express a commitment to complete all remaining reconstruction work within the remaining two year mandate of the NRA?
Certainly. I have joined not only with a commitment but also with a clear plan. I have full confidence. The implementation part was clear even while making the five-year-plan. Even now, I am having extensive discussions with related agencies, sections and divisions. I have confidence in them.
Lokaantar - August 19, 2018