Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat on the upcoming international fund-raising conference on 25 June.
The government is hosting an international fund-raising conference for longterm reconstruction on 25 June in Kathmandu. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, who is busy planning for the meeting, spoke to Nepali Times on Tuesday after briefing members of the international community. Excerpts:
Nepali Times: What was the response of donors you met yesterday?
Ram Sharan Mahat: I am happy with the way they showed readiness to support us in the reconstruction. The Japan government is willing to co-host the conference, which was a positive sign. They also promised to ensure high-level ministerial participation in the conference.
What were their main concerns?
Their main concerns were transparency, accountability and effectiveness. They do not want any hassles in government processes like land acquisition and EIA, I think we were able to reassure them about fast and effective reconstruction and rehabilitation.
What will be the main focus of the donor conference?
The conference’s foremost objective is to seek support to rebuild Nepal. Besides, we will also prioritise our projects like reconstructing individual houses, schools, hospitals, government buildings and infrastructure.
Is holding local elections an option to assure donors about accountability?
Of course, we need local body elections to expedite local-level projects. But I don’t think we can ensure accountability only by holding local elections. Our rules and regulations to ensure accountability are already strong. Nepal is ahead of many countries in Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) rankings. I don’t think transparency and accountability should deter donors.
Will there be a reconstruction agency like the one Baburam Bhattarai has proposed? How will you ensure it is apolitical and genuinely one-window?
I don’t know what kind of agency Baburam Bhattarai wants. I think we need a streamlined one-window body with full-time CEO having administrative experience to coordinate post-earthquake reconstruction. It should not be an independent authority but part of the government and chaired by Prime Minister.
What preparations before the conference?
We are now preparing a Post-Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) report, which should be ready in less than two weeks. This document will lay out our priorities, and it will offer sectors that donors can pledge assistance to. We will define broad areas where we need their assistance. And depending on their own interests and advantages, they can help with reconstruction of individual houses, government buildings, health facilities, schools or monuments.
What are you doing to ensure that aid is not tied as it was in Haiti?
It will depend on how we design our projects, and it will be a government-led process. They might also have their own areas of interest like health, education or livelihoods, but they will have to choose from priorities, we pay out in the PDNA report.
Do we have a ballpark figure for the money needed for post-earthquake reconstruction?
We will have to wait for the needs assessment report, but I think we need at least $5 billion for the first phase of five-six years. We can bear up to 20 per cent of this budget ourselves.
Do we have a concrete strategy in place to create jobs during reconstruction to encourage Nepalis working abroad to return?
We can talk about it only when we are done with our needs assessment. But, yes, we are reeling under a huge labour shortage. To revive our economy, we need to begin reconstruction work at the earliest. This will create jobs, and a demand for raw materials, purchasing power will go up and it will have a multiplier effect.
How big is the problem of reconstruction of individual houses?
That is the biggest problem. We are providing Rs 15,000 immediately for temporary shelters. In the longer-term we want to help people build earthquake-resistant houses and will help them with model designs which they can choose from. Reconstruction will be closely monitored and subsidies disbursed only when procedures are followed.
Is money an issue?
Money is of course a problem, particularly for rebuilding individual houses. Donors can help rebuild infrastructure, government buildings or monuments but it would be difficult to ask them to provide cash grants for reconstruction of individual houses. We will have to take care of that.
What can we do to revive tourism, are you thinking of waiving visas to encourage tourists to visit Nepal?
Visas are not a problem. Tourists can get visas on arrival. Of course, they are facing delays at immigration, and that is unlikely to improve with the existing management. What’s wrong in hiring a foreign company that is efficient and can improve our immigration procedures?
Will the formation of a national unity government as proposed by the UML and the UCPN (M) affect reconstruction works?
It is hard to tell, but what I can say is: the focus will be divided when there will be a government representing more parties and more interest groups.
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