24-30 November 2017 #885

Real reconstruction authorities

Yubaraj Bhusal
This year’s local, provincial and parliamentary elections may have delayed post-earthquake reconstruction, but they will eventually be the key to building back better.

The first priority of the 550 members of seven state assemblies, who will be elected from the two phases of polls this month, will be to set up and run provincial governments. But they will also have to expedite reconstruction work. In the provinces where the 2015 earthquake and this year’s floods have caused devastation, provincial governments must expedite reconstruction, and introduce effective plans for disaster preparedness.

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But local governments will have to be more instrumental in reconstruction than all the new chief ministers, state ministers or provincial MPs. Fortunately, local elections have already been held, and most elected mayors and village/ward council heads have already got into the full swing of reconstruction.

When the earthquake hit central Nepal in April 2015, there were no elected mayors or village chiefs to lead or coordinate relief and reconstruction. It had been nearly a decade and a half since elected local governments had ceased to exist and fresh elections looked uncertain. So the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) needed to set up as many as 22 local offices in earthquake-affected districts to smoothly distribute housing grants and to coordinate rebuilding.

Since we now have local governments as well as provincial governments, we must downsize the NRA and hand over responsibility of reconstruction to provincial, municipal, village and ward councils. These elected local councils can and need to function as real reconstruction authorities.

The 131 municipal and village councils of the 14 earthquake-affected districts can reach out to quake survivors more easily through their 1,196 ward councils. We need to start dissolving the NRA’s local offices, enabling new local governments to absorb engineers, overseers and other staff involved in reconstruction.

Once these local councils begin to function as local reconstruction authorities, provincial governments can act as nodal agencies. This shift will significantly reduce the role of the NRA, and eventually lead to its dissolution. But before that, the NRA needs to help empower provincial and local governments to carry out reconstruction work.

Yubaraj Bhusal is the new CEO of the National Reconstruction Authority.

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