By Tika P Dhakal(KATHMANDU, June 25) –
The International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction on June 25 has reaffirmed that Nepal is not alone in its struggle for rebuilding the country after the disastrous earthquakes. Early promulgation of the new constitution, and spending with accountability during reconstruction would rightly respond to the expectation of the international community.
On 25th of June, in a show of unprecedented global solidarity with the people of Nepal, who are struggling to rebuild the country from the debris of recent earthquakes, world leaders representing 53 countries and international organizations including United Nations and European Union, expressed commitment to building a more resilient Nepal.
At a venue about two kilometers away from the remains of ‘Dharahara’, an eighteenth century landmark tower of central Kathmandu that fell to its bottom in April 25 earthquake, the leaders addressed International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, and pledged close to US $5 billion in concessional loans and grants needed for rebuilding the country. The tower, likened to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy or Qutub Minar in New Delhi of India, now stands about five meters high amidst wreckage, and is referred to as the Ground Zero of Nepal Earthquake.
The conference not far away deeply embedded a meaning. It demonstrated the country’s ability of standing back quickly from the fall. It proved Nepal government’s capacity to successfully organize the conference, leaving aside the question if such a high profile gathering could be held in the middle of the chaos, accumulated over a decade of political turmoil, and further exacerbated by the post-disaster rescue and relief needs.
As Nepal has been able to leave behind these doubts, the Ground Zero also hopes to stand back.
In the middle of the earthquake troubles, however, the first good news actually came from the political front. On June 8th, Nepal’s major political parties, representing above 90 percent of the total seats in the Constituent Assembly (CA), singed a breakthrough agreement, ending seven- year-long political impasse. Following this event, the process of drafting the new constitution has moved ahead in an unforeseen speed, cruising past the attempted brake of the Supreme Court.
On 23rd June, fifteen days after the political agreement, the task force of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) of the CA, prepared a first draft of the new constitution, which has 35 parts and 312 Articles. The draft still has to settle some disputes over citizenship provision, certain wordings in the preamble, together with the arrangement of special zones within provinces ensuring protection of the marginalized. These issues, complex but resolvable, would be settled from the agreement among the signatories of the June 8 agreement. The CDC is likely to prepare the draft within June 26 to put it forth in the full session of the CA for deliberation.
The parties may want to take slightly longer than planned because the Supreme Court’s stay order mandates them to broaden political consultations. But a constitution this time looks a given, come what may. This relieves Nepal off a big political burden, responsible for the wastage of national energy and resources for a decade, which could have potentially built the New Nepal of the dream of its people.
Complementing this political good news is the success of International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, which has firmly reassured the global goodwill for Nepal once again. The Conference has not been only about pledging money. World leaders, standing together with the people of Nepal, shaking off the dust of disaster, sent across a message of comfort and unity, a moment Nepal will always cherish with huge appreciation for a long time to come.
Setting the tone of the conference, India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, on behalf of the Government of India, pledged US $1 billion assistance for Nepal, 25 percent in grants and the rest in concessional loans, in addition to the same amount of preferential credit line announced last year during the visit of her Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In making the highest pledge of assistance, India, in fact, went beyond expectations of many observers, who were waiting to see whether the country would punch according to its growing weight. Justifying the support, Minister Swaraj invoked unique relations of “shared destiny and shared disasters” between the two countries, rightly proclaiming that Nepal was not alone in its attempt to overcome the crisis.
Another big pledge, as expected, came from Nepal’s another immediate neighbor China. Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi announced a grant package of US $ 1 billion, out of which US $ 670 million is in cash and the rest in technical assistance for disaster preparedness, industrial security and infrastructure development in Nepal’s five development regions. Minister Wang also visited some of Kathmandu’s rehabilitation centers, supported by the Government of China.
Other hefty pledges came from the multilateral development partners of Nepal. The World Bank announced US $500 million, the Asian Development Bank US $600 million and the United Nations announced an additional US $300 million. Among other bilateral donors, Japan pledged US $260 million, the USA US $130 million, and EU US $120 million. Norway, the only country outside Asia to have sent a ministerial delegation under its Minister for Foreign Affairs Borge Brende, committed US $3o million. Germany represented by its local delegation under the leadership of German Ambassador to Nepal Matthias Meyer, pledged US $36 million.
The conference has, thus, ascertained above two-thirds of the total reconstruction financing, out of US $ 6.6 billion as pointed out by Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), prepared jointly by the government of Nepal and its development partners.
It’s no surprise that the money has rained. It was, in fact, always going to come. The donors were engaged right since the disaster on April 25; they had themselves experienced the terrible aftershocks; they were the part of the PDNA process; and they were also, among themselves, assessing the level of cooperation to align needs along PDNA’s sector-wise guidance for reconstruction.
Mind you, the money has not come NOW as many disaster victims might tend to suppose; our government must start reconstruction work and remind the donors about fulfilment of their pledges. It is a pledge to be applied over next five years or so.
The most grueling challenge now remains in driving the reconstruction work with a war-like urgency. Putting in place the National Reconstruction Authority, as assured by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala at the inauguration of the conference, is only a first step towards this. This authority must be staffed not only by engineers and managers, but also sociologists and politico-economists. Above all, this agency must have the ability to reflect a new aspirational Nepal, responding to the needs of society at its core. Achieving this would entail breaking away from existing bureaucratic slumbers. Thinking reconstruction essentially in terms of technical remaking is an idea deeply flawed.
Huge amount of money to be mobilized in parallel of the national budget over the next five years stems another question with regards to spending faster, and with accountability. Prime Minister Koirala, assuring the international community, has said, “We are working to put democratic institutions in place, with checks and balances firmly embedded in them. These institutions will be accountable to the people, and use criticism constructively as feedback for improvements and refinement of a system. I assure you my Government will have ZERO tolerance towards corruption.”
It is time to translate these words into action. We have talked enough.