SNRTP: Meeting Target

Although it started a few months late, the Project for Strengthening the National Rural Transport Program (SNRTP) is moving ahead in meeting its target

Sept. 11, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 09, No. -6, September 11 2015 (Bhadra 25, 2072)

As the country’s major development projects have failed to meet the target set by them, the SNRTP is achieving more than what the project envisaged for the last fiscal year. Attending the SNRTP annual review meeting in Pokhara, the project managers from eight districts had a reason to rejoice as they were in the right track.

Experiences have shown that road and transport connectivity is the key to economic prosperity. The project development objectives were geared to enhance the availability and reliability of transport connectivity for rural communities in 36 participating districts.

Organized with an aim to review SNRTP progress, best practices, sharing and discussions on issues and future planning, the two-day workshop saw lively debates and discussions among the Local Development Officers, District Technical Officers and Chief Accountants of the districts.

The project includes two components, Institutional Strengthening and Monitoring and  road and crossing structures works. Under the first, it includes institutional strengthening and technical assistance, beneficiary monitoring of physical works and project impact study. The second component includes output based maintenance and road upgrading and rehabilitation and new crossing structures.

Inaugurated by Secretary of Federal Affairs and Local Development Madhav Regmi, the function saw progress reports and heard about successful stories shared by the participants. SNRTP is a continuation and follow-on of the RAIDP. Funded by the World Bank IDA , NSRTP is the third IDA operation to support Nepal’s rural transport sector in the  past 15 years.

“The road is directly linked with the livelihood of the rural people and thus we need to work towards perfection. The project needs to move quicker. At a time when rampant road construction has already created environmental problems, this road is creating conducive environment for rural economy. Now we need to focus on quality of the road,” said Madhav Regmi, secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development.

“Social and environmental safeguard is important to make the projects sustainable. As part of the international conventions, Nepal needs to follow social and environmental safeguards. We also need to consider what will happen after the phase-out of the project. We need to concentrate on how we will sustain it,” asked secretary Regmi. The projects have not made much progress in the last year as we spent a lot of time for preparation. I think this project will make progress now,” said Purna Chandra Bhattarai, Joint secretary, planning and international division of MOFALF.

Officials also said that people’s representatives are complaining that there is duplication in the road project. “The LDOs need to take care how money has been spent. It is natural to see a high demand. For first three years, there is the need to allocate the budget equally so that the weak and strong districts may not feel disparities. We need to bring the districts at par. Our aim should be that,” said secretary Regmi.

According to Deputy Project Coordinator Ashok Kumar Jha, the project is launched to sustain the benefit given by RAIDP to its beneficiaries. Insufficient and ineffective maintenance is the primary threat to the sustainability of RAIDP investments. Thus, the project is also funding that maintenance of those roads.

With an aim to reduce extreme poverty and increase shared prosperity amongst bottom up 40 percent rural population, the project aims to increase agriculture incomes of rural communities of participating districts.

Although it started a little bit late following the delay of a few months, SNRTP is making progress so fast that it is recovering the previous loss of time. After the completion of the first review meeting of Local Development Officers and District Technical Officers of SNRTP, officials learnt the weakness and strength of the project related to contract, construction, public procurement and account.

DTO Pushakar Pokharel of Rupandehi said there are a lot of problems in the project because of technicalities. The money is coming under different headings and we are witnessing problems.

According to project chief Jha, there are a lot of confusions on road contingency budget as it is for the project work. “I have seen many projects have been doing very well. They have demanded reimbursement from IDA. This year there is no value. The money is scarce but we will use it properly."

One of the beauties of the project is social and environmental safeguards. Under the social safeguards the project need to employ female labor as far as possible. As a gender friendly project, it encourages the project manager to recruit more female labors.

Experience Sharing                                            

Presenting the paper, Nabin Chandra Adhikari, an engineer from Syangja district, said six roads are under construction and routine maintenance. “We have taken 72 kilometers, with total expenditure 3.3 million. We completed maintenance of all six roads.. There is insurance for workers.  We will be meeting our targets of spending."

Chief Technical Officer of Rupandehi District faced the problem related to financial management.

“We are talking with Auditor Controller whether we can use the same account through DDF. There is the need to delegate the authority. The DDF should be the highest body for expenditure."

Kaski district has problems of implementation of project in national park areas under Annapurna Conservation Area.

Out of several roads, two road projects are in ACAP area. The problem is related to environmental safeguard. "We are unable to convince the local people. Public transport is running. Even ACAP is given written document, we cannot allow. We want to make revisions. As long as we cannot revise the project document, we cannot say anything. "

“The work is going quite well as a few roads lie within ACAP areas.,” said Narendra Shrestha Chief Engineer of Kaski District  Development Committee.

“Good practices are that we took 13 road projects and it enhances credibility of DDC. There is a high hope among the people. Third party audit is very different. Kaski is highly rain-fed district. The rain washed out the road as soon as the work complete. There is the need to give lab training for lab technicians. We need some sort of motivation to continue this project."

“We will convince the World Bank. What to do with the road projects constructed under RAIDP which lies within the National Park. Can they go for upgrading? The present guidelines say no as there are more strict environmental guidelines," said the chief engineer of Kaski District.

Key Challenges

As there are problems to recruit the lab technicians, it is affecting the quality check of the infrastructure. Although many offices said space is available for lab but no lab technician. There is a conflict between the employees of government and employees of local bodies.

Up-gradation, rehabilitation and reconstruction and new construction of road and infrastructure have already been taken in various districts.

Female Workers

The percentage of female workers in the project has increased drastically. The project wants more women involved in the work. However, there are a few women in Kapilvastu and a demand that males should allow the women to work, particularly in the Muslim families. Women want money without working, say Kapilvastu Muslims. The women work, but Muslim women do not work.

This is a social safeguard, said the LDO of Kapilvastu. There is no male of working age in the VDCs. VDC secretaries are confused.

“With a total length 132 kilometers, the work is already in the process of completion. Out of 62 workers, 50 are female,” said Krishna Lal Piya, DTO Nawalparasi. "We are giving a high priority to keep environment and social safeguards.”

Increased number of roads will make the frequency of supervision less. Only some women are found in the district as most are hesitant to wear the safety dress.  Some argue that there is the need to reduce the number. SNRTP alone cannot do the routine maintenance.

One of the problems is to recruit Muslim female workers as nobody can visit Muslim homes in Kapilvastu. No political leader wants to visit there. In case of failure to find women, we should appoint whoever is available for road maintenance.

All the districts are meeting the female workers requirement. According to the participants, the project employed the highest number of female labor in the road maintenance, helping to uplift the poverty in the rural parts.

District Technical Officer of Gulmi Som Raj Timilsena has his own problems. “As long as social and environmental concerns do not get endorsed, DPR is not finalized. The expenditure and budget is rising but the manpower remains the same. We are weak in systematic management but we are strong in crisis management,” said Timilsena. “We are strictly following social and environmental safeguards. We have spent almost Rs. 2.2 million.”

After the earthquake, three districts were added in the list of 33. Those included were Lamjung, Gorkha and Sindhupalchowk.   “We have not received anything from the center. We have already started routine maintenance following the same process of selection. As our area is devastated by earthquakes, our criteria is to hire employees to meet the needs of the area. We have distributed certificates to two roads under construction, 15 and 17 kilometers.  This road is for six VDCs. This road is constructed because of lapses of road,” said LDO of Lamjung district.

Moderated by Ashok Jha, Deputy Project Coordinator of SNRTP, the program was lively with interactions and sharing of the knowledge. “The earthen roads should not be taken for maintenance. The roads of Bhojpur and Terathum are doing quite well. Gravel and maintenance need Plan Profile. Social  and Environment safeguard."

Local Development Officer of Tanahu complained about periodic maintenance. “It is very difficult to force women to work,” said LDO. "Husbands do all the work on behalf of their wives. There is the name of the female worker. The project must review its social safeguard giving certain flexibility. The participation of women is preferable, but not a must. So far as the maintenance of gravel road is concerned,  there is the need to follow the guidelines.”

What is the best thing to do with the maintenance of Otasil road whose life is three to five years? Because of certain conditions, only a few contractors are in the process. There will be the possibility of manipulation.

“Our conclusion is that the periodic manitainance for the gravel road is alright but it is not enough for otasil road. The cost of blacktopped road is higher than the other gravel roads,” said Jha.  "RAIDP’s process and present process is different. So far as equipment is concerned, it depends on the situation. There is a process of negotiations."

Contractors file complaints at CIAA whenever they fail to acquire the contract.  A lot of complaints are there in CIAA. CIAA is a major stumbling block in the districts. Because of the regional CIAA offices, contractors who participate in the tender often complain to CIAA giving troubles to the officers. There is a tendency in the districts not to award the tender process.

There are also issues related to promoted engineers who are not regarded as engineers. Overseers are now allowed to perform certain works as engineers. There is a provision for review.

“Evaluation is a complex process. We need to see which is important and which is not. Three things are important -- bottom-line, credit, management. Evaluation should be done by procurement specialists. One has to fulfill other criteria,” said DDG of DOLIDAR Ram Chandra Shrestha.

Procurement is a serious issue during the evaluation. Our evaluation committee should be made under the process. If one can see all the evaluation processes, evaluation is not an investigation.

"We have to give the lowest among the lowest. There is a havoc of oversight agency like CIAA," said Jha. “Despite several problems, the project is in full operation. Now the time has come to show the performance. How to make this project successful. There is the need to distribute the budget equally to all. All of officials are doing quite a good job. There are so many weaknesses in procurement. We are in the process of learning. Donors have accepted that local bodies can do it. They have trusted us so much. Our projects are very much tied up with the people. I would like to request LDOs to spend more of their time to the project.  I learned many things on the project,” said DDG Shrestha.

“We need to be more transparent. LDOs should monitor the road. Don’t compromise the quality. I would like to request engineer friends to carefully look at the project. Engineers are knowledgeable on technical issues. They should be given opportunity. Technical manpower has to play an important role. Lab test needs to be mandatory. Nepal Road standards need to be followed."

“There is a lack of coordination in A class road. The vehicles race to all the villages, but the price of transport is much higher. As the bank account is open, labors have to go to the bank and half of their money goes to pay for transport. If there is an alternative of the banks, the problems of paying through the banks would go away,” said LDO of Gulmi.

Although some districts of the western region are going through massive violence, districts officials and engineers discussed in Pokhara how they can make differences in the lives of people in areas where they are working. The dispute on the contract agreement and procurement and the related problems featured in their discussions.

The project covers 36 districts, as 3 districts have been added following the earthquake.  There are coordinating units, Central Policy Coordination Unit is in Kathmandu and two project units, one each in Hetauda and Butwal, are also there.

At the program participated in by technical officers and Local Development officers from western region, Ashok Kumar Jha, Deputy Project Coordinator, said we will evaluate and discuss the project implementation.

One of the aims of the project is to evaluate the project.

Opening the program, Jha said the review meeting will help to find out weakness and strength of the project. Each group from the district presented the proposals.

There are 53,000 kilometers of rural roads. We cannot change the rural economy. This is designed to District Core Road Network maintenance. This is a routine and periodic maintenance.

"We have achieved a lot in regular maintenance but we failed to go for periodic maintenance. Under this project, there is hardware and software included, this means enhancing the capacity. Other important aspect is beneficiary monitoring and market. There is the need to enhance the capacity."

What kind of market do we want to improve. Without maintaining the road, Nepal cannot prosper.  Other component is upgrading of roads built by RAIDP.

All projects are at procurement stage. In periodic maintenance of 372 kilometers of road, we have already built 13 bridges and other 14 are under construction. The money has already been booked. Additional finance we are receiving from the World Bank.

Financial management is the most important component. They want to show the project is in good track. Social and environment safeguards are very important. There is no time to improve the safeguards.

Bhimarjun Pandey, Chief District Engineer of Palpa, said Social Safeguards include the social uplifting of the people from different sectors.  In all the road construction, we maintain the diversity of the district employing the labor including janjaatis, dailts, women and others.

"We have some best practices for free service for labor. We have given priority to single women, dailts and Janjatis. No any dispute regarding work in VDCs. Banking access to the workers, linkages of RMGs."

Shanker Prasad Padndit, project coordinator, western cluster, said there are problems with certain districts. “We are in the process of sending some work. Syangja and Arghakhachi are not seeing proper work. There is no progress in Syangja. Kaski is late. Tanahu has made a good progress,” said Pandit.

Shailendra Jha, project coordinator, ILO, emphasized Safety First Then Work. "One needs to understand the labor act, occupational safety and health.  Nepal government is announcing the new way. We rarely consider the size. Very simple method and complications. There is the need to have simple methods. ILO has already provided additional money. Our work is not as per the social justice. DDC should be awarded the contract. Management teams need to follow the secure environment.”

Financial Transparency

As a new project, it has a very strict financial system. Only after completion of certain obligations, the project reimburses. “Controller General Office has already announced the policy, we need not worry about it.  What we need is to follow the guidelines of transaction. The money will be allocated as per the progress. By the end of December, there is the need to conclude the agreement. Budget will be cut if the project fails to achieve," said Prakash Bhattarai, Undersecretary and Chief Account Officer of the Project.

“There is the need to maintain a strict financial discipline to minimize arrears and maximize fiscal discipline. The budget must be spent as per the headings. Concurrent costs need to be reduced: Don’t put the money without paying salary of driver, or costs of electricity and telephone. One copy of project appraisal should be sent to CPCU. Additional budget should be demanded before the project.

With one and a half years in implementation, ISRDIP has made a significant progress. Although there are so many complications related to procurement act, the World Bank supported project is making a difference in the livelihood of people. With the network Nepal wide, what is lacking is the integration with the village with all weather roads. Nepal’s road network of over 64,000 does not have any meaning. 

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