GOVERNMENT agencies in the conflict-hit areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the adjoining tribal areas have begun work on reconstruction projects after receiving the first tranche of allocated funds from foreign donors. This is an indication of a shift in strategy by donors of engaging the public sector rather than foreign non-governmental organisations as their development partners.

One of the projects in which physical work has started is the reconstruction of the 119 schools which were damaged in Swat district, Malakand Division during the last couple of years.

Work orders for these schools' reconstruction have been issued following the reception of funds from the US and UAE, an official from the Provincial Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Settlement Authority (PaRRSA) based in Swat tells Dawn .

“Unlike the relief and early recovery phase when donors directly funded and relied on UN agencies and their local partner NGOs, there is now a shift towards the public sector,” the official adds.

According to the Damage and Needs Assessment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas after years of militancy and subsequent military operations, about $1 billion is needed for the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure.

Foreign donors have so far pledged $400 million and accordingly work plans for this have been finalised. “The major portion of the funds will be utilised by the nation-building departments involved in brick and mortar work,” says the PaRRSA official in Swat.

Debate about whether the funds for reconstruction should be given to the public sector or to non-governmental organisations had arisen following the military operation in Swat in 2008. The main donor, USAID, had already been operating in Fata through international contractors but it was increasingly felt that this was not a satisfactory arrangement because major chunks of the aid money ended up going to consultants hired on exorbitant salaries and perks.

Moreover, an official at PaRRSA headquarters in Peshawar explains, the international contractors whom USAID relied on had often sublet their contracts to local companies, making it difficult to monitor the process or to conduct social and financial audit of the schemes completed in the field.

The reconstruction and rehabilitation of the 119 schools in Malakand Division will take up more than half of the total $36 million which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed to the Malakand Reconstruction and Recovery Programme under an agreement signed with the provincial government in September 2009.

Under the agreement, $20 million will be spent on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of schools, $12 million will go on health, $3 million on water and sanitation and $1 million on enhancing government capacity.

In June last year, USAID released the first tranche of $5 million to the provincial government for these reconstruction projects. Work on the ground has already been initiated in some of these projects.

UAE has also pledged $24 million for different reconstruction projects and, according to the PaRRSA official in Peshawar, work orders for 38 schools have been issued to the field formations of the Pakistan Army that are involved in the reconstruction.International non-governmental organisations had been relied upon previously because it was felt that the public sector agencies not only lacked the capacity to utilise the funds and implement the projects but that their operations were usually marred by mismanagement and corruption.

As an official to a UN agency supervising two different projects in Swat, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells Dawn , getting work done in the public sector is an uphill task because of cumbersome procedures and red tapism. “Just take for example, the government has got the money from the US in June last year, but it has not been able to utilise it,” he opines.

However, the Director-General of PaRRSA, Shakeel Qader Khan, explains that delay in the reconstruction work in Swat is mainly because the government had barely worked out its plan, when the floods hit the region again, leaving all the plans redundant. “We had to go back to the drawing boards and do our planning once again.”

Donors have now introduced check and balance mechanisms to ensure transparency in the field, a senior official at PaRRSA headquarters in Peshawar tells Dawn . Explaining further, he says, funds for the reconstruction projects in Malakand Division, as well as in Fata, will be required to achieve certain milestones that have already been agreed upon between USAID and the provincial government, adding, “So far $5 million has been released to the provincial government as upfront for Malakand”.

USAID has also hired the services of an international firm to conduct third party validation for monitoring, evaluating and verifying all projects under this package, says the senior PaRRSA official. “There are a number of teams of consultants based in different tehsils of Swat and Buner districts which conduct daily inspections of the civil work.”

Edward Birgells, the regional director for Fata and KP, USAID, explains that the Fixed Amount Reimbursement (FAR) mechanism that is being used to fund the programme requires that independent monitoring be implemented to verify that infrastructure conforms to the specifications stipulated between USAID and the Government of Pakistan.

“USAID regulations require this monitoring,” says Mr Birgells.

The preference being given to government agencies for reconstruction is also evident in the tribal areas where USAID has awarded $55 million worth of Quick Impact Projects in South Waziristan Agency to the Fata Secretariat under the same FAR mechanism.

Of this amount, $25 million is being allocated for road rehabilitation and reconstruction, $18 million for water supply schemes and $12 million for restoration of electricity infrastructure in troubled region.

According to a USAID official, the Frontier Works Organisation and the Tribal Areas Electric Supply Company, both public sector entities, have been chosen as implementing agencies for the programmes in Fata.

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