ZAGREB, Sept 2 (Hina) – Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic presented the final text of the bill on the post-earthquake reconstruction of Zagreb and its environs to Parliament on Wednesday, saying that people who were left homeless should be ensured a roof over their heads and that Zagreb should again be a pleasant place to live and work.
Although that is not the primary purpose of this bill, the reconstruction itself can be a chance to deal with the many unresolved infrastructure problems and to open a discussion on the urban development of Zagreb, the prime minister said.
He called on the MPs to rise above party politics and seize the opportunity to create a law that would be good, transparent, fair and feasible.
26,000 buildings damaged in earthquake
The March 22 earthquake has been the most destructive in the last 100 years and the damage caused is estimated at HRK 86 billion, which is about 60% of the state budget and surpasses anything Croatia has experienced, Plenkovic said.
Some 25,000 buildings were damaged in the City of Zagreb, 510 in Zagreb County and 409 in Krapina-Zagorje County, or nearly 26,000 buildings in total. About 1.5% of them are public buildings and 98.5% are privately owned.
The prime minister recalled that after the earthquake the government and all relevant services responded quickly to take care of people worst affected by the disaster, assessing the damage, preparing documentation for international financial aid and putting together a legal framework for long-term reconstruction.
Principles for long-term reconstruction
The bill lays down the principles and rules for long-term organised reconstruction involving all relevant professions.
“I am confident that the final bill will provide a good foundation for reconstruction and meet the expectations of citizens who suffered damage in the earthquake and of the public at large,” Plenkovic said, adding that he expected broad support from lawmakers.
The bill provides for the reconstruction of buildings that have been declared unusable or temporarily unusable. The structural reconstruction will be financed from the state budget, the local government budgets and other sources, as well as by owners themselves.
The government will provide 60% of the funding for the structural reconstruction of private buildings, while local government units and owners will each contribute 20%.
What is new compared to the first reading is the introduction of social criteria, namely means testing. The government and local government units will fully finance the structural reconstruction of properties owned by citizens who receive the minimum wage and are without significant assets.
Property owners whose monthly income does not exceed HRK 4,000 and those whose property was worth less than HRK 200,000 on the day of the earthquake will also be entitled to free reconstruction. This will also apply to disabled Homeland War veterans and welfare beneficiaries who receive maintenance support.
Plenkovic said that the government would consider extending this entitlement to all persons with disabilities.
He noted that in the case of public buildings, the reconstruction would be fully financed by their owners, that is the founders of the public institutions in question.
“The first programme of measures is in a final stage and we plan to adopt it even before the expiry of the deadline of 30 days after the entry into force of this law. The Reconstruction Fund and the Advisory Council on Reconstruction will also be established before this deadline,” the prime minister said.
All information on spending to be publicly available
Plenkovic said that the Reconstruction Fund would not be just a financial fund but also a central institution in charge of all reconstruction-related operations.
He said that special attention would be devoted to transparent spending of funds. “With the aid of information technologies, all information on the funds spent will be publicly available.”
Opposition says Zagreb reconstruction bill unworkable, not ambitious
The parliamentary opposition on Wednesday criticised a bill on the reconstruction of Zagreb and its environs after a March earthquake, saying it was not ambitious, that it was impracticable, a big lie and unnecessary.
Dalija Oreskovic (Party with a Name and Surname) said the bill was a big lie, that citizens whose homes were damaged would not get what they were hoping for, and that the bill did not contain a programme of reconstruction measures and activities which, she said, the government would adopt subsequently.
Marija Selak Raspudic (Bridge) called the adoption of this law a performance because, she said, a relevant law already existed. She asked Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who presented the bill, why he was acting as a “legislative profiteer.” She added that the bill largely ignored the experts.
Plenkovic told her the law on natural disasters was insufficient for earthquakes and that it would not solve anything. He told Oreskovic that it was “rude to qualify this as a lie when the state is taking on so much of the burden.”
Sinisa Hajdas Doncic (Social Democratic Party) said structural reconstruction did not take into account energy renewal and European Green Deal postulates. Plenkovic countered that there were other programmes and calls for applications for energy renewal.
SDP: Bill without a vision wastes historic opportunity
The SDP said the bill did not contain a vision of Zagreb’s development and that it was not ambitious enough, thereby wasting a historic opportunity. Zvane Brumnic said the bill did not take into account urban planning, green policies or the quality of life.
Tomislav Tomasevic of the left-green bloc commended the financial framework and the social criteria, but criticised the idea to establish the Zagreb Reconstruction Fund, saying it would have no powers or role.
Natalija Martincevic (Reformists) said all disabled persons, not just disabled veterans, should be exempt from co-financing the reconstruction, and that those who received state money for the reconstruction of their property should refund the state if they sold it.
Plenkovic willing to accept some suggestions
Pedja Grbin (SDP) suggested that parliament should appoint the expert council to be in charge of the programme of reconstruction measures, and Ivan Celic (Croatian Democratic Union) that the council submit to parliament annual reconstruction reports.
“We’ll consider that, we are open to suggestions,” Plenkovic said.
During the debate, the opposition underlined the importance of anti-corruption measures in the law, reconstruction oversight and transparency.
“We are aspiring for transparency during the entire activity. The government hasn’t the slightest interest in things not being as transparent as possible,” said the prime minister.