Money

Unpaid airport project workers walk off job

- SANGAM PRASAIN, KATHMANDU

Mar 18, 2017-

Construction work on Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa has come to a halt as the Chinese contractor has not been able to pay the workers and suppliers.

The Rs5.50-billion project is being built by the Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group of China.

“Work has stopped for the last three days, and we don’t see the problem being resolved immediately,” said Om Prakash Sharma, chief of the project. The project has hired more than 200 workers and most of them have not received their wages.

Further, no local supplier is willing to work with the cash-strapped company as their previous bills are still outstanding, project officials said.

“The contractor does not have any money,” said Sharma. According to project officials, the Chinese contractor has received Rs1.25 billion from the project executing agency, but it has completed only Rs650 million worth of work.

After construction workers stopped coming, the project held an emergency meeting with the contractor, suppliers and workers on Friday. “But it ended inconclusively.” Sharma said that the vice-chairman of the engineering and construction department of the Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group was scheduled to arrive in Nepal on Monday to discuss the problem.

“A serious meeting will be held whether to continue with the project or drop it,” he said. “If not, the termination process will be followed.”

The contractor has been given a deadline to complete 30 percent of the physical works at the project site within March 30. So far only 21 percent of the work has been done.

The contractor is highly unlikely to meet the March 30 deadline given the pace at which work is progressing, according to officials.

The government awarded the contract to upgrade Gautam Buddha airport into an international airport to the Chinese company in October 2014. But trouble began soon after it illegally appointed a subcontractor without informing the project execution agency. The subcontract was given to Nirvik Chitrakar (Khanal), son of former premier and senior CPN-UML leader Jhala Nath Khanal; Raju Gurung, a local goon and UML supporter; Furbha Sherpa, a UML-affiliated contractor; Shakti Dangol, a close relative of UML leader Khanal; and Manjit Rai, a UML cadre from Ilam which is Khanal’s constituency.

The subcontractors were appointed to supply construction materials, labourers, fuel and heavy duty vehicles. The Chinese contractor reportedly gave money to the subcontractors to execute their tasks without any paperwork.

Initially, the subcontractors hired workers and suppliers to provide construction materials, fuel and heavy duty vehicles. But after the subcontractors fled, the Chinese company was forced to settle their unpaid bills.

The airport was originally slated to be ready in December 2017. However, shortages of fuel and building materials due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed work by six months and its operation deadline was extended to June 2018. The latest problems mean that the project completion deadline will likely be pushed back to 2019.

Published: 18-03-2017 08:10

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