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Chinese contractor given monthly targets

  • Gautam Buddha Int’l Airport Project
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Oct 12, 2017-The Chinese contractor for the Gautam Buddha Airport expansion project has been asked to achieve 6 percent physical progress every month, project officials told the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday.

The monthly target has been designed to accomplish 80 percent physical progress by June 2018. Bedevilled by delays and disputes, the project to upgrade Bhairahawa airport into an international airport had attracted parliamentary scrutiny due to lack of progress. The project had achieved 26 percent physical progress as of September since its launch in 2014.

The government has decided to retain Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group, which at one time faced expulsion for poor performance, as the contractor since it has started showing satisfactory results. The Chinese company has also installed a new management to expedite progress.

The government had awarded the airport contract to the Chinese company in October 2014. The national pride project has been envisaged to serve the fast-rising business and industrial hub of Bhairahawa and facilitate international pilgrimage tourism to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.

Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan), told PAC that the Chinese contractor had changed its management on September 16 as the previous management had failed to resolve the payment dispute with a sub-contractor.

A dispute over payments between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor, Northwest Infra Nepal, had stalled work at the construction site from March. The sub-contracting firm is headed by Nirvik Chitrakar (Khanal), the son of former prime minister Jhala Nath Khanal. Due to the row, work at the project had slowed to a snail’s pace, achieving not even 1 percent of the projected monthly progress in the past six months. The dispute is yet to be resolved. Gautam said that the sub-contract was ‘illegal’ and that the government had left the issue for the two parties to sort out themselves. 

Chitrakar told the Post that they have claimed Rs320 million in dues, while the Chinese contractor has committed to pay Rs200 million. Both parties have also hired an independent arbitrator. “The arbitrator is yet to produce a report,” he said. Khanal hinted that they would be comfortable with the payment amount decided by the arbitrator. 

The government had lately been contemplating firing the Chinese company due to endless delays. After issuing six ‘notice to correct’ letters to the company, the Chinese company had finally fulfilled all the requirements set by the project.

“It has increased the number of workers to more than 200 from the previous 80 workers,” Tourism Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev told the PAC meeting. “The company has also started to bring heavy equipment from the Kerung border point,” he said.

“Its commitment shows it can speed up the project,” said Dev. “We had a strong basis to fire the contractor over the delays. However, we decided to give the contractor the benefit of the doubt as terminating the contract would have created cost and time overrun risks.”

Gautam Buddha Airport was originally slated to be ready in December 2017. However, shortages of fuel and building materials due to a Tarai banda in 2015 delayed work by six months, and the deadline was pushed back to June 2018. The project hit another snag after the Chinese contractor illegally appointed a sub-contractor without informing the project executing agency. The problem further pushed back the project completion deadline to 2019.

After the first phase of the upgradation project, the airport will have a capacity to handle 600,000 passengers annually.

Relaxation in sand mining rules urged

KATHMANDU: The Gautam Buddha Airport project has urged lawmakers to help speed up work by relaxing the rules regarding extraction of river materials. Om Sharma, chief of the project, said that they would need 1 million cubic metres of soil and 300,000 cubic metres of sand for the project which are hard to get. “The government has set aside a few rivers for extracting sand and other materials, but they are not enough for the large quantities required by the project,” he said. (PR)

Published: 12-10-2017 08:48

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