Government may draft in Army for Melamchi project

  • But Army says there has been no communication yet '
- BIBEK SUBEDI, Kathmandu

Jan 24, 2019-

The government is mulling over roping in the Nepal Army to complete the remaining works of the Melamchi Water Supply Project, according to at least three sources the Post spoke with on Wednesday.

The national pride project is currently in a state of limbo after the government on January 20 sent a letter of termination to the Italian contractor, Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC).

The Ministry of Water Supply, according to multiple sources, is weighing various options and officials there are convinced that getting the national army to complete the remaining job is the best way to take the project forward without delay.

“As hiring a new contractor to complete the job via global tender will take several months, our plan is to directly appoint the Army for the job through a Cabinet decision,” said a ministry source on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak with the media. “However, to go ahead with our plan, we need to get the nod from Prime Minister Oli. If the prime minister agrees with our plan, we will send the proposal to the Cabinet for approval.”    

If everything goes as per the ministry’s plan, it will send a proposal to the Cabinet after February 3, the date when the contract with the Italian contractor is officially terminated, according to the source. Officials at the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, which is executing the project, also told the Post that they were contemplating ways to resume the stalled project and that one way could be directly appointing a contractor for the remaining job. Directly appointing a contractor will save time it would take to rope in a new builder following the public procurement process.

“We have discussed the matter with the Asian Development Bank, the Manila-based multilateral lender which is financing the project, as we have to follow their guidelines while executing the project. They are also positive about directly awarding the job to a contractor without the global tender. It will take at least nine months to rope in a new contractor if we follow the lender’s procurement process,” said the source. “However, we haven’t thought about employing the army to do the job. It’s government’s prerogative.”

The national army, however, said there has been no communication from the government regarding the matter.

“The government has not communicated to us,” said Brigadier General Yam Dhaka, the spokesperson for the Nepal Army. “We have also heard about this only from the media.”

The government decided to terminate the contract with the Italian builder after it did not turn up to resume works even a month after abandoning the project. Nonetheless, both the government and the contractor are squabbling over who actually terminated the contract. CMC officials have claimed that it was the contractor that terminated the contract and that the employer [Nepal Government] can’t terminate something which is not in place.  

The Italian contractor had first submitted the project termination letter to the government in the third week of December, saying the government had failed to pay Rs350 million that it owed to the builder as per the decision by the Dispute Adjudication Board (DAB).

But in an interesting turn of events, the CMC had withdrawn the termination

letter after its staffers were allowed to leave the country. They had subsequently

flown out of the country. Later, the CMC said its decision to withdraw the termination later was null and void and that it would continue with its decision to terminate the project.

More than 95 percent construction work of the national pride project has been completed. Installation of the ventilation shafts, construction of three gates in the tunnel, giving finishing touch to 400-metre stretch of the tunnel and construction of the head works are the remaining jobs on the project.

Earlier, the project’s deadline was set for February. With no clarity on what

steps the government is going to take, the project has been pushed into further uncertainty.

Water Supply Minister Bina Magar told the Post that she has not been part of any of the recent discussions that are going on within the ministry due to her illness. “I am bed-ridden and I am not in the know of the discussions in the ministry. The ministry officials might have considered awarding the contract to the Army as one of the options to complete the project,” she said.

Published: 24-01-2019 07:17

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