Melamchi contract with Italian firm ends but government is still in talks

  • Ministry team is in Bangkok in ‘last-ditch effort’ to bring contractor back
- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL, Kathmandu

Feb 5, 2019-

Even though the government served a letter of termination to the Italian contractor of the Melamchi Water Supply Project on December 20, it has continued communication with Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna, as officials look clueless about how they are going to take the national pride project forward.

The much talked-about water project has been in limbo for more than one-and-a-half months after the staff of the Italian builder left Nepal following a midnight drama on December 16 when they were apprehended by police and later released.

After officials from Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC) did not return to Nepal and put forth preconditions for resuming works-they also did not respond to the government’s earlier letter asking them whether they wanted to resume works-the government decided to shoot a letter of termination.

But according to sources at the Water Supply Ministry, some ministry representatives “are in Bangkok to discuss the matter with the top level CMC officials.”

“This is an unofficial attempt-and also the last one-to resolve the crisis before we move ahead with other alternatives to revive the project,” a source at the ministry told the Post.

In the letter of termination, which CMC officials said they received on January 22, the government had provided a 14-day window to the Italian builder to resume works.

As per the termination letter sent to the CMC, the contract with the Italian builder to construct the project ended on Monday.

But the bid of ministry officials to maintain communication with CMC officials has raised quite a few eyebrows.

The Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, which is implementing the national pride project, said it was not aware of any such visit [by ministry officials to Bangkok].

The ministry team in Bangkok is led by Bhoj Bikram Thapa, deputy executive director of the board.

“As an implementing body of the project, the board has not sent any team [to Bangkok]. The team might have been dispatched by the ministry, which is the executive body for the project,” Rajendra Prasad Pant, a senior divisional engineer who is also a spokesperson for the board, told the Post on Monday.

Thapa’s mobile phone has been switched off since last Saturday, according to Pant.

Another official with the board also told the Post that the government decision to send a team to hold talks with the CMC after it had dispatched a strong termination letter shows how confused the government was about the project.

“This is beyond my comprehension. We [the government] sent a notice to the CMC to return, and also a government team has gone to meet them,” the official told the Post, requesting anonymity as the team was sent by the ministry.

Since dispatching the notice of termination to the CMC on January 20, the board has not received any correspondence from the contractor, according to Pant. “The contract deadline ended on Monday,” he said. “As per the contract, the window period given under the notice of termination starts from the day of receipt of the letter by the contractor. Therefore, the deadline expired today [Monday]-not on Sunday-as we had previously communicated.”

Since chances of the Italian contractor returning to work are slim, the government is considering other options, including roping in the Nepal Army or hiring local sub-contractors to complete the project.

“We can hire local sub-contractors or hand over the project to the Army. However, the Cabinet has to make a final call on the matter,” said the ministry source.

Published: 05-02-2019 10:35

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