Act without biasAs road contracts worth Rs3.86 remain incomplete, govt should punish all dawdlers
Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa has recently launched an offensive against non-performing and under-performing contractors to tackle the delay in government construction and repair works that have plagued the country perennially. The move is expected to wake the sluggish contractors who have been sitting on projects for long, either not starting at all or lagging far behind the schedule agreed to in the contracts. Exciting as it sounds, the government’s drive seems to affect only the ‘small fish’ that are going to pay the price for their dilly-dallying, raising concerns as to what will happen to the ones with the right political connections.
Performances of Pappu Construction, owned by lawmaker Hari Narayan Prasad Rauniyar of the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal, and that of Shailung Construction, whose Chairman, Sharada Prasad Adhikari is the landlord of Nepal Communist Party Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, stand out for the sheer number of delayed projects they have at hand.
The dismal progress in a number of projects handled by these two companies raises questions if they enjoy political protection.For example, a bridge over the Bagmati river at Tinkune in Kathmandu was supposed to be completed on June 19 this year but is running behind schedule. The Bagmati bridge is among a dozen projects undertaken by Pappu Construction that are running behind schedule. Similarly, the Kalanki-Nagdhunga section, being rebuilt by Shailung Construction, is a hellhole of dust and traffic jams, putting the lives of those travelling the stretch in misery. Three packages of the project were supposed to be completed between mid-October 2017 and mid-January 2018, but the work is still ongoing.
According to the 55th Annual Report of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG), 231 road contracts worth Rs3.86 billion remained incomplete as of fiscal year 2016/17. Low-bidding, delayed beginning of the project and a practice of taking mobilisation advance but misusing such payment to buy land and houses by the contractors have long impaired the construction projects, ultimately jeopardising the pace of development. Long-term assets such as transportation, energy, social infrastructures like hospital and universities, etc., contribute to economic growth both nationally and locally. At a time when the government is harping on the prosperity and development narrative, completing all pending projects on time then becomes an imperative. And to make this possible, actions should be taken against offenders regardless of who they are and whose political protection they enjoy.
The Home minister has reiterated his commitment to punish the dawdlers—no matter how big or small they are—it is interesting to see how he sustains his commitment in the long run, as it is in fact the line Ministry for Physical Infrastructure and Transportation that should be taking care of this problem. As the Home minister detractors cry foul over his possible ‘overreach’ in the affairs under another ministry’s jurisdiction, the government would do well to focus on effective co-ordination among ministries so that the much-touted development and prosperity narrative remains on track.