Catching tigersContractors under political umbrellas deserve prosecution for their failures
In the last fiscal year, the Public Procurement Monitoring Office—a government agency that oversees government contracts—blacklisted 52 contractors citing unnecessary delays in construction and poor quality of work. Large companies—Pappu Construction, Shailung Construction, Kalika Construction, Rasuwa Construction, and Surya Construction—that hold multiple government contracts, were nowhere on the blacklist.
Pappu Construction—owned by Hari Narayan Prasad Rauniyar, a lawmaker from the ruling Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal—is notorious for holding multiple government contracts, delaying them, and failing to maintain quality. Of the 41 bridge construction contracts that Pappu was involved in, the company has missed its deadline 25 times and progress on all remaining projects has been unsatisfactory. One notorious example concerns a bridge built over the Babai River at Jabbighat in Bardiya—the bridge collapsed before it was handed over to the government.
Despite this shoddy performance, Pappu Construction enjoys an almost monopoly when it comes to constructing bridges. The company has dozens of ongoing projects on the Mid-Hill Highway and the Postal Highway, according to the Department of Roads (DoR). As per the Postal Highway Project, the firm is responsible for seven bridges on the road, but the deadline for completing all seven has expired, with project completion reported between 20 to 70 percent so far.
Pappu Construction’s projects are thus emblematic of just how poorly government contractors are overseen and how deep the business-political nexus runs. Delinquent contracts such as Pappu need to be held to account, but given the extent of their political protection, there is never any requital.
Just two weeks ago, Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth reaffirmed that legal action would be initiated against Pappu Construction for its negligence in bridge construction. But there is room for skepticism, given past instances of how Pappu has managed to avert any form of government action by either going to court or flexing its political muscle. For example, when the DoR fined Pappu Rs 58.47 million a year and a half ago for failing to complete a section of the Nepalgunj-Kohalpur road and delivering poor quality work, the construction company went to arbitration and won the legal battle with a three-member bench deciding in its favour.
Government construction tenders are big business since they are generally worth billions of rupees. The companies that receive such tenders time and again tend to either be owned by political actors themselves or have deep connections with the political class. They make use this connection to delay projects, expand budgets and evade prosecution when the hammer falls. If the government is serious about blacklisting defaulters and companies that perform badly, it needs to commit to prosecuting all companies at fault, including big tigers like Pappu Construction, and not just small flies.