Don’t appoint Munich to operate Gautam Buddha Airport, committee tells governmentIt says a government to government deal might once again court controversy as such agreements haven’t been received well in the past.
As a number of projects planned under government-to-government deals have sparked controversy in Nepal over their transparency, a government committee has recommended that Germany’s Munich Airport not be appointed as the operator of Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa.
Located in south-central Nepal, Gautam Buddha International Airport, which will serve as the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, will be Nepal’s second international airport.
The airport with a 3,000-metre-long and 45-metre-wide runway is in the final phase of construction with final works of installing communications, navigation and surveillance equipment, including the meteorological instruments, affected by the lockdown.
“We have suggested that in view of the controversy in Nepal regarding government to government deals, Gautam Buddha International Airport’s operation should not be handed over to Germany’s Munich Airport,” said Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Ministry of Tourism. “We have suggested that the permit should be awarded through an open competition,” said Lamichhane, who led the committee.
Lamichhane, however, said that if Munich was willing to provide technical support for the airport, Nepal could accept it. “It’s the government's call whether to proceed with the government to government deal or issue an open call to hire the airport’s operator.”
Questions of transparency have been raised over a number of G2G projects such as the setting up of a security printing press, procurement of machine-readable passports, satellite and medical equipment. Most of the projects were eventually cancelled.
In November last year, the government formed the six-member team to negotiate with the German airport after it expressed interest in operating the new airport. The tourism ministry had also asked the company to submit a detailed plan.
But Munich is yet to submit its detailed plan, including the operation modality, fees and revenue sharing as the Covid-19 pandemic came up.
In June 2019, the Cabinet gave the tourism ministry its go-ahead to appoint international firms for the operational readiness and airport transfer (ORAT) operation of Gautam Buddha International Airport through a government-to-government deal after receiving proposals from Munich Airport and other international firms.
As the government is under pressure to improve the efficiency of the sole international airport in Kathmandu, it was also planning to observe how Munich handles the new airport.
Munich Airport is the second busiest airport in Germany after Frankfurt in terms of passenger traffic, and the seventh busiest airport in Europe, handling 44.6 million passengers in 2017.
The much-delayed airport in Nepal was expected to be completed by March. But now it is uncertain when the project’s contractor will deliver the necessary equipment as the government hasn’t announced a date to lift the lockdown fully.
The contractor has not imported runway lights nor the conveyor belts and the baggage handling systems. Technicians to install the systems are also yet to be called in.
This equipment was slated to arrive through Rasuwagadhi border point by January-end. A technician at the project said that installation of all the equipment will take at least two months, and another two months is needed to test the machines and get certification for the airport.
Construction work at Gautam Buddha International Airport began in January 2015. The Civil Aviation Authority awarded the Rs6.22-billion contract to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013.
The airport was initially slated to be ready in December 2017. But the project suffered multiple hurdles that pushed back the completion deadline several times.