Contract extensions fail to yield results as construction works could not resume in past six monthsContractors want their deadlines to be extended by another year after the winter season begins.
Although the government decided to extend the number of contracts of construction projects whose deadlines ended during the four month-long Covid-19 lockdown by six months, the decision has had a little difference when it comes to the progress of the concerned projects.
The worsening Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating monsoon season have severely affected the progress of the projects that received deadline extension, officials say. In case of some projects, obstructions created by locals also stalled their progress.
North-South Trade Highway Directorate had extended the contract of a number of contractors related to construction, but works in most project sites have not moved ahead till date.
“Due to the difficulty in arranging workers, local obstructions and the monsoon rains, the contractors could hardly execute their works,” said Shiva Nepal, chief of North-South Trade Highway Directorate.
This office is responsible for the development of the North-South highway corridor including Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali corridors.
“During the contact extension period so far, only a few works, such as clearing landslide debris and erecting retention walls were carried out,” said Nepal.
The government had decided to extend the deadlines of the contracts that ended during the lockdown, as well as those contracts signed during the lockdown period.
But after the lockdown was lifted on July 21, the Covid-19 situation worsened in the country. The number of infections rose to over 90,000 by Tuesday, up from 17,994 cases on July 21, the last day of the lockdown. The number of deaths also crossed to over 500 from 40.
“The deadline extension had no meaning for the contractors, except for keeping the contracts alive,” said Rabi Singh, president of Federation of Contractors’ Association of Nepal, a grouping of the contracttheors. “They could not work due to the lockdown, the subsequent prohibitory orders and the monsoon.”
During the lockdown period, only two percent of the construction projects remained fully operational, according to a Nepal Rastra Bank study.
As many as 40 percent of the construction projects were partially operational and 59 percent of the projects were completely shut.
Singh said that the contractors have sought extension of deadlines by one year after the Dashain and Tihar festivals when most of the construction works can be resumed, provided that the coronavirus cases are brought under control.
“We at least want the government to prepare and implement the health protocol particularly for the construction projects,” Singh said. “In the absence of a health protocol, we have been unable to mobilise workers as locals oppose the presence of workers who are usually brought from other parts of the country and even India.”
Some officials say the timing of deadline extensions was not suitable, because even those projects that were close to being completed could not move forward.
“The only works that took place in the recent months were emergency ones, such as clearing landslide debris and the repair and maintenance of roadways damaged by floods and landslides,” Shivahari Sapkota, spokesperson for the Department of Roads, told the Post.
Government officials and contractors don’t see the construction works resuming anytime soon.
The capital expenditure remains at three percent as of Monday, which suggests that construction works have slowed down in the early months of this fiscal year, according to the Financial Comptroller General Office.
During the same period last fiscal, capital expenditure stood at 4.3 percent.
Contractors say one of the major hurdles they have come across to resume works amid the current health crisis is the lack of funds.
“We have asked the government to at least release the fund that we have deposited as performance security and take bank guarantee as an alternative, but to no avail,” said Singh, the president of Federation of Contractors’ Association of Nepal.
According to him, if the government were to release the performance security, it could help inject around Rs30 billion to resume various construction projects.
“It would not only help contractors pay their suppliers but also help the economy rebound during these troubled times,” Singh said.