PAC ‘pressed not to probe’ delaysThe Gautam Buddha Airport project in Bhairahawa has slowed to a crawl due to a dispute over payments between the contractor and an illegally appointed sub-contractor.
The Gautam Buddha Airport project in Bhairahawa has slowed to a crawl due to a dispute over payments between the contractor and an illegally appointed sub-contractor.
The airport in Bhairahawa—gateway to Lumbini—is being upgraded to an international airport.
A meeting of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee supposed to question the concerned officials and contractors over the delays has been postponed for the second time after all the preparations.
PAC Chairman Dor Prasad Upadhyay has publicly expressed dissatisfaction at the hurdles to interrogation due to pressure from the Parliament Secretariat. Some lawmakers suspect “political pressure” against the probe.
“We have to be ready to face numerous hurdles when shots are called by the corrupt, immoral and the dishonest. I was compelled to call off the meeting of PAC on Bhairahawa airport again. What kind of citizens are we when we cannot even probe corrupt individuals,” Upadhyay, who uses his Facebook account as Nirmal Poudel, wrote on Friday night.
Asked about his statement, Upadhyay, who was in Bhairahawa on Saturday, said he was irked by the request from the Parliament Secretariat to postpone the scheduled meeting twice without concrete reason.
Due to the voting on the constitution amendment bill in Parliament, all the PAC members who had reached Bhairahawa had to return without meeting on August 20. It was rescheduled for August 29.
When everything was planned on Friday evening, Manohar Prasad Bhattarai, general secretary of the Parliament Secretariat, urged Upadhyay to postpone the meeting reasoning that the House was preparing to endorse the bills related to elections.
Nearly 40 members were scheduled to reach Bhairahawa, with the tickets having been booked.
Bhattarai had urged Upadhyay to postpone the meeting citing Speaker’s orders. Bhattarai claimed that the secretariat had only requested the PAC to postpone the meeting.
Now the meeting has been rescheduled for September 4. Some lawmakers at the PAC said that the presence of all members was not necessary to endorse the election-related bills.
They hinted at some “political pressure” against the PAC’s move to open investigation into the airport project owing to the interests of some political leaders.
PAC officials were scheduled to hold a public hearing at the construction site before taking a concrete decision. “There was no reason to postpone the meeting. If it is deferred again, we’ll take the issue seriously,” said PAC member Dhanraj Gurung.
The dispute over payments between the Chinese contractor Northwest
Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group and the Nepali sub-contractor Northwest Infra Nepal has stalled works at the construction site since March.
It is yet to be resolved. The sub-contractor is headed by former PM Jhala Nath Khanal’s son Nirvik.
Due to the dispute, the project has progressed at a snail’s pace, achieving not even 1 percent of the monthly progress in the past six months. By the third week of July, the project had achieved a meagre 25 percent physical progress. Lawmakers at the PAC suspect involvement of some other political actors from the major parties.
Recently, the project funded by the Asian Development Bank hired international contract management experts to analyse the risk of terminating the contract with the non-performing firm. The report submitted to the ADB office in Nepal has not been made public.
The airport was originally slated to be ready in Decem-ber 2017. However, shortages of fuel and building materials due to a Tarai banda in 2015 delayed works by six months. The operation deadline was pushed to June, 2018.