Ministry quizzed over delay in scrapping contractor selectionCiting violation of the Public Procurement Act, the committee had ordered scrapping of the bidding process for construction o tunnels and bridges along the 72.5 kilometre expressway.
The Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament has sought clarification from the Ministry of Defence on why the Nepal Army hasn’t followed the committee’s directive to scrap the bidding process for the second phase of the construction of tunnels and bridges along the Kathmandu-Tarai expressway.
The parliamentary committee on April 1 had directed the army, through the Defence Ministry, to scrap the bidding process after it found a serious noncompliance of the existing law in the pre-qualification process for the selection of contractors for the construction of two tunnels and several bridges totalling 2.77 kilometers . However, the army, which is undertaking the construction, is continuing the selection process saying it hasn’t heard anything from the line ministry.
Roj Nath Pandey, secretary at the House committee, which oversees government spendings, said they wrote to the ministry on Thursday seeking information within seven days on the progress made towards implementing the committee directive. He said the committee sought the progress report after learning that the army was continuing the selection process against the directive.
“We have received a follow-up letter from the Public Accounts Committee,” Krishna Prasad Gyawali, the spokesperson at the ministry, told the Post. “The ministry has yet to decide whether or not to stop the selection process.”
He said the ministry is still studying the April 1 directive and will make a decision after consulting various stakeholders including the army. The ministry has already received feedback from the army regarding the directives. Brigadier General Shantosh Ballave Poudyal, the Nepal Army spokesperson, said the army has informed the ministry that the contractor selection process is completely in line with the Public Procurement Act and its regulations.
“We haven’t received any directive from the Ministry of Defence to scrap the bidding process,” he told the Post. “We are continuing our work as it is important for us to complete the project within the deadline.” The army, after postponements of the completion deadline twice, has announced to complete the national pride project by July 2024.
The government had, in May 2017, decided to hand over the responsibility of the construction of the expressway to the Nepal Army after the former’s attempts to construct the project under the BOOT (build, operate, own and transfer) model failed.
The Nepal Army had, in 2009, started working to open the passage for the expressway as per the government’s instructions and completed the work in 2013.
After a detailed study and discussions with the Ministry of Defence and the army, the committee had, three weeks ago, ordered scrapping of the bidding process for the construction of bridges and two tunnels totalling 2.77 km in the Simpani-Chalise Kholsi and Ghattepakha-Bandare Khola sections of the 72.5 kilometre expressway.
The highway, which will be of Asian standards, will link the Capital with Nijgadh in the southern plains and cut travel time to less than an hour from several hours now. The project’s cost has been estimated at Rs213 billion including the contingency costs.
The army had shortlisted just one company from among 22 bidders that had participated in the global bidding. But House committee officials say the army, as per the Public Procurement Act-2015, should have shortlisted more than one company.
As per the rules, the contractor for such a project is selected in three phases.
In the first phase, global bids are called. The second is the pre-qualification phase, in which bidders' technical documents are evaluated, and bidders are shortlisted according to their strength. And in the third phase, the project seeks financial proposals from the bidders that have passed the technical evaluation and the contract is awarded to the bidder which has quoted the lowest price for the construction work.
However, only Poly Changda of Guangdong, China—was selected in the pre-qualification process for the second phase of construction of the tunnels and bridges. Two companies—Poly Changda and China State Construction Engineering Corporation—were selected in the pre-qualification process in the first phase. The latter won the contract. However, the company that was qualified for the construction of the first phase of the project didn’t qualify in the second, which according to the House committee, was not natural.
The expressway has a total of 86 bridges including 16 categorised as special and 6.415 km of tunnels.
After the technical assessment, the army is currently studying the financial bid of the Poly Chagda for the final selection.
Defence Ministry spokesperson Gyawali said he was unable to say when would the ministry make its decision regarding the directive. Currently Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli himself heads the ministry and he has publicly denounced the House committee directives as arbitrary.
“The House committees are taking decisions in an arbitrary fashion. They can indeed inspect if there are irregularities,” Oli had said while inaugurating the construction of 165 road projects in all electoral constituencies on April 3. “However, their whimsical decisions are hampering development works.”
Nepal Army Spokesperson Paudyal also says the project could be delayed by at least seven to eight months and the cost would increase if a new bidding process is started as per the directive of the House committee.
Bharat Shah, chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, said his committee issued the directive after a proper study and it is the duty of the agency concerned to follow it. “We know our duty,” he said. “It is our authority and duty to check possible irregularities. The agencies concerned including the executive should follow our directive.”