KATHMANDU, Dec 10: Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has filed case against only main officials of the civil contractor and consulting firm over irregularities in Sikta Irrigation Project. It has not made the construction company and the consulting firm defendant in the case filed at the Special Court.
Officials of the constitutional anti-graft body say that they do not have the authority to file a case against firms and blacklist them.
CIAA Spokesperson Rameshwor Dangal said that the ministry, Public Procurement Monitoring Office or any other government agency could take action against those firms too.
However, experts say that the government agencies and PPMO are so weak that officials there cannot dare to file a case against them or terminate contract signed with them and blacklist them.
Blacklisting by government agencies would have made these ineligible for government contracts for up to three years.
CTCE/Kalika Construction JV -- a joint venture between Nepal’s Kalika Construction and Chinese firm CTCE -- is the civil contractor to build the main canal of the irrigation project. Likewise, ERMC-ITECO Nepal JV is the project’s consultant.
CIAA has filed a case against Bikram Pandey, chief of CTCE/Kalika Construction; and Uddhav Raj Chaulagain, managing director of ERMC-ITECO Nepal JV along with 19 government officials, including four project managers, at the Special Court. The anti-graft body has concluded that they have inflicted loss worth Rs 8 billion on the project.
Officials of the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, however, are not yet clear on the legal grounds for recommending these firms for blacklisting. They have simply referred the case to the PPMO.
Former Acting Auditor General Suk Dev Bhattarai told Republica that does not believe that any public agency will dare to blacklist these powerful companies. “This has not happened in the past,” he said, adding: “And this is not the first time that these companies have defaulted in their works.”
PPMO Secretary Madhu Regmi said that defaults in any contracts lead to blacklisting of any firms as per the existing laws. “As these companies are equally responsible for the defaults and substandard works, they should be blacklisted,” Regmi said, adding that the contract has been signed with the company, not their representatives.
“As the contract conditions have been signed with the firms, not their officials, the case should be filed against these firms as well,” he added.
PPMO, however, can blacklist firms only as per the recommendation of the concerned government agency.
Dinesh Ghimire, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, said that they have no idea on which legal grounds these companies can be recommended for blacklisting. “That is why we referred the case to the PPMO,” he added.
It is not clear whether these companies can be blacklisted after filing a case against their managers. While PPMO officials say that the procurement law has ample legal grounds to bar these companies from participating in public procurement, ministry officials say that they clueless on the matter.
The ministry has prepared two separate reports, concluding that detailed project report (DPR) is to be blamed for the damage in canals during testing when only a low volume of water flowed into the canal.
Kalika has partnered with Chinese firm CTCE to win contracts of several projects. However, the Chinese company is not directly involved in any project.
Bhattarai thinks CIAA might have chosen to not file against the Chinese contractor to avoid diplomatic hassles.
Retired government officials with expertise in public procurement say that erring construction companies and consulting firms should not be allowed to participate in any other public bidding to end impunity in the construction sector.
Bhattarai said that he was not impressed by CIAA’s move. “It chose to file cases against officials of construction and consulting firms and some government officials, who cannot pay such a hefty fine, instead of looking into specific abuse of authority and the loss inflicted on the state,” he added.
Recently, the court stayed the decision of the PPMO to blacklist Pappu Construction Pvt Ltd, allowing the tainted construction firm to participate in public procurement.