KATHMANDU, April 2: At a time when the entire country has been under a total lockdown to combat COVID-19, Nepal Army has rushed to select a bid for awarding the consultancy service worth millions of dollars for Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track (Expressway), flouting the public procurement rules.
The Nepal Army, which has been entrusted to develop the national pride project, hastily picked a South Korean company (Yooshin Engineering Corporation Korea joint venture with Korea Expressway Cooperation and Pyunghwa Engineering Consultants Ltd.) for design and construction supervision of the expressway at a cost of $11.51 million (without value added tax), or nearly Rs 1.2 billion.
Not only did the Nepal Army conclude the financial opening of the bid on Monday, it also issued the letter of intent (LoI) to the company to award the contract on the same day. The issuance of the LoI on the same day after conducting contract negotiation on a two-billion-rupee project has raised questions of transparency over the selection of the consultant.
“It is not possible to open a financial proposal, evaluate it, negotiate with the bidder and issue the LoI to award the contract on a single day,” said a retired senior government engineer requesting anonymity. “Based on my experience of three decades of working on various mega projects, I can tell you that it takes at least one week to complete all these processes. There is something fishy in this deal.”
The selection process has landed into controversy even before the Nepal Army decided to award the contract. The Nepal Army invited only two bidders in the financial opening out of the five who had submitted their proposals following the request for proposal (RFP). After the Nepal Army disqualified them for the contract, two bidders filed their complaint at the Public Procurement Monitoring Office (PPMO) demanding an intervention in the process.
In response to their complaints, the PPMO even wrote the Nepal Army and asked it to follow the ‘applicable law and regulations’ while carrying out the financial opening. The Nepal Army decided to move ahead with the contract award process by ignoring the letter of the PPMO as well as the government’s recent announcement extending the deadline of public tender by one month due to the lockdown.
The Nepal Army has also selected the bidder by ignoring the price factor of the consultancy service. While the consortium of Singapore-based Meinhardt quoted the price of $8.25 million for the project, the Nepal Army went on to select the Korean company to pay $3.26 (approximately Rs 83.4 million) more.
However, Nepal Army defends the decision saying that it has followed due process.
“We have selected the Korean Company that is strong in both technical and financial aspects. We have issued a letter of intent to the company to come for negotiation within seven days,” said Bigyan Dev Pandey, the spokesperson of the Nepal Army.
Nepal Army took over this national pride project popularly known as 'Fast Track' in 2017. The 76.4 KM mega highway project will connect Nijgadh of Bara to Kathmandu. This expressway is not only of strategic interest but also holds a potential to become a boon for the country's economic development. Estimated to cost Rs 175.19 billion, the project is scheduled to be completed in February 2024.