KATHMANDU, Jan 16: The Melamchi Water Supply Project is now in a most difficult phase as the contractor has been absent from the project site for about a month and the work has stalled.
The contractor firm has sent a set of preconditions from Italy to be met before they come back and resume the work.
The contractor’s manager and staff have not returned as promised after going away to celebrate Christmas and New Year.
At this critical time, immediate correspondence is required to respond to the contractor’s preconditions. But the Melamchi project board has not met for at least two weeks for lack of a 50 percent quorum of its five members.
Meanwhile, Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya has not attended a single meeting of the board since he assumed office about a year ago. Government officials quoted Shakya as saying that the mayor of the capital is higher in the order of precedence than a government secretary and has therefore declined from participating in the board meetings. Mayor Shakya did not respond to repeated SMS messages and phone calls for his take. “The mayor has not attended the Melamchi board meetings, citing order of precedence,” said Shankar Subedi, spokesperson of the Ministry of Water Supply.
Many believe the preconditions set by the Italian contractor are grounds enough for terminating the contract. But it may take weeks to formalize the termination process through a series of correspondence and willful absence from the project site has to be established. Board meetings are indispensable for this.
The preconditions the contractor has put forth include an assurance not to treat it as was done three weeks ago, payment by the government of all dues to domestic suppliers, sub-contractors and vendors, and also not freezing the performance guarantees.
The government had detained the project manager and some other staff, suspecting that they were trying to abscond.
There are five members on the board led by Secretary at the Ministry of Water Supply Gajendra Thakur. The other three members are Chandra Bahadur Thapa as local representative from the project site, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Finance Sushil Pandey and project Executive Director Surya Kandel, who functions as member-secretary of the board.
It is also learnt that the Prime Minister’s Office recently directed the mayor to attend the Melamchi board meetings.
Mayor Shakya is not alone in skipping the meetings. The joint secretary of the Ministry of Finance has also not attended the meetings for a year. He could not be contacted as he is currently abroad. Officials at the Ministry of Finance say that the issue has now arisen at the ministry.
Meanwhile, Melamchi Executive Director Kandel is mourning the demise of his father and is expected to join office only later this week.
A former employee at the project says that Secretary Thakur should have deputed a deputy executive director to facilitate the board meeting. Thakur did not respond to Republica’s phone call. He is also accused of not responding to calls from other media organizations.
A board meeting was planned for Tuesday but it could not be held, according to a project official. Deputy Executive Director Ram Prasad Kharel also admitted that the board has not met for over two weeks. “We however have internal meetings regularly and will come out with something concrete by Friday,” he said.