SINDHUPALCHOWK, Dec 20: After the Italian contractor for the Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) left the project site with an apparent intention to abscond, nearly 1,000 Nepali workers have found themselves in the lurch, with their salaries not paid since two months. These workers, a majority of whom are from outside Sindhupalchowk district where the project is located, are now struggling to run their households for lack of money.
They are greatly worried that Cooperativa Muratori & Cementisti (CMC) di Ravenna, the Italian contractor, will not pay them their due. Laborers working on the Melamchi tunnel have been idled since the past three days since all work was halted after CMC staff abandoned the project site. Uncertain what to do next, they organized demonstrations in front of the project office on Wednesday. Nearly 200 workers reached the project office with details of the money they are owed.“Following reports that the Italian contractor is trying to abscond, the workers are in utter confusion,” said Bhoj Bikram Thapa, vice executive director at the project office.
“They are deeply worried about their salaries.”According to Thapa, many of the workers have not received their salaries for November and December. The protesters demanded with Thapa to arrange for the pending salaries and also secure their allowances in case the contractor absconds.“As per preliminary information in the documents submitted by the affected workers, CMC owes over Rs 10 million in salaries and allowances alone,” informed Vice Executive Director Thapa.
Apart from salaries and allowances, it is suspected that CMC also owes money to various suppliers and sub-contractors. There have been protests against the company time and again due to its failure to make payments on time. On Tuesday, police briefly detained eight staffers of CMC, including project manager Christian Greco, for attempting to abscond from the project on the pretext of celebrating Christmas back in their home country. Police released them after impounding their passports. The government suspected the intentions of the CMC staff after all 23 of them left the project office together on Sunday. Their work had slackened since the past few weeks and the government made its move after all staff with responsibilities left the project office.
The Italian company, which has been doing tunnel work and head works construction at the project since 2013, is said to have run into severe cash flow problems in Nepal and also back in Italy. It is reported that it has been asked to pay all its debts in Italy within 60 days. The company has been failing to pay due to a severe cash flow problem.
A government source with direct knowledge of the matter said the company's liability in Nepal is in the tune of Rs 2 billion while its receivables are far lower than that. Such a dire situation could have prompted the company to attempt to abscond.
CMC and the government are currently holding discussions in the capital on whether the company is to continue with its work. It is said the government has already decided to continue the work on MSWP one way or another regardless of what CMC does.