Parliamentary committees silent on Melamchi deadlock

Published On: March 23, 2019 08:49 AM NPT

KATHMANDU, March 23: Parliamentary committees – supposed to be oversight agencies on government actions and inactions, anomalies and misappropriation – have so far failed to play any significant role in case of Melamchi Water Supply Project, which remains at deadlock. 

The fate of the project to deliver 170 million liters of water every day to the Kathmandu Valley remains uncertain at the last leg of completion. 

The Minister for Water Supply Bina Magar is hell-bent on bringing back terminated Italian contractor into the project, while bureaucrats of the project are against the minister’s proposal as there is no legal ground to revoke the contract termination. 

The project office has completed the paperwork for fresh contracting process, but it needs a direction from the minister to go ahead. Privy sources express worry that the uncertainty for weeks has resulted in grim chances of bringing Melamchi water by the end of mid-July as planned earlier. 

The Office of the Prime Minister is also clueless on the matter, even as the project works have remained at standstill for over one and half months. 

The contract was terminated effective February 5, after following a due process. 

At this crucial juncture, parliamentary committees that have glorious past record of sorting out pertinent issues on development projects and providing strong directions to the government, are however silent on the matter. This has raised question on the role of the parliament that is to ensure and check and balance of the government’s actions and inactions. 

Parliament’s Finance Committee had instructed the ministry and project office twice – on December 20 and February 15 – to do needful to complete the project by the end of current fiscal year or mid-July. Meanwhile, the Development and Technology Committee on January 29 had directed the authorities to award the contract directly through a fast-track mode of contracting. 

Their common instruction to the government was to complete the project without any delays and cost escalations at that time but they have had no meeting thereafter. 

Talking to Republica, both the committee chairpersons said that they were aware of the issues, and claimed that they were planning to call meetings in this regard. However, they did not provide any specific dates to talk on the matter. 

Krishna Prasad Dahal, chairman of Finance Committee, said the committee knew the issue and that he was discussing the matter with Kalyani Kumari Khadka, chairwoman of Development and Technology Committee. 

“We will discuss with Prime Minister KP Oli on the matter soon in person. We will also raise the issue in the committee meetings,” claimed Dahal, adding that they may have a joint meeting with Development and Technology committee. 

In a separate talk with Republica, Khadka also admitted that they had realized seriousness of the issue of Melamchi project.  But she did not mention any immediate plan on the matter. 

“We have directed the Melamchi Water Supply Project office to submit all the documents related to decisions on the project management in recent months, and we will discuss the matter thereafter,” said Khadka. 

Dhanaraj Gurung, a former lawmaker of Nepali Congress who has been vocal on public issues both in the parliament and outside, raised question on doubtful silence of the parliamentary committees on Melamchi project. 

“This is where parliamentary committees have to exercise their role of oversight on the government actions and decisions,” said Gurung. He also blamed the government for not complying with the dispute resolution board’s recommendation, which, he said, forced the contractor to leave the country.

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