In May last year, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa had made a commitment that received a huge public approval. Thapa promised that he would not stand as a mute spectator when contractors fail to complete projects in time or when they indulge in wrongdoings. This warning came at a time when reports of contractors leaving the projects halfway or not working on them at all or misusing money were coming with troubling frequency. When the contractors complained of their problems— such as having to bribe the government officials to get the works done, providing donations to local goons and political parties—he promised if the contractors informed the home minister of any such issues, his government would not hesitate to put them in jail and that action would be taken against civil servants who intentionally fail to clear contract files. This popular promise had come in the wake of the government decision to end all forms of cartels and syndicates in the transportation sector and, as such, there was a hope that the home minister would walk the talk.
One year and two months later, home minister’s commitment sounds hollow as the government has not been able to book fraudulent contractors as promised. Yes, some actions have been initiated by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) against those involved in Sikta scam. Few contractors—such as Surendra Basnet, owner of Justine Time Construction—were arrested for failing to complete works within the deadline. But he has not been able to do much. A case in point is the protests by the locals along the Chabahil-Sankhu road against the delay in blacktopping. Only when the locals started obstructing mobility on the road to pressure the government, the authorities sprang into action. The home minister has promised to punish the non-performing contractors yet again. On Tuesday, he said that the government was preparing to take action against 1,848 contractors for failing to meet the deadline in construction projects. “The government is committed to punishing the contractors who have failed to deliver the projects on time,” he said. We wish he did just that but there is reason not to be optimistic.
The fact remains that the home ministry under Thapa has not been able to accomplish some of its own commitments. The Police have not been able to trace the 33 kg gold smuggled from the Tribhuvan International Airport last year. The transport cartels appear stronger though the government had promised to dismantle it a year ago and Nirmala Panta’s rape and murder have become a case story of government’s failure to punish the culprits of heinous crimes. Home minister’s own controversial remarks (that rapes like that were happening in the past and will keep happening in the present and future as well) have raised a question mark about his commitment to justice. Home minister must ensure that his promise to punish the underperforming and non-performing contractors sees the light of the day. Part of the reason the whole of Kathmandu is in mess is that the contractors who have taken up road maintenance and blacktopping works have not been working properly. Across the country, a number of development projects remain in limbo because the contractors are not working swiftly. If the government takes action against them, it would improve the situation. And if the home minister can indeed take action against the non-performing contractors, he would also be believed in.