Melamchi Water Supply Project

Water supply minister adamant on bringing Italian contractor back

Published On: February 27, 2019 09:10 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, Feb 27: The government has already terminated contract with Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC) and there is no legal ground for the Italian contractor to return to work. 

However, Minister for Water Supply Bina Magar has been saying that she is still in talks with the CMC for bringing it to complete remaining works of Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP).

Speaking at the parliamentary Finance Committee meeting last week, Magar said that she wants to bring the Italian contractor back to remaining works of the drinking water project at the earliest, and ensure that local vendors and suppliers get their outstanding payments. She repeated the same statement in the meeting of parliament.

The contractor left the project site in the third week of December and did not return, prompting the government to terminate its contract. 

Krishna Prasad Acharya, a former project director of MWSP, said that there was no point in holding talks with the contractor after terminating contract signed with it. “There is no legal ground to bring it back. Starting contract process anew is the only way to get the remaining works completed,” he added.

When the meeting of Melamchi Water Supply Project Development Board took decision to terminate contract with the Italian contractor three weeks ago, four government officials, including Bijay Dev Bhattarai – an aide to Minister Magar, visited Singapore to hold talks with representatives of the contractor. 

The board is headed by Secretary of Ministry of Water Supply. The government has transferred Secretary Gajendra Thakur from the ministry, bringing in Dipendra Nath Sharma from the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.

Sources say Minister Magar herself sent the four officials to Singapore even though MWSP officials were against the decision. No top officials of MWSP were in the team.

Over half a dozen government officials that Republica talked to say that they have no idea why the minister was trying to bring the Italian contractor back. Surendra Aryal, secretary of the Finance Committee, said it was not possible to bring the Italian contractor back. “I do not understand why the minister is speaking in favor of the non-performing contractor whose performance bond has already been seized,” he added.

MWSP is now giving final touch to tender documents ahead of the fresh bidding process to hire a new contractor for completing remaining works of the mega drinking water project. Project officials say the tender notice could be published within a week or two. 

Rajendra Prasad Pant, the spokesperson for MWSP, said the project office will begin contract process soon to complete remaining works of the project. 

Only around 4 percent of work is remaining in the project. The project plans to divert water from Melamchi River to the tunnel by using a temporary cofferdam. 

Republica’s repeated attempts to reach Magar comments failed. Ministry officials say she does not want to talk to media until the issue is sorted out.

Minister Magar’s aide Bijay Dev Bhattarai told Republica that the ministry was trying to find an amicable solution by bringing the Italian contractor back to complete remaining works of the project. He, however, refused to divulge details.

After discussion with the minister and the ministry officials, the Finance Committee directed the ministry to bring Melamchi waters to Kathmandu by mid-July. But the direction is unlikely to be implemented as Minister Magar and the MWSP officials are divided on the issue. 

Development and Technology Committee of parliament had also issued similar directions earlier in January. 

The contract with the CMC was terminated three weeks after the 14-day deadline given to the contractor to return to the project site expired.

At least two sources privy to Minister Magar said that the minister is protecting the interest of the CMC’s local vendors and suppliers even if that leads to delay in the project. 

“If the minister keeps insisting on the issue, it would bring a big misfortune on the project,” project sources say.

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