Coterie contractors immune to Home Ministry offensive

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018 | | Money

As the Home Ministry launches an offensive against non-performing and under-performing contractors, even arresting some of them, politically well-connected contractors remain untouched by the move.

Performances of Pappu Construction owned by lawmaker Hari Narayan Prasad Rauniyar of the ruling Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and that of Shailung Construction, whose Chairman Sharada Prasad Adhikari is the landlord of Nepal Communist Party Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, are of particular interest for the number of projects being built and the delays.

Almost all the projects contracted by Pappu Construction of SSF-N lawmaker Hari Narayan Rauniyar and Shailung Construction of Sharada Prasad Adhikari, known to be close to Pushpa Kamal Dahal, are running behind schedul

Progress in a number of projects handled by these two companies is dismal, raising questions if they enjoy political protection.For example, a bridge over Bagmati River at Tinkune in Kathmandu was supposed to be completed on June 19 this year. With Pappu Construction failing to work on time, the progress has been disappointing at 20-25 percent, according to the Department of Roads (DoR).

The Bagmati bridge is among a dozen projects undertaken by Pappu Construction, which are running behind their schedule. The company had got deals to construct around four dozen bridges apart from roads. However, most of them face delays, DoR officials said.

Pappu Construction, said officials, is notorious for bidding government projects at the lowest price but not completing them on time. Such is its poor track record that the Asian Development Bank, which funded construction of a bridge over Bisnumati River at Teku, decided not to provide further support. The ADB pulled out after Pappu failed to complete the bridge works by the December 2017 deadline. “Around 80 percent work has been over. The government has to inject its own resources into the remaining task,” said a DoR official.

In Kathmandu alone, the company has got contract for two bridges over Bagmati and three over Bishnumati—all unsatisfactory works, according to DoR officials.“In case of the Bagmati bridge, the company recently mobilised workers at night so that the consultant would not supervise construction,” a senior DoR official said.

Lawmaker Rauniyar blamed the government for the delays in works undertaken by his company.

“The government’s failure to clear electricity, telephone and sewerage systems near the project site at Tinkune forced us to start late,” said Rauniyar, claiming that he had already handed over all the Pappu Construction responsibilities to his son.“In case of the Teku bridge, the design was changed twice so we could not start work on time.”

As far as Shailung Construction is concerned, people travelling on the Kalanki-Nagdhunga section suffer due to traffic jams and dust. Three packages of the project were supposed to be completed between mid-October 2017 and mid-January 2018.

But DoR officials say construction work has not begun for 5km of the 9-kilometre stretch. The contract was awarded to a joint venture company led by Shailung in mid-July 2015. “In the package from Tribhuvan Park to Nagdhunga, around 70 percent road section has been blacktopped,” said Mukti Gautam, spokesperson for the DoR.

According to officials, work on a 4km section has not begun due to a stay order of the Supreme Court while building on the 1 km stretch was delayed since some roadside house owners had refused the compensation amount.

“But the works got delayed at some locations where right of the way is clear due to the contractor failing to get down to work on time,” said a DoR official.Shailung Chairman Adhikari admitted some weakness on the part of his company citing unavailability of sand due to a ban on its mining in Dhading while blaming the government’s failure to clear the right of way for delays.

“Hopefully, we will complete the job where right of the way is clear within this fiscal year. Then we’ll terminate the contract ourselves,” Adhikari told the Post, expressing displeasure at “continued efforts in the media to defame me by linking me with Dahal”.

Shailung also failed to complete works on the Bishalnagar-Chandol-Chakrapath road section and the Buddhnagar-Ratna Rajyalaxmi School section of the road on time. Here, Adhikari blamed obstruction by locals for the delays.

DoR officials admit that some projects were affected by inadequate budget allocation and delay in completing design works. But they said the tendency of a single contractor to lay their hands on many projects at a time had affected works as equipment and workforce are shared among various schemes.

The practice of bidding lower than the estimated cost is another reason behind contractors failing to complete works on time. In case of Pappu, the bid amount is almost half the estimated cost.

For instance, the estimated cost of the bridge over Tarahari Jhanjha river in Rautahat was Rs80.67 million but the Division Road Office, Chandranigahpur accepted Pappu’s Rs48.09 million bid. As a result, only 18 percent construction work has been over even as the agreed deadline expired on May 16.

Questions over quality

A bridge built by Pappu Construction over Babai River at Jabbighat in Bardiya collapsed on August 13, 2017 when work was about to be over. Despite locals’ continued insistence that a weak foundation had been laid, the project was allowed to move ahead. The 55th annual report of the Office of the Auditor General says that its February audit found one pillar sinking and others bent. Some slabs were broken while the upper surface of the bridge was roughened beyond use.

The government spent Rs197.5 million on the structure even after the project was awarded to Pappu Construction on July 6, 2016. The report said efforts to complete the project by recovering compensation amount from the contractor had not begun. According to a Road Department official, a quality test conducted by the Institute of Engineering found the foundation weak. But the contractor has denied the charge arguing that the test was conducted in its absence. The test was carried out at the order of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority.

This is not the only project where Pappu Construction is found to have compromised on quality. The contractor was fined Rs58.47 million for failing to complete a section of the Nepalgunj-Kohalpur road. The quality of works was also poor, according to DoR officials. But Pappu Construction went to arbitration and won the legal battle with a three-member team deciding in its favour. “The arbitration last month ruled that Pappu need not pay for compensation while the DoR owes the contractor around Rs20 million,” said a DoR official.