Chinese Embassy refuses to vet papers claimed fake by bidders

Friday, August 10th, 2018 | | National

The fate of the reconstruction of Dharahara, the iconic nine-storey tower that collapsed during the 2015 earthquake, entered deeper into limbo after Chinese Embassy officials in Kathmandu told Nepali authorities they won’t help verify documents submitted by Chinese companies bidding to rebuild the monument.

The controversy began last month after the Kathmandu-based Kalika Construction, Rasuwa Construction Company, and their Chinese joint venture partner CICO filed a complaint at the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), claiming that other contractors that bid for the project had filed fake documents. At least six companies from Nepal had responded to the expression of interest for the tower’s rebuilding called by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in May. All Nepali companies had roped in a Chinese firm as their joint venture partner in the bid. The complaint was filed on the very day the NRA was supposed to award the construction contract to one of the five companies that had passed technical evaluation. But before the NRA could initiate the process, it received a directive from the PMO asking to investigate the contractors’ claim, putting on hold the Rs4 billion reconstruction budget for Dharahara.

“The Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu has told us they won’t be able to verify the documents because there is no evidence to the allegation made by Kalika and its joint venture partner,” a senior NRA official told the Post. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to disclose details of the bid, said officials at the Chinese embassy raised questions about the nature of the allegations during a meeting with NRA authorities last week, and told government officials there was no need to stall the reconstruction bid “just because one of contractors in the race feels the other company has submitted fake documents”.

The NRA official said one Chinese diplomat told Nepali authorities they could petition the issue at a court in China if they had sufficient evidence to prove that there were irregularities in the bid. Despite the embassy’s refusal to help, Nepali officials earlier this week sent additional documents to the embassy for verification.

The Chinese embassy did not respond to a request for comment until the time the Post went to press.

Tensions over the bid have heightened due to intervention from the prime minister’s office, according to the senior NRA official, who said disrupting the process that had been moving ahead transparently may have been motivated by plans to start a fresh bid for what’s been considered a prestigious—and lucrative—project.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had put forward his commitment to expediting the reconstruction process after taking over the office in February. He had also rallied for the Dharahara reconstruction project during his first term as prime minister three years ago.

While NRA authorities say their hands have been tied by the directive, PMO officials deny they have put any restrictions.

“We have just asked the NRA to acknowledge the issue of the allegations by the contractors and their joint venture partner, and then move ahead,” said Lal Shankar Ghimire, secretary at the PMO, refusing to further discuss the matter. He added that it was the PMO’s duty to inform the reconstruction authority about the objection of the contenders in the bid.

However, the senior NRA official who spoke to the Post said the issue of irregularities was overplayed by the PMO because all five companies qualified for the bid after they passed technical evaluation. Moreover, the reconstruction office insisted that it had informed all companies to present documents validated by a notary and told applicants to take full ownership of the documents they submit.

“Had the intention been clean, the PMO would have asked us to pick a contractor and then look into the document of the company that has been selected,” the NRA official said. “The contract can be terminated if the contractor is found to have submitted bogus documents.”

According to the NRA official, the demand for probe was put forward by Kalika Construction and its joint venture partners after learning that the other company in the race proposed lower cost for completing the project. Senior figures at Raman Construction Pvt Ltd, one of the contenders that partnered with the Chinese company GIETC, claimed that Kalika Construction had tried to use foul tactics to win the contract.

“Kalika Construction had initially tried to disqualify us from the process,” said Raman Mahato, executive director of Raman Construction Pvt Ltd, in a public statement last month. “Following its inability to harm us, the company forged alliance with other companies to ensure that it acquired the bid.” The statement also says other firms in the race have quoted much higher amount than what was quoted by its contractors. Despite repeated requests, representatives at Kalika Construction, including senior figures at the company, declined to comment.