The government has decided to retain the Chinese contractor for Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa as the company has started to show satisfactory progress.
Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group was hired to upgrade the airport in Bhairahawa, the gateway to Lumbini, and expand it into an international airport. The government had lately been contemplating firing the Chinese company due to delays caused by payment disputes with a sub-contractor.
Project chief Om Sharma said the Chinese contractor had fulfilled all the requirements set by the project. “Its commitment shows it can expedite work as per the terms and conditions set by the project,” he added.
The Chinese company has installed a new management team, said Sharma. It has also increased the number of workers to more than 200. Sharma said that the contractor had been permitted to bring additional heavy equipment too.
According to sources at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan), project financier Asian Development Bank (ADB) has also sent back the foreign contract management experts who had been hired to analyse the risk of terminating the contract with the Chinese company. The company had been given until October 1 to submit strong bases that it can speed up the upgradation project or face a ‘notice of termination’.
A dispute over payments between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor Northwest Infra Nepal had stalled work at the construction site from March.
The sub-contracting firm is headed by Nirvik Khanal, the son of former prime minister Jhala Nath Khanal. Due to the dispute, work at the project had slowed to a snail’s pace, achieving not even 1 percent of the monthly progress in the past six months.
The airport project had achieved a meagre 26 percent physical progress as of early September, and had been given a target of 35 percent by September-end.
“Although the contractor has not achieved the target, it can speed up the project,” said Sharma, adding that based on current trends and its commitment, the airport project can achieve 80 percent of its physical target by June 2018.
Last September, members of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had made a field visit to the project site and told the government to fire the contractor if its performance was not satisfactory. Gautam Buddha Airport was originally slated to be ready in December 2017. However, shortages of fuel and building materials due to a Tarai banda in 2015 delayed work by six months, and the deadline was pushed back to June 2018. The project hit another snag after the Chinese contractor illegally appointed a sub-contractor without informing the project executing agency. The problem further pushed back the project completion deadline to 2019.
The government had awarded the contract to upgrade Gautam Buddha Airport into an international airport to the Chinese company in October 2014. The national pride project has been envisaged to serve the fast-rising business and industrial hub of Bhairahawa and facilitate international pilgrimage tourism to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. After the first phase of the upgradation project, the airport will have a capacity to handle 600,000 passengers annually.