Contractor complains about political meddling – Madhya Bhotekoshi Hydropower Project

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    CHAUTARA , DEC 10 – Chinese contractor Guangxi Hydroelectric Construction Bureau has informed the government that it won’t be able to construct the Madhya Bhotekoshi Hydropower Project with local political bosses breathing down its neck, government officials said.

    A committee formed by the major political parties, the Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML, UCPN (Maoist) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, has been exerting pressure on the Chinese company to do things its way. The proposed 102 MW hydropower plant is located in Sindhupalchok district.

    The self-appointed panel has written to the Chinese company not to start any work without its go-ahead, and to consult it before signing any sub-contract or procuring construction materials. It has also directed the company to include committee members in the recruitment process when hiring workers for the project.

    Middle Bhotekoshi HEP HeadWork

    In response, Chinese contractor Guangxi has notified Prime Minister Sushil Koirala through the Chinese Embassy about the committee’s interference. A high-ranking official said that the prime minister had ordered Energy Minister Radha Gyawali to make efforts to resolve the issues.

    The local political groups, which consider themselves to be affected by the hydro project, have twice stopped the supply of gasoline to the contractor for not obeying them. Around 12,000 litres of petroleum products were sent back from Jambu on two occasions. This was the last straw for the Chinese company, and it took its complaint to the embassy.

    Guangxi said that it could not proceed with the project due to the “syndicate” created by the local political party leaders. The committee has also written to the contractor to pay rent for its office.

    The committee includes Yudhir Poudel from the NC, Suppa Shrestha from the UML, Lal Kanchha Tamang from the Maoists and Min Bahadur Shrestha from RPP-Nepal.

    Poudel refuted charges that they had been exerting pressure on the Chinese company and said that they had actually been working to make its task easier. He added that their demand to include locals in the construction work project was a genuine one.

    Guangxi has even accused the government of not creating a favourable working environment and has said that it cannot work on the project if the situation continues. According to the project’s technical officials, the Chinese contractor has said that if the political bosses wanted to have a hand in everything, they might as well be given the entire contract for the project.

    Chilime Hydropower Company, which initiated the Madhya Bhotekoshi Hydropower Project, awarded the contract for the civil and hydro mechanical works to the Chinese company earlier this year.

    After the Chinese Embassy expressed concern over the intervention, Energy Minister Gyawali held a meeting with the local leaders and the lawmakers of the concerned areas. No lawmakers except for the central and district leaders of the UML participated in the meeting.

    “The minister requested us to create a favourable environment for the project,” said Subash Karmacharya, a UML leader. “The project does not have permanent officials. Almost all the officials were inducted as officiating officers, and the trouble actually lies in the decision making being done at the upper level,” he added.

    Gyawali warned the leaders that such acts would scare away investors, and urged them not to do anything that could hurt the project’s development.

    The problem in the project’s management has led to the resignations of two project heads and a public relations and environment officer.

    Officials said that the situation worsened after the government recalled the project’s chairman and managing director Kulman Ghising. Due to the widening gap between officials, head of the project’s public relations and environment department Hari Krishna Upreti has quit.

    Ghising was replaced by Hitendra Shakya, the head of the business division at the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA). Shakya has not visited the project site even five months after his appointment due to the volatile situation there.

    However, Shakya insisted that he had gone to project site once and that he was in constant touch. At present, the project is headed by Sunil Lama and Bijay Lal Shrestha, the executive officer, both officiating at the posts.

    The Madhya Bhotekoshi Hydropower Project, which concluded a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the NEA in 2011, had aimed to start construction in 2013 and finish it by 2016. However, construction started a year late due to local protests, political negotiations and internal management problems.

    An engineer said that around Rs 1.25 billion had already been spent on the project. However, there has been no visible progress. The main promoter Chilime itself has spent Rs 900 million.

    Even though eight months have passed since the Chinese company was given the contract, work has not started on the tunnel and dam. The Employees Provident Fund provided 50 percent of the loan financing for the project.

    Source : eKantipur