KATHMANDU:  The government is preparing to issue a ‘notice of termination’ to the Chinese company contracted to upgrade Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa as its performance has not improved despite several warnings.

The airport in Bhairahawa, the gateway to Lumbini, is being expanded to an international airport. The project started in 2014.

Tourism Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev said Sunday that the Chinese contractor, Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group, had been given until October 1 to submit strong bases that it can speed up the upgradation project.

He added that the Chinese company would be evaluated on the basis of its performance and that it had been given 20 days to prove its competency. “It should work on a war footing and double the workforce to demonstrate that it can achieve substantial progress,” he said. “If not, we will terminate the contract.”

The contractor has been instructed to submit a daily work plan and progress report to the ministry, said Dev. The government has no desire to fire the contractor if it is committed to improving performance, the minister added.

“We all know that terminating the contract will push back the project’s completion date, and we don’t want that,” he said. “However, showing leniency doesn’t mean that the contractor will be excused for lapses. We will judge the contractor on the basis of accomplishments before reaching a conclusion.”

A dispute over payments between the Chinese contractor Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group and the Nepali sub-contractor Northwest Infra Nepal has stalled work at the construction site since March.

The row is yet to be resolved. The subcontracting firm is headed by Nirvik Khanal, the son of former prime minister Jhala Nath Khanal. Due to the dispute, the project has slowed to a snail’s pace, achieving not even 1 percent of the monthly progress in the past six months. “The airport project as of now has achieved a meagre 26 percent physical progress,” said Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan). “We have given a target of 35 percent by September-end.”

Recently, lawmakers at the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) charged that the involvement of some political actors from the major parties had caused the project to run into controversy. However, Minister Dev said that the problem had been created by the contractor, not the government.

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 subcontractor without informing the project executing agency. The problem further pushed back the project completion deadline to 2019.

The government 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.

–  THE KATHMANDU POST 

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