EDITORIAL: The deadly nexus

The nexus between contractors, politicians and bureaucrats has been the biggest bane of Nepal’s infrastructure development projects

Pappu Construction, a construction firm owned by Sumeet Rauniyar who is son of lawmaker Hari Narayan Rauniyar, has been in media spotlight and public scrutiny of late. After a boat capsized in the Lal Bakaiya river on August 25, killing five people, locals filed a complaint against Pappu Construction at Rautahat District Police Office for failing to construct a bridge over the river on time. The boat had hit the bridge structure. As per the contract agreement signed with Pappu Construction in 2015, the bridge should have been completed in June 2017, but according to the Department of Roads (DoR) only 10 per cent of work has been completed so far. Rautahat District Court on Tuesday issued a notice to Nepal Police asking it to arrest Sumeet, the chairman of Pappu Construction, for further investigation after he failed to appear before a bench for a hearing. Sumeet is son of lawmaker Hari Narayan. Police are still “searching” for Sumeet.

The bridge over Lal Bakaiya is but one incomplete project of Pappu Construction. One may find it dizzying that Pappu Construction since 2014 has won 40 construction contracts (35 bridges and five roads) worth Rs 10 billion. Progress on 11 bridges has been zilch. Around 24 projects are well past the deadline. It has never faced any action though. The government, however, is still awarding construction projects to it. The firm recently bagged a contract to construct a building of Nepal Rastra Bank. This is where the crux of the problem lies. Development projects in Nepal run invariably slow. Add to that the political clout contractors enjoy and the result is—construction process becomes even longer. Members of the public suffer while contractors, politicians and bureaucrats in the meantime make hay.

It is a travesty of accountability that Hari Narayan, who represents the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal in Parliament, is a member of parliamentary Development and Technology Committee. It’s clearly a conflict of interests. Government officials admit that there are serious lapses in contract awarding process and monitoring of the projects. “There have been irregularities during the monitoring and observation of the projects,” Rajendra Raj Sharma, spokesperson for the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, admitted to this paper. “It is time we revised the monitoring mechanism.” But officials would not say what all have stopped them from making the mechanisms strong and efficient. How come Pappu keeps winning so many contracts despite its extremely poor show? If there is something wrong with the procurement and tender procedure, why it has not been fixed? There are questions galore, but no answers. Despite the court order, police have yet to arrest Sumeet. One can easily guess the political patronage Sumeet enjoys by virtue of being the son of a lawmaker. The fault while lies with Pappu Construction, there is also enough ground to suspect the complicity of government officials and politicians. Politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has been the biggest bane of Nepal’s construction sector. Unless this nexus is broken, infrastructure projects will continue to run slow, contractors, bureaucrats and politicians will keep on bleeding the state coffers dry and the general public will always be at the receiving end.

Mend ways

While addressing a function in Pokhara on Tuesday, Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Aryal lauded the roles the cooperatives they have played in alleviating poverty in rural and urban areas. To some extent she was right that cooperatives, one the three pillars of economy, have helped many families lift themselves out of poverty as locals can get small amount of loans without any collateral.

An estimated 34,000 cooperatives are functioning across the country. But they are not playing with the rule book. They should involve in productive sectors for their shared benefits. Nepal’s cooperatives have not followed this basic principle based on which the cooperatives movement was launched to support small income families. They have now reduced to microfinance institutions that collect deposits and issue loans at higher interest rates than that of the banks. People cannot be lifted out of poverty and the goal of prosperity cannot be gained unless they engage in productive sectors. They must mend their ways and strictly follow the rules.