Most of the projects are delayed for years due to political patronage given to contractors and poor monitoring system in the bureaucracy
After reshuffling his cabinet for the first time in nearly two years on November 19, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli instructed his cabinet members to take legal action against those contractors, project officials and consultants not completing the development projects within the deadline set at the time of awarding the contracts. He also expressed deep concern over low capital spending – around 6.92 per cent in the first quarter of the fiscal – which has brought the national economy to a standstill. Failure to spend the capital expenditure will mean failure to create job opportunities within the country, which will ultimately force the youths to migrate abroad for employment. The most worrying scenario is that even the national pride projects have been delayed or stalled or extended for years – some of which have been extended as many as nine times without any reasons. Such delay in completing the projects has put the state’s money injected into them at risk. The contractors have been found bagging as many projects as possible taking legal advantage of the loopholes in the Public Procurement Act (PPA) that states the lowest bidder should be awarded the government projects, regardless of whether the contractor has the institutional capacity to carry out the work on time or not.
Against this backdrop, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has initiated detailed probe into the 100 worst performing projects, their contractors and consultants with a view to helping the government ensure that the long-stalled projects are completed without any delay. The anti-graft constitutional body has found that most of the worst performing projects are related to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Ministry of Health and Population and Ministry of Urban Development, among others. The CIAA found that more than Rs 24 billion has been disbursed to the contractors as mobilization fund for 1,800 projects whose progress is dismal. This amount of money has been stuck in the pockets of the contractors, some of whom have not even started their works. The CIAA had earlier carried out detailed studies of 1,700 projects, with recommendations to the government to take legal action against the erring contractors. But the government took no action.
The main reasons behind the unfinished projects can be attributed to the flawed provision in the PPA that requires a project to be awarded to the lowest bidder. This law must change if a project is to be completed on time with quality assurance. Other factors contributing to the delay of a project is the political patronage to the contractors, who quite often defy the legal provision; poor monitoring mechanism from the top layer of the bureaucracy; lack of a centralised system of keeping track record of the contractors’ past performance; and lack of coordination between and among the concerned ministries in removing the legal and other practical hurdles in the field. The government will not be able to spend the Rs 408 billion capital budget in a time-bound manner unless it makes drastic reforms in these areas.
Know your onions
There has been no let up in the price of onions this seasons, with the vegetable fetching a record high of Rs 230 a kilo in the domestic market on Tuesday, a 318 per cent surge in three months. Its price started going up in October after India put a ban on its export due to shortages in the country itself. Nepal imports onions worth billions annually from India. Nepal is not the only country in south Asia reeling under high onion prices, consumers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are also going through the same ordeal.
There are two solutions to the shortage of onions in Nepal. One is to stop eating them as the vegetable is not something you cannot do without in the Nepali kitchen. This will also save a lot of foreign exchange that is flowing out on its import. Secondly, see the acute shortage as an opportunity to grow onions in the country itself. With onions fetching as much as Rs 200 in the wholesale market itself, even a small patch of land will bring handsome returns to the farmer. The government should divert its attention to bringing uncultivated land across the country to grow food, such as onions, to cut imports and also retain the youths here.
A version of this article appears in print on November 28, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.