The Italian contractor of the Melamchi Water Supply Project, which has remained uncertain since the latest fiasco, has hinted that it could resume works “if the government agrees to fulfill its demands in advance”.
A high level official of the Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna told the Post over phone from abroad—he refused to divulge the location—that “we would return to Nepal to work on the project, but we have some pre-conditions.”
He wished not to be named due to sensitivity of the matter.
“We are ready to work, but we have some prior-conditions the Nepal government must meet,” the CMC official said.
The first pre-condition, according to the official, is an assurance from the government that passports of the contractor’s team members would not be seized and that they won’t be blacklisted at the immigration. “We don’t want to go through what our staff had to suffer last time. Our team members do not want to get back to Nepal only to get trapped once again. We need assurance to that effect from the Nepal government,” he added.
CMC staffers were earlier barred from flying out of Kathmandu by the government, accusing them of trying to flee the country ditching the national pride project.
The CMC, however, had refuted the charges saying its staff were leaving Nepal only to celebrate Christmas with their families back home—in Italy.
Before the midnight fiasco on December 16, in which their passports were seized and CMC staffers were apprehended from a hotel in Thamel, the CMC had submitted a project termination letter to the government, citing they were not paid the amount the government owed to them.
After the Italian Embassy intervened and the CMC agreed to return to work after Christmas holidays, they were allowed to leave the country.
Since then the project has been in a state of limbo—CMC workers are yet to return and the government is yet to decide whether to wait for them or hire a new contractor by terminating the agreement with the Italian company.
Following the dispute over the amount decided by the Dispute Adjudication Board (DAB), which led to arrest and banning of CMC staffers leaving the country, both parties had planned a meeting to resolve the matter in presence of the Italian ambassador to Nepal.
It was said that the CMC high level team, led by its CEO Paolo Porcelli, would come to Kathmandu for the meeting, which has not happened yet.
“If the employer [Nepal government] ensures the meeting without any issues on the immigration and the meeting concludes on a positive note with our pre-conditions accepted, we are ready to come and work,” said the CMC official. “But for the meeting to take place, the Nepal government must commit that there won’t be repetition of past incidents like passports seizure and travel ban.”
When approached for comment on the status of the water project, Secretary at the Ministry of Water Supply Gajendra Kumar Thakur said the ministry had nothing to do with the project and that it had transferred all the responsibility of resolving the ongoing matter to the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board.
“The ministry is not involved in anything. Nor has it done anything regarding Melamchi. The ministry doesn’t oversee the Melamchi project. Talk to the board,” said Thakur, parrying further queries from the Post. “Ministry officials only participate in the meeting of the board,” he snapped.
It was Thakur who had led and accompanied a police team that had apprehended Italian staffers on the night of December 16.
“The ministry has no idea what is going on. Only the media has dragged me into this dispute,” Thakur alleged.
Rajendra Raj Panta, a senior divisional engineer and spokesperson for the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, said they were informed by the ministry about the contractor’s list of demands, including holding talks in a third country and clearing their dues.
“However, their demands are unacceptable as they do not have the right to put forth such pre-conditions as they had breached the contract and abandoned the project site after the company went bankrupt,” Panta told the Post. “The government and the donor agency should take decisions regarding solving the matter and resuming the work.”
He added that the authority and the donor agency would soon be conducting a study to find out how much work is remaining in the project, which is near completion, before the main contractor dumped it.
The Melamchi water project was conceptualised more than two decades ago, but it has been running invariably late owing to various factors.
The Italian contractor was roped in five years ago in November 2013 to complete the project.