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LAHORE, Aug 14: The Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) may jeopardise the future of Tarbela Dam by granting its extension work to a contractor whose design, according to Wapda’s own evaluation, is “neither technically feasible nor practically possible.”

After declaring the contractor “substantially non-responsive because of inconsistent data and omission of information in the bid document,” the authority is now holding “negotiations prior to award of contract” with the same contractor allegedly under the tutelage of the World Bank.

When sent a detailed questionnaire pointing out contractual anomalies and illegality of post-bid negotiations, Wapda responded: “The bid is in the process of finalisation by the project authority, the consultants and the World Bank. Further comments could not be offered till finalisation of the bids evaluation.”

World Bank officials (Masood Ahmad and Uzma Sadaf) overseeing the process and consultant (Francis M. Griffin) did not respond to emails on the issue despite reminders and wait for a few days.

According to the details of the case, Wapda floated tenders for civil works of the Tarbela Extension (1,450MW) project and by the cutoff date of June 4, 2013, five bidders – two Turkish Yuksel Insaat and Dogus Insaat, two Chinese Gazhouba and Sinohydro and one Korean (DEC-HEC-KHN) – applied for the work. All five bids were duly handed over to the consultants who submitted their evaluation report in the third week of June.

The report was discussed at relevant levels after which the consultant declared Gazhouba Group responsive, rejecting all others for various technical reasons. The authority, in one of its meeting in the third week of July, decided to go along the evaluation and award the contract to Gazhouba Group for being “lowest evaluated responsive bidder.” The minutes of the meeting were issued on July 31, sealing award of the contract.

However, a parallel process was also initiated by the project authorities, alleging directions from the World Bank, to bring Sinohydro Group in the process and ultimately award of the contract.

In an email, Project Director Muhammad Yusuf Khattak invited Sinohydro to a meeting at the Wapda House on July 27-28 – almost five days after the authority had decided in favour of Gazhouba Group and asked them to bring along “requisite documents to discuss and finalise the issues.”

Interestingly, the agenda of the meeting included almost entire range of work (penstock head loss and manufacturer, operations of Tarbela Dam, resource transfer to the site, concrete pre-cooling, care of water, location of offices, powerhouse earthing system etc.) of the project.

“This is tantamount to defeat of tendering and bids evaluation process, which the authority cannot do,” says a former Member (water) Wapda. “If the authority had to ignore consultants report at a later stage, why hire him for a staggering $25 million in the first place? The Wapda would certainly run into legal and administrative problems and the government in political ones if the authority goes ahead the way it is going,” he warned.

According to a former head of Wapda’s Central Contract Cell, this is sheer illegality that the authority, under no circumstances or excuse, can do. Even if it had to change decision on award of contract, it had to go back to the consultant and get the bid evaluation report (BER) changed accordingly. As long as the BER stands in its current position and declares one of the contractors non-responsive, the authority cannot favour him – whatever the reason may be.

“It is particularly damning in this case because the consultant had questioned conceptual and technical basis of work of this particular contractor. If this dichotomy is not taken care of at this stage, it would certainly translate into pressures on dam and its working, which Pakistan can hardly afford,” he claimed. “Penstock (water tunnel), head loss and coffer dam are three most crucial components of the contract. The consultant raised questions on all three of them rejecting the contractor. His report was actually praised by the bank. One can rest assure that someone in the system is misinterpreting, or twisting, the World Bank’s instructions, if any. Normally, the bank does not interfere in the tendering process, but only to ensure transparency,” he said.