ISLAMABAD: After awarding three road construction projects based on bids far lower than their estimated costs, Capital Development Authority (CDA) will now have to ensure that there are no post-bid changes to the contracts to prevent increase in cost at a later stage.

Sources in the CDA said that the authority has previously awarded contracts for low bids and received praise, only for the scope of the work to be changed later to benefit the contractors.

The CDA recently awarded contracts for the construction of an interchange on Rawal Dam Chowk for Rs1.7 billion - 11pc below the estimated cost of the project, the expansion of Korang Bridge for Rs628.5 million - 17pc below the estimated cost, and the P.W.D. underpass for Rs420m - 19pc below cost.

All three contracts were awarded to one contractor - a joint venture by Maqbool Associates and Calson - that submitted bids far lower than the estimated cost of the projects.

Work on these projects has yet to begin, as work orders have not been issued yet.

Sources said that in the past, the CDA has awarded contracts on low bids only to change the scope of the project later to benefit contractors

“Awarding contracts for the lowest price is a positive thing, but the authority will benefit in real terms where there are no post-bid changes or changes to the scope of work. In the past, the CDA with mala fide intention would change the scope of some projects to benefit contractors,” a CDA engineer said.

He said Chairman Amer Ali Ahmed and the member engineering were responsible for ensuring there are no post-bid changes or changes to the scope of these projects.

In the 2015-16 period, the CDA abruptly changed the scope of the running project to expand the Islamabad Expressway from Zero Point to Faizabad and the construction of the I-8 interchange in order to save money.

However, the CDA did not meaningfully benefit from these changes, which allegedly financially benefited the contractor instead.

Sources in the authority said that the auditor general pointed this out in the 2016-17 audit report, and the CDA initiated an inquiry into it which has since been swept under the rug.

In another large-scale project to construct Margalla Avenue, the CDA accepted a bid in 2012 that was 21pc lower than its estimated cost, and because of the low bid and poor planning on the part of the authority, did not even manage to take possession of the land on a portion of the road alignment. The project remains incomplete.

A CDA officer said that some contractors submit irrational bids lower than the estimated cost of the project, hoping that they will get the scope of the project changed after receiving the contract.

“Although some questions are being raised in the engineering wing about how one contractor submitted the lowest bids to win all three contracts in one day, [such as] if he had inside information, these are questions. But being professionals, we should not indulge ourselves in this debate. We received the lowest bids. It is fine. This is in the interest of the CDA,” another officer said.

However, the officer added that the scope of the projects should not be changed and the authority should get the full benefit of the low bids.“It is our responsibility to ensure there is no such change, which would be against the CDA’s interests and laws,” he said.

CDA spokesperson Mazhar Hussain said there was no question of changing the scope of the work.

“Because of healthy competitions and transparency we received bids even lower than the estimates. We will ensure there is no change in the scope of work beyond the set limit,” he said, adding that the CDA should be praised for saving money in the contracts for the three projects.

When asked about the work orders, he said the Rawal Dam Chowk project - which is the authority’s own project - is waiting for a go-ahead from the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency.

“As soon as we receive clearance from the Environment Protection Agency, we will issue a work order to start this project. The remaining two projects will be started after getting funding from the government, which will be released likely in August-September,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2020