ISLAMABAD: Extra time and opportunity being given to a disqualified joint venture of three companies by the National Highway Authority (NHA) to prove its eligibility is causing further delay in taking off of the government’s flagship project: the much-needed Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway.

A smooth bidding process of the 306-kilometre motorway — an important road project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the only missing link in the motorway from Karachi to Peshawar — has been hampered for the third time and the project is already five years behind schedule.

The latest controversy emerged when one of the bidders, after being disqualified by the NHA’s high-powered evaluation committee on both technical and financial grounds, moved the authority’s grievance redressal committee for a review.

However, the committee, which, under the NHA and Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules, was bound to make its decision in ten days on the review appeal, could not do so despite lapse of a week over that period, apparently giving extra time to the disqualified venture to prove its eligibility for the bidding process.

Disqualified joint venture being given extra time to prove its eligibility

The joint venture comprises two local firms — Techno and ACC — and an Italian construction company named Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti (CMC) di Ravenna.

When contacted by Dawn on Sunday, a senior NHA official, who did not want to be named, agreed that the authority’s grievance redressal committee was to dispose of the review plea of the joint venture in ten days, but a decision had been delayed due to some clarification sought from the foreign company. “The Italian firm claims that it has constructed a road longer than the NHA’s required length of 75km and we have asked the firm to provide authentication about it from the Italian government,” the official said.

Rejecting the impression that the Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway was a single bid project, he said four firms had submitted the bids, including three in the joint venture and the other as a second bidder.

The official said although the evaluation committee of the NHA had disqualified the joint venture on solid grounds, its grievance redressal committee provided full opportunity to the aggrieved parties to provide evidence in support of their stance.

He agreed that further delays would escalate the project’s cost and also robbed the PTI government of the opportunity to take the credit of launching one of the biggest road projects of its tenure.

The evaluation committee’s report declared a local construction firm, Zahir Khan & Brothers, “qualified” for participating in the bidding process for having technical and financial soundness.

Another official said that if the bid of the second bidder — ie Zahir Khan & Brothers — was higher than the bid of the disqualified joint venture, a third-party evaluation could be conducted to assess the former’s bid to ensure transparency and fair play.

Interestingly, the contract of the Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway was first won by China State Construction Engineering during the previous government in May 2017 with an estimated cost of Rs175 billion and the groundwork was to be started by August that year. However, the PTI government reportedly cancelled the contract in 2019 for alleged irregularities. The bids for the megaproject were again invited in 2020 but the process was again wrapped up as only one firm participated in it.

Now, after a delay of six years, the project’s estimated cost has escalated from Rs175bn to Rs191bn. On Dec 23, 2021, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council — headed by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin — approved the construction of the Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway on a build-operate-transfer mode at the cost of Rs191bn.

The Hyderabad-Sukkur motorway project is part of the Sindh package announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan in April last year.

Findings of the NHA’s evaluation committee available with Dawn said: “The bid proposal of M/s TECHNOCMC-ACC Consortium is declared disqualified (ineligible) on account of the following eligibility factors: registration of bidder with tax authorities, specific construction experience of the constructor(s) and net worth [financial strength] of bidders.”

A source said that each company of the joint venture was required to submit its national tax number certificate along with the previous year’s income tax return, whereas the foreign company was required to submit the tax certificate of Italy duly translated in English and duly attested by Pakistan’s consulate in Italy.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022

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