Restarts the project, fresh tender likely today
M Abul Kalam Azad and Hasan Jahid Tusher
The project for upgrading Dhaka-Chittagong Highway to a four-lane road is about to get a new lease of life, as the Awami League (AL) government is scheduled to publish an international invitation for pre-qualifying tender for it today, following cancellation of the immediate past bids. Initiated in September 2006, tender for the much needed project were cancelled twice, first in April and then in July of 2007.
The first tender was scrapped by the last caretaker government reportedly due to various loopholes in the procedure while the second one was also cancelled by the same government for violation of Public Procurement Regulation (PPR).
After the cancellation of the second tender, some of the pre-qualified firms filed a writ with the High Court challenging the government’s decision which was later upheld by the court.
Due to the delay in the implementation of the project, the government estimated cost is now as high as Tk 2,400 crore compared to the previous estimated cost of Tk 2,168 crore, government officials said.
Moreover, the state could have saved an additional Tk 300 crore by finalising the previous bids, as the lowest quote of the pre-qualified firms was Tk 1,700 crore.
The fresh move was sparked by Communication Minister Syed Abul Hossain’s instruction to Communication Secretary Iqbal Mahmood for taking measures to restart the project immediately.
The new invitation for pre-qualifying tender, finalised by senior government officials, is likely to be published in today’s newspapers and on the website of the communication ministry.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) gave its nod to the project, directing the communication minister to restart and complete the upgrading of the highway soon, as the government is committed to fulfilling its election pledges to the people.
“The government has taken a fresh initiative to resume the project by solving all previous complexities,” Communication Secretary Iqbal Mahmood told The Daily Star in his office yesterday.
He said submission of performance guarantees in US dollars within a maximum of 28 days of pre-qualification is incorporated as a requirement in the fresh tender invitation.
Iqbal said the priority level of the project to the new government is right after the Padma Multipurpose Bridge.
“The project will be implemented soon, since not only it has important socio-economic ramifications, but also because it will ease the traffic,” he added.
Amid a political chaos in the country, the last BNP-led four-party alliance government first invited tender for upgrading of the 190-kilometre highway between Daudkandi and Chittagong in September 2006, but the project never made any headway due to bureaucratic red tapes and negligence through the tenures of two governments.
The project was thrown into further uncertainty when the communication ministry, and the Roads and Highway Department (RHD) engaged in a blame game over the details of the invitation for tender.
In the second invitation, it was said that performance guarantees must be submitted within seven days of pre-qualification, while PPR allowed a maximum of 28 days for it.
RHD was in favour of seven days while the ministry termed the position a gross violation of PPR, and scrapped the bidding.
Both sides since then were blaming each other for the delay in implementing the project.
Project Director Mostafa Kamal yesterday said there will be a slight change in the design of the highway.
“I hope all formalities will be completed by the year end, so construction may start early next year,” he added.
The country’s busiest highway linking the prime port city and the capital has become a death trap due to its narrowness while the number of vehicles on it has been rising geometrically over the years. All governments gave utmost importance to the highway’s expansion, but none could move the project forward successfully.
Once the highway is upgraded, the communication secretary believes, the country will be connected with the proposed Asian Highway, boosting international trade.
Highway crashes will also be significantly reduced, he noted.