Kiriella explains the long road to Central highway

Nov 17, 2016 – Minister of Highways Lakshman Kiriella yesterday gave assurance the Central highway would be completed by 2019, explaining that delays in project commencement were due to a revision of the design and costs.

The Minister, who has come under criticism for delays in all highway projects including the outer-circular highway and Central highway, claimed that the delays in the commencement of these projects were unavoidable as revisions were essential.

“I give my assurance that the Central highway will be completed by 2019,” he claimed, responding to questions raised at the weekly Cabinet briefing.

Central Highway Deputy Director and Section III Project Director L. V. S. Weerakoon said the design for the highway underwent revisions to be able to withstand the heavy rain and flooding that Sri Lanka has historically experienced. “This resulted in cost revisions to accommodate tunnels and viaducts that are very high, so the cost for that section has increased,” he said. Further, Weerakoon claimed that detailed investigations were conducted regarding the design and structure of the project before the tender process began. He claimed that such an undertaking takes time to complete in any country.  “This was not done during the previous Government, as they followed a different approach to award contracts. Only limited surveys were done, Environment Impact Assessment was not completed. The contractor would have had to do the surveys before construction and this would have had an additional cost component too. This approach has been abandoned now, we wanted to complete the studies before awarding the contracts,” he said.

Accordingly, he said the possibility of cost variations would now be a lot less than before.  “Earlier, a detailed hydraulic study was not conducted; there were only 60 boreholes for the entire stretch. We have now completed a proper hydraulic study and tested up to 600 boreholes. This is what took time,” Weerakoon said.  Kiriella defended Government decisions to award the tenders for section II of the Central highway from Meeragama to Kurunegala to local contractors at 8% higher than engineer estimates. “The bids were submitted almost 20% higher than that the engineer estimate but we were able to negotiate it down to 8%,” the Minister said. Road Development Authority Chairman N. R. Suriyarachchi explained the decision by the ministry to award the contract to local companies is to give them an opportunity to gain experience needed to bid for similar projects outside the country. “There are tender calls for highway projects in the region, such as Myanmar, but our companies cannot bid as they lack experience, awarding this contract will give them the opportunity to gain experience,” he said. Kiriella claimed the current Government drew from a fresh list of 15 local contractors to award the tenders, discarding the list of four drawn up by the previous regime. As Daily FT reported last Thursday, Cabinet approved a proposal by Kiriella to break section II of the highway into four sections named Package A, B, C and D and to award each section to a consortium of contractors made up of local contractors. Each consortium bid only for one section and was awarded the respective contract for the relevant package at the corresponding negotiated bid price.

‘nominated’ tender instead of open tender

Road Development Authority Chairman N.R. Suriyarachchi said due to time taken to follow an open tender process, the most complicated stretch of the Central highway, section III will be awarded to an international company through a “nominated” tender process.

“An open call for tenders will take a longer time; we won’t be able to award the contract fast. We want to take advantage of the low prices prevailing right now, so the Cabinet has decided to do a selective process,” he told Daily FT.

The Japanese Embassy has recommended three companies to the RDA upon their request, one of which has come under scrutiny for alleged bid rigging. The RDA has initiated an information gathering exercise to verify the reports, Suriyarachchi said.



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