Project initiated six years ago but construction work yet to begin; cost likely to increase significantly
The government took the initiative to upgrade the Rampura-Amulia-Demra (RAD) road to an expressway in 2015 to reduce traffic congestion in Dhaka, but its progress has been significantly delayed due to inefficiencies in dealing with the bidding process.
The process of appointing a contractor out of three has remained halted for two years as the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) has repeatedly submitted faulty documents to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).
As one would expect, such a delay will ramp up spending, decrease the rate of economic benefits of the project and negatively impact foreign investors as it is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative with Chinese investors involved.
According to the project documents, the RAD Expressway is a 13.5km four-lane controlled-access toll highway, including 9.4km elevated sections, from Rampura point of Hatirjheel to the junction with the National Highway N1 (Chittagong Road) and the National Highway N2 (Sylhet Road).
Traffic on the expressway is predicted to reach around 30,000 per day in 2025. But road users in Chittagong, Sylhet and Dhaka are missing out on its projected benefits as construction work has yet to start despite the project having been initiated six years ago.
However, RHD Chief Engineer Md Abdus Sabur told Dhaka Tribune that the delay had not been caused by any negligence in completing the groundwork.
Such delays are commonplace in Bangladesh due to various reasons, he added.
Transport expert Prof Md Shamsul Hoque said the RAD Expressway was a PPP project with foreign involvement and delays could negatively impact investors.
The project is being held up due to the inefficiency of the officials concerned, he opined.
Delays in evaluation process
On July 1, 2019, three Chinese companies and one Indian company were shortlisted to submit their proposals to the technical evaluation committee, formed by the RHD, for the expressway contract.
Once the three Chinese companies submitted their proposals, the committee chose CCCCL-CRBC, despite its not being the lowest bidder.
Later, a review panel formed by the PPP Authority found some inconsistencies and recommended fixing the issues. The panel also recognized CRCCIG-CCECC-MAX JV as the lowest bidder, which had also clearly mentioned its base availability payment.
Ignoring the review committee’s opinion, the RHD selected CCCCL-CRBC as the contractor of the project and sent a proposal to that effect to the cabinet committee.
However, the cabinet panel rejected the proposal and returned it to the RHD.
The Law Ministry also rejected the proposal, citing inconsistencies in the document when the RHD sought legal clearance.
“The technical committee finished its evaluation very quickly [within two weeks] as it was biased towards CCCCL-CRBC instead of choosing the lowest bidder,” said an RHD official on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, RHD Additional Chief Engineer AK Mohammad Fazlul Karim said: “The revised proposal is clear and transparent, and is now pending approval. Once the cabinet committee gives its nod, we will sign a deal with the company awarded the contract.”
Also Read - Bangladesh signs PPP contract for Dhaka Bypass
However, Karim, a member of the evaluation committee, dismissed claims of any irregularity or bias.
Corruption is out of the question as there were only two RHD officials on the seven-member committee, he said.
The government is set to spend Tk1,209.6 crore to complete necessary land acquisition and rehabilitation work for the project, which was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) in January last year.
However, the RHD has yet to complete all procedures regarding land acquisition and rehabilitation, resulting in more hold-ups.
Nur E Alam, the superintending engineer at the RHD, said the department had already sent a proposal to the deputy commissioners concerned on acquiring land.
How will the expressway be operated?
According to the PPP proposal of the project, the selected Chinese (private partner) contractor will provide post-construction operation and maintenance services for 21 years.
The RHD will pay toll revenue to the private partner to help it recoup its investment in the project. A total of four toll plazas will be installed on the expressway.
According to the feasibility study, the private partner has to spend Tk2,094.01 crore to implement the project.