Japanese contractor Sumitomo Corporation-led consortium kept suspended for a week the work of their 1,200MW coal-fired power project on Matarbari Island, Cox’s Bazar following a threat of extremist attack on the site.
Alerted by the contractor eight to nine days ago, almost all of the 350 foreign engineers and officials suspended their activities at the site for a week and resumed work on Thursday as the government and the contractor beefed up security at the project site, officials said.
A total of 1,100 people have so far been deployed for beginning the construction of the power plant and other facilities on the Island where approximately 350 are from Japan, Korea, China, India, Sri Lanka and some other countries.
Meanwhile, prime minister Sheikh Hasina cancelled her visit scheduled for January 25 to Matarbari for inaugurating the construction work of the 1,200MW power plant, a deep sea port and other infrastructures at a cost of Tk $4.59 billion or Tk 36,720 crore, the officials informed.
Power division secretary Ahmad Kaikaus on Friday admitted that the Japanese contractor had received a threat a few days ago.
He, however, termed it as a ‘false alarm’ as the government investigated the matter and found nothing serious in it.
Although there was nothing to be afraid of such a ‘false alarm’, the authorities concerned beefed up the level of security at the project site and work had begun, the power division secretary said.
Sumitomo received the threat one year and a half after an extremist attack at Holey Artisan Bakery at Gulshan, Dhaka on July 1, 2016 in which seven Japanese along with 22 others were killed.
The attack raised security concerns and deferred the bid submission date by six months, from July 24, 2016 to January 31, 2017, as representatives of two Japanese bidders declined to visit Bangladesh.
When asked why such changes were brought to the inaugural programme, state-run Coal Power Generation Company of Bangladesh managing director Md Abul Quasem said that the schedule was deferred to January 28 to ensure the presence of some foreign delegates at the ceremony.
He also informed that the prime minister would inaugurate the construction work of the country’s second largest project in terms of investment, next to the Rooppur Nuclear Power Project worth $13.21 billion, through video conferencing.
The power division officials estimate that the total cost of Matarbari power project may exceed Tk 50,000 crore or $6.25 billion, almost double the primary estimate of less than Tk 27,000 crore or $3.38 billion, in 2013.
The coal power company is implementing the project with soft loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Under the $4.59 billion contract, the Sumitomo-led consortium will construct a deep sea port with coal handling facilities for coal import, coal storage, power plant construction, township development, rural electrification and construction of transmission facilities and road communication.
The project has been experiencing difficulties amid controversies in the past two years over delay in the bidding process, corruption in land acquisition and abnormal escalation of its implementation cost.
Abnormal cost escalation and awarding a major contract to a Japanese consortium that has a partner with negative asset raised concerns of the experts who find lack of transparency in the project implementation.
The Japan-funded project shortlisted two Japanese companies for bidding for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract which also raised question whether the process was open and competitive as the contract was supposed to be awarded through international bidding.
On July 27, 2017, the coal power company hurriedly inked the EPC contract with Sumitomo Corporation-led consortium at a cost of $4.59 billion (Tk 37,730 crore).
The contract was signed few hours after a government review panel handed down a split verdict on a complaint filed by second-lowest bidder, Marubeni Corporation-led consortium, for the project saying that Sumitomo-led consortium was not eligible for the contest.
On the day, three-member review panel chair Md Enamul Kabir commented that Sumitomo-led consortium was not eligible for the contest while the other two members — Muhammad Shamsul Alam and Syed Enayet Ullah — ruled the opposite, according to the order.
In its complaint, Marubeni-led consortium said that Toshiba Corporation, a partner of the Sumitomo consortium, issued a statement on May 15 showing its net asset (-)260 billion yen which disqualified the consortium from the bidding process.
The complaint also said that awarding the contract to a consortium having a partner lacking financial soundness was a violation of bid evaluation criteria and the procurement JICA guideline.
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