THE railway has for long suffered the lack of proper planning and investment as transport sector policies are largely focused on roads and highways. Even when investment is made in railway, it fails to yield the expected result because of irregularities and corruption. The National Economic Council in 2015 approved a project to buy 10 metre-gauge locomotives, but the authorities concerned extended the project completion date twice as the supplier violated the contract and supplied an outdated model of the alternator. The railway in 2018 signed a contract under the project with a South Korean company for locomotive supply, but when the locomotives arrived in 2020, it was found that technical specifications did not match the contract. It is alleged that a nexus involving railway ranking officials, the supplier and the third-party shipment inspection company in Singapore has broken the contract. Since the approval, the project had its director removed and the supplier payment withheld, yet no decisive action was taken against the supplier that has violated the contract or the officials for their alleged irregularities.
What is evident in the locomotive purchase is the habitual delay and corruption in project implementation in the sector. After the breach of contract had been detected, a number of committees were formed to establish if the tender process was flawed. In November 2020, an investigation committee was set up which later was reformed twice in January and March this year. The railway minister says that it has now formed another committee to establish the reason for the contract breach. The loan agreement with the Asian Development Bank, which finances the project, will, meanwhile, end on June 30 and the project completion will be delayed. Such delay and corruption are, however, commonplace in the sector. In 2019, an Anti-Corruption Commission report noted major corruption in locomotive and wagon procurement. In October 2020, a sub-committee was formed by the parliamentary standing committee to look into the alleged corruption in the tender and procurement process. The authorities should not need more committees to make the railway more efficient. All that it needs is a transparent procurement policy and commitment to completing projects expeditiously.
The government must, therefore, immediately take action against the supplier and the third-party inspection company for the contract breach and bring any railway officials found responsible for the corruption to justice. The government also needs to do much more than forming investigation committees to fight corruption in the sector. It is time that the government through planned and transparent investment in all areas of railway modernised the railway system. It must tackle the pervasive corruption that jeopardises development of the sector.
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