ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lashed out at the management of Neelum Jhelum hydropower project for coming up with misleading deadlines for the completion of the scheme.
In a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Energy held on June 18, the prime minister pointed out that during his visit to the project site two years ago, he was told that it would be completed by October 2015. Since then, however, the management has come up with different excuses and timelines in every meeting on the project.
Earlier, the deadline was pushed to December 2016 and now, the prime minister noted, it appeared that work on the scheme would continue for an indefinite period.
He asked for reasons behind the delay and wanted to know the final date when the project would come on stream. He also expressed his anguish over the consistent cash-flow problems.
Explaining the factors causing the delay, the chief executive officer of Neelum Jhelum hydropower company said acute shortage of funds and some technical problems had slowed down construction activities and declared that work would be completed in the first quarter of 2017 if a sustained flow of finances was guaranteed.
The premier also asked about the laying of power transmission lines and directed the Ministry of Water and Power to avoid delay.
A ministry official told the meeting that the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) had divided work on the transmission lines into three components.
On two components, work was going on according to the schedule, however, the third part was facing delay because of a stay order given by the court.
The prime minister directed that an efficient and professional team of lawyers should be hired for contesting all stay orders in courts and the attorney general could also be consulted if the need arose.
During the meeting, a presentation was given to highlight the perspective of financiers on the project cost, causes of delay and some features of contractual obligations. Initially, the completion date was October 2015, which was later revised to November 30, 2016. Earlier, the cost was estimated at $1.8 billion, but it has now gone up to $4.21 billion. Financial close of the project is yet to be achieved.
In the beginning, the project was delayed due to a slow land-acquisition process, power shortage and design revision. As a result, a variation order was signed which gave a new set of timelines and cost.
It was pointed out that according to the current pace of work, the tunnel boring machines needed 80% extra efforts to match the desired completion date. There were fears that the project could not be completed by the summer of 2017.
The company CEO said the tunnel boring machines were working at a slow pace because of complicated geology of the excavated area but as soon as the machines passed through the area, the pace would increase considerably.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2015.
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