By Namini Wijedasa
The Highways Ministry and the Road Development Authority (RDA) are rushing moves to award a multibillion rupee contract for the fourth section of the Central Expressway Project (CEP IV) from Kurunegala to Dambulla.
Talks between the Government and an identified contractor–the British consultancy firm Roughton–have been going on amidst the protracted curfew and growing COVID-19 pandemic, authoritative sources said. They did not wish to be named.
The Cabinet has granted approval to start talks on the unsolicited proposal which will be financed by a loan. The project was not advertised for bids.
Therefore, there is no open tender for what has been termed an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract.
Roughton is expected to partner with two local building contractors, who are yet to be announced. The project was once valued at Rs 161.61bn, excluding tax.
Highways Ministry Secretary R.W.R. Pemasiri confirmed that Roughton was the named party. The company was the consultant for a section of the Southern Expressway that was financed by the Asian Development Bank.
The relevant Cabinet paper was approved, Mr Pemasiri said, without going into details of what is said. It is likely now to go to a Cabinet Appointed Procurement Committee. Roughton was nominated by the UK Export Finance (UKEF) which is to provide the funding for CEP IV.
“After Cabinet approval, we got a proposal from them and we now have to negotiate,” he continued, adding that no price has yet been named. “They have not yet informed us officially of the local partners but they indicated that they will join with two or more of them.”
Mr Pemasiri was reluctant to call this an “unsolicited proposal”. He said it came with the backing of the UKEF which made a “request”. But he admitted that it was not advertised for bidding.
“With the consent of the UKEF, we submitted it to the Government,” he explained. “They want an EPC contract and that is the type of contract we are pursuing.”
This is the second time a Government has made decisions on the four-lane, 58.7km road section. In September 2016, the Highways Ministry (under Minister Lakshman Kiriella of the United National Party) secured Cabinet approval to start the project.
That administration, too, opted to negotiate with a Chinese company without going for an open tender. The Cabinet gave the go-ahead for a loan from China Exim Bank. The contractor was the China Gezhouba Group of Companies. The agreement was on the verge of being signed but the deal fell through.