Assessing the ministry’s performance based on this is unfair, say officials

As it has no authority over the project management, assessing the ministry of economic affairs’ performance based on the progress of construction hydropower projects is unfair, according to officials.

The secretary, Dasho Yeshey Wangdi and director general of hydropower and power systems department, Sonam P Wangdi submitted this to the Prime Minister during the mid-year review of the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) yesterday in Thimphu.

Of the 49 success indicators, the ministry achieved five, 37 are on track and seven at risk. Of the seven indicators at risk, four pertains to hydropower projects.

Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said the progress on construction of Punatshangchhu I and II is slow. The Department of Hydropower and Power Systems, while being the nodal agency, has no stake in construction activities as individual projects have different authorities. “The department is simply facilitating and coordinating with the project on behalf of the government,” he said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay suggested giving smaller weightage to the indicator, if things are not in the purview of the ministry. Lyonchhen also said that perhaps the projects should sign another agreement with the minister, as he is the chairman.

Sonam P Wangdi said the department has signed agreements with the projects. However, the department can’t get the commitments from the project authority. Because of this, he said the department scored the lowest in the ministry, demoralising civil servants who are working hard.

The ministry, however, proposed the targets be reduced by one percent for Punatshangchhu I, four percent for Punatshangchhu II, eight percent for Nikachhu and another four percent for Kholongchhu.

Lyonchhen said that the department has done a good job. Based on the monthly progress report he received, the ministry’s achievement would be close to the target in five months time.

“There is no need to revise the target,” he said adding that even if the ministry doesn’t get an ‘excellent,’ rating, he said the rating would be ‘good.’

“We did not impose anything, you came up with the targets,” he said. “All are aspiring for outstanding results which is good, but if you demand ‘outstanding’ then its better to throw the system out of the window,” he said.

As for the, unforeseen distress and calamities in case of Punatshangchhu I and II, Lyonchhen said the National Technical Committee will verify and consideration would be given.

Progress of projects

As of January 31 this year, 83.7 percent of the works have been completed for Punatshangchhu I. The APA target is to achieve 86 percent and the proposal was to bring it down to 85 percent.

Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said the progress on the ground is between 0.2 and 0.4 percent a month, as distress areas along the dam site is treated simultaneously.

Due to several geological surprises, he said that a holistic study was necessary to address the problems and avoid glitches during the operation period. A Norwegian consultant was hired and an assessment has been conducted last year. Due to the distress in downstream area of dam, works were suspended from May to September. Dam excavation resumed with strict monitoring, which resulted in slow progress. It was also highlighted that the initial depth of excavation was also underestimated by 20 meters.

There was also a change in design of hoisting system of draft tube gates in the powerhouse which delayed electro mechanical works.

The Prime Minister said that progress in January was 0.2 percent, and if the same pace continues, the overall achievement will be almost 85 percent in five months.

The progress of Punatshangchhu II was 0.8 percent in January. By the end of the fiscal year, it is likely to achieve 79 percent against the target of 81 percent.

It was pointed out that flooding of cofferdam twice has delayed the dam concreting. It was shared that concreting works are at a standstill until December since July 2017.

Restoration works on the collapsed powerhouse cavern was also delayed. Considering the stability and safety, Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said that Central Water Commission of India is carrying out a holistic study and the consultant is yet to come up with recommendations. “The APA target was drawn considering that major part of the remedial measures would be completed,” the secretary said.

For the Nikachhu project, it was pointed out that there were liquidity issues related to the cash flow on the contractor’s part, Hindustan Construction Company (HCC). This has caused delay in dam, head race tunnel and powerhouse complexes as the contractor could not mobilise machines and equipment.  “Equipment brought to the site was old and suffered frequent breakdown,” Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said.

Amending the contractual provisions, the project authority resorted to providing additional advances, which was initially based on per linear meter. The Construction Development Corporation Limited was also engaged in adit works. Access roads were also damaged during monsoon.

However, the Prime Minister said revision of target from 18 percent to 10 percent because of the contractor’s failure is not a good precedent. “Then it should be applied to all construction activities,” he said.

In case of Kholongchhu, Lyonchhen said consideration could be given as the government instructed to halt the works until the issue of cross border trading of electricity rules that took effect in India is fully resolved.

It is because of this issue that the signing of concession agreement could not take place. “This involves market access and tariff, which is very important,” the secretary said.

Since the civil works on dam, headrace tunnel and powerhouse could not take off as per the plan, the ministry proposed to reduce the APA target from 12 percent to eight percent.

Tshering Dorji