KATHMANDU, Sept 27: In a last minute hasty flip, the government on Wednesday sent a secretary-level delegation to China, instead of Finance Minister Barshaman Pun, to fix the problems it faced in executing the Pokhara regional international airport (PRIA) Project.
“The team left under the leadership of Tourism Secretary Yagya Gautam,” said a senior government official, requesting anonymity. However, he could not explain reason behind the switch, as he himself was unaware of what happened.
Senior officials themselves expressed surprise over the development.
“We were told tickets for Pun and other delegation members had already been booked in China-Southern flight bound for Guangzhou at 11 pm Wednesday. So the final hour switch surprised us as well,” said a senior MoF official.
Finance Secretary Krishna Hari Baskota said their plan for the visit was dropped within 12 hours of announcement. He too said he was not aware of why the earlier plan was dropped.
“Pun informed us we were visiting China to sort out the problems faced in the PRIA project. In the final hour, he said we are not going,” said Baskota, who was also the member of the initially worked out team.
An official at Prime Minister´s Office said the structure of the team was changed after Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA) Post Bahadur Bogati too demanded his participation in the visit as well.
“Apparently this irked the FM as having two ministers in a suddenly arranged visit was inappropriate. So they settled for sending a team under Gautam´s leadership,” said the source.
Officials tagged the change as a rational move because the problems with PRIA are related with technical issues of operational level. “Sending FM level delegation was meaningless,” said the source.
PRIA -- planned to be built with soft loans of the Chinese Exim Bank, for which the two sides have already agreed in principle -- had landed into trouble after the price quoted by the lowest bidder, China CAMC Engineering Co, stood 86 percent higher than what civil aviation authority had estimated.
While Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has maintained China CAMC´s quotation of $ 305.13 million for developing the project has rendered it unviable, political leaders and locals of Pokhara have been pushing for the immediate implementation of the project.