Building such a marvellous runway is not only expensive but only a few companies in the world have such expertise to construct runways extending from shore to sea
With inspiration from Hong Kong International Airport, the Bangladesh government has taken an ambitious project to expand the runway at Cox’s Bazar airport by reclaiming land from the sea in a bid to woo tourists to the beach town.
The project, which was approved by the government on November 4, 2018, has been estimated to cost Tk1,998 crore to construct the 1,700 feet-long runway extension, of which 1,300 feet will be on the sea.
However, building such a marvellous runway is not only expensive but only a few companies in the world have such expertise to construct runways extending from shore to sea.
The project had been marred with controversies since the beginning following allegations of corruption against the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), the government body overseeing the massive project.
The project fell into a controversy when CAAB hurriedly selected China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), an international contractor previously blacklisted on corruption charges by the Bangladesh government, in the tender process.
CAAB announced the tender on November, 2019, and fixed March 19, 2020, as the last date of submission. A total of 10 bidders, mostly from China, Korea, and Turkey, submitted their proposals.
On May 17, 2020, CAAB selected Chinese company CHEC after scrutinizing their technical and financial proposals for the tender.
Already, Hyundai Development Company (HDC) and National Development Engineers (NDE) Joint Venture (HDCNDE JV), one of the 10 bidders for the project, has already emailed an official complaint to CAAB to ensure transparency and stop arbitrary selection and evaluation of contractors for the tender.
Kiwoong Kim, the authorized representative of South Korea-based renowned developer HDC, filed the complaint to the CAAB under Section 30 of the Public Procurement Act, 2006, for arbitrary selection and evaluation of contractors.
According to the complaint letter, the entire process has fallen into a dispute as only China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) was selected for financial bid opening in a hurried manner against 10 other reputed bidders. It also accused CAAB of hastily making their decision of selecting CHEC amid the ongoing public holidays declared by the government since March 23, 2020.
HDCNDE JV also claimed in the letter that mala fide in the selection process was proved as CAAB selected a blacklisted company, with a proven reputation for resorting to bribery and corruption for obtaining projects in Bangladesh, in a hurried manner during the ongoing public holiday.
“We would like to bring to your attention that in June 2018, China Harbour Engineering Company was blacklisted by the Government of Bangladesh for attempting to bribe a Secretary with the Roads and Highways Department,” the letter said.
HDCNDE JV has requested CAAB to immediately stop the entire selection process and cancel awarding the tender of the project and re-evaluate the technical capabilities of the bidders in the appropriate manner prior to considering the technical bid of any party.
However, the authorities have been ignoring all allegations being brought forward by other bidder companies.
“We were astonished to see that none of the companies were able to submit their documents accurately. We have marked all the faults in the documents submitted to the tender committee by such global reputed companies if they want to challenge us,” said Md Muhibul Haque, senior secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, when contacted by Dhaka Tribune on Saturday.
“That is why we were bound to select only the Chinese companies for further procedures. However, analyzing the financial documents of the selected Chinese company, we found that our costs can be Tk136 crore less than estimated. That will be a huge saving of public money,” he added.
Meanwhile, CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are requesting companies to check their faults while submitting documents first to understand the mistakes, or else they will lose their reputation if we go public.
“The total tendering process was done with 100% transparency,” he claimed.
However, a local consultant of the HDCNDE JV said: “We are over sure that there were no loopholes in our documents. We can and will challenge it. If necessary, we will submit a petition in court.”
Is CHEC a blacklisted company?
On January 2018, the government blacklisted China Harbour Engineering Company Limited for trying to bribe a secretary of the Roads and Highway Division.
“The firm (CHEC) offered Tk5 million in bribes to the Road Transport and Highways Division secretary. The secretary informed us about the matter. That is why we have blacklisted them. It won’t be able to work here anymore,” the then finance minister AMA Muhith made the announcement before reporters at the Secretariat on January 16, 2018.
However, CAAB chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said: “According to the Public Procurement Act, blacklisted companies are not eligible to participate in any tender process.
“So, is there any scope to select the company if it was blacklisted by the government? As HDC did not qualify, that is why they are now raising the issue,” he added.
However, CAAB tender committee’s inclination for Chinese companies is nothing new.
Power Construction Corporation of China, one of the 10 foreign bidders, submitted technical proposals and financial proposals in the same envelope, despite rules to be submitted in separate envelopes.
According to Section 24.1 of the Public Procurement Act, the tender committee should reject the document. But, unfortunately, the tender committee accepted it on March 19.
That was the beginning of the allegation against the tender committee of the runway.
Following reports of massive irregularities and corruption on the runway expansion project, the government formed a probe committee which found evidence of irregularities of more than Tk100 crore.
The committee also recommended filing a departmental case against the concerned executive engineer and project director along with suspension from their capacities.
First sea extended runway in Bangladesh to attract tourists
Despite being the largest sea beach in the world, Cox’s Bazar had failed to attract the number of tourists it deserves.
Thus, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism took a sea-extended runway at Cox’s Bazar Airport to woo tourists from all over the globe.
As per initial design, the runway was supposed to be extended 3000 feet (around 1km) from shore to the sea with a cost of Tk3,709crore, but it was revised later for various complexities.
In the final design, the runway will be 1,700 feet of which 1300 feet will be on seawater, similar to Hong Kong International Airport, one of the most attractive airports to tourists.