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Dr Samar locks horns with Australian firm on Thar power

Dr Samar Mubarakmand, running the Pakistani show of producing gas-based electricity from coal, has locked horns with a foreign company by refusing to purchase Rs400 million worth of drilling rigs assembled in Pakistan.

The company has invested in the local assembly of drilling rigs, which Samar is bound to purchase under the Pakistani indigenization law for engineering goods.When approached, Dr Samar told The News that he had a bad experience with the locally-made water-well drilling rigs, and that’s why he refused to purchase them. He prefers Chinese rigs.

Graham Bourne, managing director of the company Boundrill Australia that offered the Thar Coal Project locally-assembled truck-mounted rigs for use in the gasification process, quoted the Pakistani law (SRO 827 (I)/2001, of Ministry of Commerce, issued under Import-Export Control Act flashed on the PPRA website) that prevents Dr Samar from purchasing foreign products if they are available from the local producers or assemblers.

He also clarified that Samar had little experience with the local rigs, suggesting that the nuclear scientist’s bid to purchase the Chinese rigs was not understandable.Samar said his officials committed blunders in launching the tenders for the purchase of water-well drilling rigs, but “we have finally decided that the local rigs would be discouraged.”

The blunder he was referring to was that in the first tender, which was later on withdrawn, the local producer was primarily declared as technically acceptable, but later on the tender was scrapped to technically pronounce that the local producer could not join the bidding process. The other aspect of the blunder was that while the local offer was technically fit, the offers of companies that were technically unfit were also accepted.

Samar had no excuse for this blunder, but he insisted that he was right in violating the law for indigenization of engineering goods and the Australian company’s persistence in the regard was not to be entertained.

The News got Dr Samar’s response to questions about this deal after this correspondent mailed a script of the story to the officials concerned some of whom said they could not say a final word in this connection. They gave The News an impression that Samar was running the show exclusively. However, Samar said: “I am only a member of the board of directors and the actual authority was Dr Mohammad Shabbir, the Managing Director, Underground Coal Gasification Project (UCGP)”.

When asked to give reasons for refusing to buy a locally-assembled rig, Samar said: “Pakistani rigs run the risk of collapse of projects. They develop faults which cause delays in the completion of projects”. He, however, did not offer a concrete example in support of his argument.”

After scrapping the first tender of May 2012, a new tender was issued on September 2012 and opened on October 18, 2012. The Boundrill was declared as technically acceptable in this process.

The re-tendering was done on November 29, 2010, wherein it was declared that only Chinese and Western origin (foreign made) rigs were acceptable. The November 29 tender documents carry a glaring tilt for the Chinese bidders as their specifications of the offered models have been incorporated in tender documents.

Secondly, the men working under Dr Samar Mubarakmand made history by demanding that one percent bid-security amount be paid only in US dollars. No government institution has ever imposed such a condition, as all bidders always submit bid-security in Pak rupees.

When Dr Samar’s attention was drawn to the fact that his men had called bids for rigs below the capacity to do the work at the project, he said he would not allow it.The rigs in question are required for drilling boreholes for gasification of underground coal in the Thar Desert.

Dr Samar was again asked on Tuesday as to why the tender reflected that only those bids would be acceptable that follow the model of rigs made by the Chinese firms, which implied that he had already accepted the Chinese rig, as other companies would not be able to follow that model using their own specifications and plants etc.

The Chinese model might be useless to Thar Desert where temperature is very high and Chinese rigs are designed only for northern spheres, far colder climates.

He was asked as to why tender-callers were asking for security amount in US dollars, which was detrimental to bidders as it was a common practice in Pakistan that security was always demanded in Pak rupee.

Responding to these questions while sitting in his I-11, Islamabad Thar Coal office, Dr Samar said: “I have nothing to do with this project. I work with the Planning Commission and I am giving this cellphone to Dr. Shabbir, the Managing Director of the project, to answer your questions.”

Asking this correspondent to hold time and again while answering questions and consulting Dr Mubarakmand, Dr Shabbir said they had posted the Chinese model on their website to only tell the bidders that this would be their minimum standard requirement. He hinted that the demand for submitting security amount in dollars may be changed to Pak rupees.

When asked to explain as to why he had not set up a committee for ensuring compliance to the laws for the tendering-bid-response mechanism, which was mandatory in such exercise, he said: “We are not doing anything wrong”.

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