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Louis Berger scam in rear view, JICA wants ‘highest standards of ethics’ as it talks to Goa again

Japan International Cooperation Agency is in ‘early stage’ of discussions to finance Rs 2,000-cr power project in Goa, JICA India chief representative Saito Mitsunori has said.

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New Delhi: Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), India’s biggest bilateral donor, has emphasised the need to uphold the “highest standards of ethics and transparency” in reference to concerns about providing a Rs 2,000-crore loan to the Goa government, after a previous JICA-funded state project in the 2010s got mired in controversy.

It was reported last month that the Goa government is eyeing a Rs 2,000-crore JICA loan to finance the power department’s underground cabling, substations and meter installations work.

Speaking to ThePrint Tuesday, Saito Mitsunori, chief representatiive, JICA India Office, said discussions with the Goa government are at early stages and any project would require an official request from the central government.

“We held extensive discussions with the [Goa] department of power to explore possibilities of funding support for renewable energy as well as small-scale generators and reinforcement of transmission and distribution network. The discussions are at an early stage. In order to make an examination, we will need an official request from the government of India,” he said.

When asked if JICA had any concerns pursuing a project in Goa after a previous one was embroiled in a bribery scandal, Mitsunori said: “What happened back then, happened. But I will say that for any project we finance, we request the government to uphold the highest standards of ethics, transparency, and integrity”

What happened in the 2010s was the infamous ‘Louis Berger-JICA bribery scam’, in which Goa ministers allegedly received bribes from officials of an American firm called Louis Berger to grant contracts for a Rs 1,031-crore JICA-funded project that aimed to provide water augmentation and sewerage pipeline installation work in the state.

In 2015, the Goa Police arrested former minister Churchill Alemao, then JICA project director Anand Wachasunder, and US firm Louis Berger’s then vice-president Satyakam Mohanty in the case. Former Goa CM Digambar Kamat was also booked in the case. The same US firm was in 2017 accused of bribing Assam government officials in securing government contracts.

Also read: The decline of Congress in Goa — from single-largest party in 2017 to divided house of 4 now

316 JICA loans issued until now

JICA, known for funding the Delhi Metro among other high-profile infrastructure projects in India, has set up a total of 316 loans till date.

The body has committed a total of Rs 3.8 lakh crore (7 trillion Japanese yen), excluding private finance investment.

Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, 72 loan agreements have been finalised, totalling to Rs 1.5 lakh crore (2.78 trillion Japanese yen).

According to Keiichiro Nakazawa, senior vice president, JICA, three ongoing projects are slated to be completed in the near future — the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, Kolkata Metro, and Western Dedicated Freight Corridor.

As for the highly anticipated Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor project, known as the bullet train project, it was reported that India urged Japan to issue tenders for systems, especially electricals and signalling, by December 2022-March 2023.

Asked if Japan would stick to this timeline for tenders, given that the project has already witnessed many delays, Nakazawa told ThePrint: “There are still several tenders remaining but both the Indian and Japanese govt have placed high importance on this project.  As there are several sequences to the project, both the Indian side and Japanese side have been under discussion to expedite the project implementation.”

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail corridor project was initially slated to be completed by 2023, but has witnessed several delays.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Lent Indian banks Rs 4,400 cr over 10 years for renewable energy work, JICA India head says

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