'We're interested in operating & maintaining Kirne Hydroelectric Project, when it comes into operation'
RUPAK D SHARMA
Tom Kristian Larsen, 45, is the new general manager of Himal Power Limited, the operator of 60MW Khimti I hydropower project, which has more than 83 percent stake of Norwegian companies SN Power and BKK. Before coming to Nepal, Larsen, a Norwegian who joined the company this January, was based in India and Thailand, where he worked for Telenor, a Norwegian telecom company.
In an interview with Rupak D Sharma of Republica, he talked about the power company’s business plans and labor dispute in the firm. Excerpts:
Although you are new, would you like to share something about the company’s experience in Nepal over the years?
HPL is happy to be in Nepal and it is delivering as per the expectations of the government as well as the company’s promoters. The Norwegian investors in the company are interested in doing more in Nepal and we would be happy to provide services for other developments happening in the hydropower sector.
Have you identified any areas in this regard?
Yes, we are interested in operating and maintaining Kirne Hydroelectric Project, when it comes into operation. Infact, the Kirne project has received funds from investors of HPL, which includes SN Power, BKK and Butwal Power Company. This project will generate 65-67 MW of electricity during wet season, meaning it won’t be producing power for almost six months every year. We were supposed to begin construction of this project last year, but the government is yet to give us an approval in this regard.
Is the HPL interested in investing in other power projects as well?
As of now, HPL does not have any plans of starting a new project. But one of our main investors, SN Power, which holds more than 57 percent stake in the company, has already initiated works to develop 650MW Tamakoshi III hydropower project. But like in the case of Kirne Hydroelectric, this project is also waiting for the government’s go-ahead.
As the new GM of HPL, what are your priorities?
I have landed with quite an issue on my lap (the ongoing labor dispute). So, my primary objective is to resolve this issue so that we can resume normal work. Right now, the labor protest has stopped all the works in the company and we are generating power by recruiting five people for the main control building, who haven’t been able to change shifts for the last four weeks. We know it’s putting a huge strain on them but there is no other way to ensure uninterrupted power generation as protestors have gathered outside the main gate of the building. Yes, we could have always used helicopters to ferry our staff in and out of the building but we are hoping the situation will normalize soon.
These staff, who are protesting, used to be employees of HPL till 2001. The company then transferred them to an outsourcing firm called Khimti Services on condition that they will be given same benefits as those enjoyed by HPL employees. Now, you have terminated contract with Khimti Services. What was the reason behind it?
HPL takes a number of services from external service providers. Among them security services and facility management services were outsourced to Khimti Services in 2001. Our contract with them had expired on 15 July 2011, which was first extended by four months and then by another month. But before delving into this issue, you have to understand that HPL shares the same code of conduct with all its suppliers, which requires outsourcing companies to have certain systems and procedures in place to assure us that they are adopting the same principles as HPL. So, it is very important for any of our supplier to be transparent in administration of its works, one of which is submission of audited financial reports in time. During the time when we were trying to renew the contract with Khimti Services, we repeatedly asked the company to submit this information but they failed to do so. That led to termination of the contract.
What does this have to do with the workers? Besides, the main demand of the workers seems to be the implementation of Labor Tribunal’s decision, which has asked HPL to pay them bonuses from the time they were moved to Khimti Services.
I want to be careful about mentioning too much about the tribunal’s decisions as there are lots of details and I don’t have adequate information to comment on that issue. This is because I arrived in Nepal only on Jan 2 and within four days of my arrival in the country I took initiatives to solve this problem as I knew it could be solved through dialogue.
So what steps are you taking to solve this problem?
We have held discussions with various parties including the government in this regard. One of the parties, Khimti Services, is asking us to take all the employees in HPL to solve the problem. But that would mean taking a lot of employees who are really not involved in our core business of power production. We have come up with a different arrangement under which we will give the employees an opportunity to serve HPL again. But the condition is that they should first join G4S and work under the G4S management. If they agree to join G4S, they will be given a 10 percent raise in the salaries and a dearness allowance of Rs 1,100 per month. For those who do not want to accept this proposal, we are planning to introduce an early retirement package. However, it is still too early to talk about this option. But what is important to me is to ensure fairness in the process. Besides, the Ministry of Labor and Transport Management is mediating in the dispute. So, I think we can come up with a solution at the earliest