In what appeared to be another case of nepotism and waste of taxpayers money, the Planning Commission at the behest of the Prime Minister House has revived a closed project costing around Rs144 million allegedly to accommodate a retired blue-eyed boy.
The Planning Commission had to bite the bullet as it was pushed by the Prime Minister House to extend the Institutional Strengthening and Efficiency Enhancement Project by June 2013.
The total cost of the project is Rs144.2 million and it was among 14 other projects which were abandoned to save Rs25 billion. These projects were initiated in the name of capacity building but the real motive was to accommodate retired bureaucrats of the Planning Commission, said an official of the Planning Commission.
According to the official, the main beneficiary of the institutional strengthening project is Asif Sheikh who had retired around six years ago but was running the project by becoming a public sector development programme (PSDP) specialist.
Sheikh has been a contractual employee of the Planning Commission and gets salary from the account of the institutional strengthening project. He has even attained 65 years of age.
Incumbent Planning Secretary Asif Bajwa after joining the Planning Division had decided to close all capacity-building projects except for those which were of strategic nature and involved foreign grant. He had given marching orders to Sheikh and the Commission issued a notification to close the project by June 30.
However, sources said the decision has been reversed and the project has been extended for another year. An impression has been given that former finance minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh had called for extending the project. However, when Hafeez Shaikh was approached for comments, he categorically denied having given orders to extend the project.
A senior official of the Commission revealed that Asif Sheikh used his connections in the PM House to pressurise the Commission to extend the project.
According to next year’s PSDP document, so far Rs67.8 million has been spent on the project compared to the total cost of Rs144.2 million. For the year, Rs18 million has been earmarked for the project.
Defending the decision, Planning Commission spokesman Ishfaqullah Khan stressed that the government wanted to gradually complete the project since jobs of many people were involved. He admitted that the institutional building project does not meet the criteria set to continue some of the ongoing projects.
To press ahead with the project, he, however, said special criteria have been set which will protect crucial specialist jobs including that of Asif Sheikh.
The project was approved by the Planning Commission in 2007 aimed at enhancing its capacity and introducing corporate culture.
Ironically, according to another official, the institution (Planning Commission) has been ruined in the last several years, when officials were not even allowed to be groomed as the body was virtually run by a few handpicked people.
Asif Sheikh is currently out of the country and was unable to respond to queries.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2012.
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