The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday expressed apprehensions over the process adopted to award multi-billion-rupee contracts for the collection of road tax at all motorway toll plazas after auditors warned that authorities could award the deal to a defaulted party.
Sensing the trouble ahead, the PAC, headed by Nadeem Afzal Chan, ordered the ministry of communication to submit a weekly report until the transaction is completed. It also asked the ministry to improve the pre-qualification process for short-listing contractors after auditors revealed that authorities invited financial bids from the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO).
The FWO has been shortlisted despite the fact that it has not paid a penny which was collected as toll tax for last four years, said the director general (DG) audit. The other party shortlisted by the National Highway Authority (NHA) is the National Logistic Cell (NLC).
NHA Chairman Imran Gardazi admitted that seven parties submitted expressions of interest and only NLC and FWO could prequalify. He said the NHA had sought financial bids from both the parties.
NHA is in the process of retendering 52 motorway toll plazas on the directives of the PAC after FWO was involved in illegally occupying the toll plazas and refused to pay Rs7.9 billion to NHA collected as taxes from motorways. Due to their refusal, NHA fell short of funds for repairing the dilapidated portions of the motorways.
The PAC meeting had been convened on Wednesday to seek an update from the ministry and the FWO regarding PAC’s directives to deposit the toll collection into NHA accounts, to ensure payment of the Rs7.9 billion by the FWO and to award the toll plazas’ contract through a transparent process.
The directions had been given about four months ago and the FWO could implement only one out of the three. Communication Secretary Anwar Ahmad Khan told the PAC that the FWO has started depositing collection from toll plazas on a monthly basis.
He said that for the month of July the FWO has deposited Rs284 million in the accounts of the NHA. However, the audit DG said that he did not have any idea about this transaction and was unable to confirm whether the money had actually been deposited in the kitty.
Regarding the Rs7.9 billion outstanding dues, FWO Deputy Director General Brigadier Shahid once again linked the payments with the clearance of FWO’ s dues despite PAC’s repeated directions not to link the two.
The auditors also differed with the viewpoint of the FWO and said that the organisation’s stance was against the rules of the government. The PAC gave the FWO a 10-day deadline to settle the payment dispute. The auditors also revealed that the FWO was deliberately linking both the issues as it had 95 contracts with the NHA and wanted to exploit the situation.
The auditors further told the PAC that FWO was also refusing to allow the audit of its projects, creating hurdles in discharging their Constitutional obligations. Consequently, the PAC directed the FWO to facilitate the auditors within the next few days or seek a waiver from the cabinet if it still insists to keep the auditors at bay.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2012.