Public money going down the drain?


Salman Siddiqui May 03, 2010

KARACHI: There’s good news and bad. The good news is that 16 million Karachiites will not have to put up with water contaminated with industrial effluent and sewerage as the Sindh government has finally decided to set up a purification plant at Kotri.

The bad news is, the turnkey project worth Rs740 million for building a state-of-art Combined Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) has been awarded to a private consultancy firm that used to make roads.

The Sindh High Court had long been urging the government to set up the plant. About 110 km north of Karachi, Kotri town produces about 2.5 million gallons of industrial effluent a day. This muck is presently dumped into the Karli Bighar feeder, which supplies water to Keenjhar Lake.

The lake is the primary reservoir for the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) but, apart from standard chlorination, the utility doesn’t do much to the polluted waters.

The CETP was designed to address this health hazard by treating the water for industrial waste and sewerage contamination. But those who have seen the approved technical and financial feasibility reports for the project aren’t holding their breath.

The biggest issue, they say, are the players involved. The contract (a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune) has been awarded to the Karachi-based architects International Design Group, who have simultaneously been dubbed the principal consultancy firm.

Why an architectural consultancy would be interested in doing business so far removed from its core competency is obvious: government documents show that just the consultancy charges for the survey, design and preparation of drawings and construction documents are a cool Rs67.3 million. But there seems to be little on ground to justify this leap of faith on part of the government.

The company does not maintain a web presence, which would provide details of its human resources or its projects. And since it’s not a publicly listed company, there is little about the company in the public domain.

Even more significantly, the firm refuses to even talk about itself. Despite repeated requests, the IDG refused to share details regarding its track record in the field of CETP designing or even its company profile.

The construction industry also doesn’t have much dope on the IDG. The firm is known to have some commercial projects and a few roads to their credit. But interestingly, as per the Pakistan Engineering Council website, IDG isn’t even registered with it.

So why were they chosen? Depends on who you talk to. The contract was awarded by the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate Limited (SITE), on behalf of the Sindh government. Listening to the arguments of the SITE chief engineer Abdul Waheed Shaikh, the man who’s supervising the entire project, you’d imagine that the award of Sindh government projects depends more on enthusiasm for the job than demonstrated capability.

“Admittedly, the IDG’s expertise lies in the building of roads and buildings,” says Shaikh. “But since this will be the first CETP in the country, someone had to start,” he reasons.

[Editor’s note: Karachi already has a CETP near Korangi Tanneries, which has a treatment capacity of 4.2 million gallons per day.]

Were there not Rs67.3 million at stake, Shaikh’s touching faith in the IDG could be forgiven: the man admits he doesn’t know the first thing about CETPs and is unable to answer even basic questions about the project specs. But he insists that due procedure was followed in the award of the project.

The Sindh government invited domestic and international tenders for the Kotri project in an ad with leading dailies on January 8, 2010. But despite repeated requests, Shaikh did not see fit to share the list of applicants with The Express Tribune. However, he insists that the IDG was chosen after a careful scrutiny of all bidders. But insiders claim otherwise.

“Shaikh won’t show you the list because no such list exists,” chortles one. “They didn’t follow the rules so obviously, they won’t have bothered.”

This is an astounding story of corruption and corporate intrigue. SITE is governed by the Sindh Industries department. And companies who’re looking to ‘win’ projects are bound to ‘share’ fees. But Shaikh rubbishes these claims.

“The IDG was hired as a consultant for SITE much before the Kotri project was tendered,” he says. He doesn’t bother with the details of why they were hired and offers a garbled explanation when asked to justify why the lucrative contract went to an architectural consultancy.

“Actually, we were under a lot of pressure from the [Hyderabad bench of the Sindh High] court to build the CETP at Kotri, so we prepared the [documents] with our consultant IDG in association with another firm EA Consultancy Private Limited, which has reputable engineering capacity,” he confesses.

Why not just work directly with the engineering firm? “If we had done that, it would have taken us months to get the approval from the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority and the court was after us,” he explains.

According to PPRA rules, SITE must seek the regulator’s approval before hiring consultants. Shaikh’s naivette also seems to extend to money matters.

“The fee being paid to IDG is less than Rs10.5 million,” he insists, ignoring the Rs67.3- million figure mentioned on government documents to which he is a signatory.

[The other signatories are one Mazhar Abbas, who is an associate with the IDG, SITE managing director Manzoor Ahmed Kanasro and Industries secretary Ali Ahmed Lund.]

“Since IDG is the principal consultant, we will pay them and they will then pass on EA Consultancy’s share,” says Shaikh. Almost as touching as Shaikh’s faith in IDG’s competence is provincial minister for Industries and Commerce Rauf Siddiqui’s faith in Shaikh and SITE’s managing director.

“Ministers make policies; they don’t look at individual projects,” says Siddiqui.

“I trust Shaikh and the MD’s judgement; if there’s something fishy about this project, the media should uncover it and I’ll take appropriate action.”

Siddiqui says international companies were invited to bid “but no one came forward.” Meanwhile, industry experts are aghast.

“Building a CETP requires high-end technology as such plants treat not only industrial but domestic waste,” explains KWSB chief engineer Najam Alam.

“The problem is anyone can make anything and get away without meeting technical requirements,” he fumes. Others are dismayed at the myopia of the Sindh government.

“You don’t need a CETP here; all you need is for small treatment plants to be set up at individual factories,” insists eminent urban planner Arif Hasan.

“The industry is the polluter; why should the taxpayer have to foot the bill?” But as things stand, this looks like the least of the Sindh government’s worries.

COMMENTS (1)

Dr Salim Hosein | 10 years ago | Reply "I trust Shaikh and the MD’s judgement; if there’s something fishy about this project, the media should uncover it and I’ll take appropriate action.” - Sindh Minister for Industries & Commerce, Rauf Siddiqui. That pretty much sums it up doesn't it? The government's happy to keep going doing their thing until someone can prove foul play. Even if questions regarding financial or other irregularities are raised, as are done excellently in the above, our representatives/civil servants aren't bothered as long as they're getting a cut or at the very least not having to do too much real work. Morals & all those things be damned.
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