The government on Tuesday approved half a dozen development projects worth Rs100 billion including the Mandra-Chakwal Road construction scheme at a revised cost two and a half times higher.
The Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the dualisation of the Mandra-Chakwal project, despite being dubbed as ‘economically unviable’ by the Planning Commission.
It also approved the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) at a cost of Rs38.3 billion, aimed at protecting infants against nine preventable diseases -childhood tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis-B, Haemophilus influenza Type B, measles and pneumonia.
The Rs9.3 billion, revised for the second time, Mandra-Chakwal scheme is 245% higher than the original price at which it had been approved by former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in 2012 to meet a longstanding demand of his constituents.
However, the project became controversial, as the former premier had cleared the scheme by using his discretionary powers in violation of laid-down procedures. The interrupted project was revived again when the incumbent PM Nawaz Sharif took its ownership.
During his visit to Chakwal in July 2014, PM Sharif, for the second time, inaugurated the Mandra-Chakwal Road and also approved expansion in the scope of the work. Former PM Ashraf first inaugurated the project.
In December last year, the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) had cleared the scheme at a cost of Rs10.1 billion. The government later on reduced the cost by slashing overhead charges and the Ecnec approved the project at the final price of Rs9.3 billion.
The project’s initial cost was Rs2.7 billion. After coming into power, the PML-N government approved the project at a revised cost of Rs4.7 billion. However, it has now made a second revision, hence increasing the cost by Rs6.6 billion – 245% higher than the 2012 original price.
Out of the Rs6.6 billion, about Rs2.7 billion seems justifiable while the rest (Rs4 billion) of the increase remains unexplained, showed project documents. Work on the project has already begun and Rs4.5 billion has so far been spent on it.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had also launched an inquiry, which remains pending. The NAB is investigating the award of the project, violation of the procedures and release of funds.
The Planning Commission’s technical and financial appraisal sections raised objections over the ‘tremendous increase in cost’ and giving profit to the National Logistic Cell on certain components in violation of the PM Nawaz Sharif’s directions.
Its main objection is on the financial viability of the project. However, despite these objections the project was cleared on Tuesday.
Under the scheme, the road between Mandra and Chakwal (64-kilometre patch) will be made into a dual carriageway besides construction of a flyover at Chakwal northern bypass. The condition of the existing road is dilapidated, causing sufferings to thousands of commuters.
The committee approved the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) for the period of 2015-16 to 2019-20. The programme envisages protecting children of ‘one-year’ age against nine diseases. The EPI also aims at protecting pregnant women against tetanus toxoid and new-born babies against tetanus neonatrum.
The programme will also protect children under five years of age against complications and mortality caused by diarrheal diseases through proper case management.
The Ecnec conditionally approved a project for the provision of coal conveying system from Pakistan International Bulk Terminal (PIBT) to Railway network at Port Qasim.
The project will help transport coal from terminal to railway, siding and loading of coal onto railway wagons for onward transmission to the proposed coal-fired power plants. This will also address an objection by the Asian Development Bank that delayed construction of $1.5 billion Jamshoro coal-fired project.
The highest project approval authority also cleared a scheme for construction of additional carriageway of Indus Highway N-55 at the revised cost of Rs22.3 billion. It approved a scheme for the reconstruction of Kohlu-Sibi Road at a revised cost of Rs6.6 billion.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2016.