Opacity rules

Govt waived off condition that there be international competitive tendering for construction of Eastbay expressway

Editorial June 18, 2016
A view of the port city of Gwadar. PHOTO: REUTERS

The current dispensation appears determined to shoot itself in the foot at every possible opportunity. In a world where ever greater transparency and accountability is demanded of democratically elected governments, the government of Pakistan conducts business behind the arras and does itself no favours by so doing — not that that is going to make the slightest difference. The latest exercise in opacity involves the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — once again. It is no exaggeration to say that this vast project truly could be a game changer for Pakistan in coming years, but it has been dogged by a lack of clarity almost from the outset. The western route which runs from Gwadar northwards into Central Asia is still the subject of dispute, and now the government has decided to ditch custom and practice, and waive off the condition that there be international competitive tendering for the construction of the Eastbay expressway that will link Gwadar to the coastal highway. Instead, the contract will be awarded to one of the three Chinese bidders.

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) appears to be the source of this irregularity, as it has approved a report by a sub-committee that has established the authority of the federation to override the watchdog, which is the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) Ordinance of 2002 when considering “strategic projects”. The whole point of having a body such as the PPRA is to ensure transparency in a complex process, which in the past and in connection with a myriad of public projects, has proved to be riddled with corruption. This is not to say that corruption can be assumed in the furtherance of this important component of the CPEC, but it does set a precedent when it comes to the tendering for other projects within the wider CPEC structure. Given the political sensitivities that surround the CPEC and particularly the suspicion that it is Punjab-centric, it would have been in the interest of the government to ensure that a move such as this had stakeholder approval and support across the political spectrum. Inclusivity was never a strong suit for a government increasingly divorced from democratic or even parliamentary processes, boding ill for all our futures.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2016.

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