Ex-FM ‘held back funds’ delaying dams

Published: November 15, 2017
File photo of Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

File photo of Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

ISLAMABAD: A former chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), Shakil Durrani, requested the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday to summon former finance minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh over his dubious role in delaying execution of many critical water projects.

Durrani lifted the curtain on some of the events that happened during the PPP’s third tenure. He claimed in the PAC meeting that Dr Shaikh would pay heed to the then army chief General (retd) Ashfaq Pervez Kayani but would at times ignore advice by the then president Asif Ali Zardari.

During the meeting, politicians and bureaucrats blamed each other over uncontrolled expansion in federally funded projects that have now increased to over 1,000 schemes.

The politicians advised the bureaucrats to show guts and have courage to say ‘no’ to politically motivated projects. The bureaucrats in return asked the politicians to start trusting them.

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The PAC meeting had been called to fix responsibility for delay in start of work on Naulong Dam even though tenders had been floated.

The PAC was also supposed to take a decision on the issue of placing Rs2 billion worth of funds in private bank accounts instead of spending it on the Naulong Dam construction. But it did not take up the matter despite summoning the former Wapda chairman.

Durrani headed Wadpa from September 2007 to September 2012 and the PPP was in power from early 2008 to early 2013.  The PAC had summoned Durrani to explain his role on retaining Rs2 billion in a private bank instead of spending it on the Naulong Dam project.

When PAC Chairman Khursheed Shah asked who was responsible for a 10-year delay in the start of work on the dam, Durrani replied, “It would be better if the PAC called the former finance minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.” Dr Shaikh was also the minister for planning during the PPP government.

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Durrani said Naulong Dam project was one of the 10 favourite projects of former president Zardari who would call review meetings after every two months. During these meetings, Dr Shaikh used to say ‘please do not bother the president’ and assured provision of funds, he added.

“However, when I would meet Shaikh, he used to say that the country’s financial conditions were precarious and he could not provide funds for Naulong,” he added.

The Wapda had demanded an additional Rs2 billion from the Planning and Finance Ministry but it never got those funds. “I will not comment on inefficiencies of Shaikh, as you have the liberty to talk about anything as you are retired from service,” remarked Shah, the PAC chairman, who also belongs to the PPP.

Narrating another event, Durrani said the Mangla Dam raising project had been completed by Wapda and Rs2 billion were required to resettle the affected population, but the authority could not get the money from the former finance minister despite repeated requests and meetings.

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“One day I met the then COAS at airport by chance and told him that the project was suffering because of delay in release of funds. He promised to help me, and Shaikh released Rs2 billion within three days,” he claimed.

Durrani had initially said a ‘non-political person’ helped him get funds but when the PAC asked to disclose the name, he said it was the then army chief. He said due to delay in filling the dam, the country suffered at least Rs15 billion loss per annum.

The PAC also discussed the perennial issue of inclusion of hundreds of more schemes in the portfolio of federally-funded Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) despite severe scarcity of resources.

The PML-N government has included 429 new schemes in the 2017-18 PSDP despite pendency of 593 ongoing schemes. It requires Rs5.6 trillion to complete work on all the schemes, which is more than federal government’s total annual budget for the year.

“The bureaucracy should have the courage to say ‘no’ to the political leadership,” said MNA Rohail Asghar of the PML-N. He said it was the bureaucracy that was not performing its duties, “but the parliament and the politicians are blamed”.

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“I do not have fear of anything and always speak truth to the political leadership”, said Shoaib Siddiqui, federal Secretary for Planning and Development, who is responsible for finalising the PSDP.

“The political leadership should trust bureaucracy and that can help in better service delivery. If we do not perform, then transfer us,” added the planning secretary.

Siddiqui said the Planning Ministry conveys to the political leadership the available fiscal envelope and it is up to every ministry to decide their priorities.

Interestingly, the PML-N government has spent Rs94 billion on politically motivated parliamentarians’ schemes. However, apparently every official from the Planning Ministry to the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Division has cooperated with the ruling party and never said ‘no’.

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