ISLAMABAD: The caretaker government, which seems to be exceeding its constitutional mandate, has called a meeting to approve about one-and-a-half dozen development projects that cost Rs709 billion, financially binding future federal and provincial governments.
The meeting of the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) has been convened for the coming Monday – nine days before the general elections scheduled for July 25. In order to remove an administrative barrier to hold the meeting, the caretaker government has also given the charge of Planning Commission Deputy Chairman to Minister for Finance and Planning Dr Shamshad Akhtar.
“The competent authority has been pleased to allow caretaker Minister for Planning, Development and Reform to hold the charge of the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission with immediate effect,” according to a notification of the Establishment Division dated July 12.
This is the second attempt by the caretaker government to conduct the CDWP meeting. A similar attempt was also made in June but the planning ministry had to cancel the meeting on the intervention of caretaker finance minister Dr Shamshad Akthar.
Syed Ali Zafar, minister for information and law, was not available for comments. On previous occasions, he has maintained that the caretaker government does not have the mandate to take decisions that bind future governments.
The caretaker government’s sole mandate is to conduct general elections and take only those decisions that are necessary for running the state’s affairs on a day-to-day basis.
If the caretaker government goes ahead with its plan to hold the meeting, it will bring a bad name to it, commented a senior official of the planning ministry.
The planning ministry has also issued the agenda of the CDWP meeting. Some projects that are plagued with corruption allegiants like Kachhi Canal, costing Rs25.8 billion, have also been placed on the meeting’s agenda. Mega infrastructure projects including Diamer-Bhasha dam and metro bus projects are also on the agenda.
On April 17, 2018, the PML-N government approved the construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam at an estimated cost of Rs474 billion aimed at increasing the country’s depleting water storage capacity. However, now the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) wanted to modify the PC-I of the approved project, as it seeks permission to construct a small dam of about 15MW power generation capacity. This will increase the project cost by at least Rs6 billion to Rs480 billion, said officials in the Ministry of Planning.
While approving the Diamer-Bhasha dam project, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had shot down the idea of building a small dam during the construction of the mega project. But now Wapda wants to take advantage of the hype around construction of the dam due to keen interest shown by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
On completion, the Diamer-Bhasha dam project will increase national water storage capacity from 38 days to 45 days and enhance life span on downstream reservoirs, including the Tarbela Dam.
There are four projects on the CDWP agenda that are not even part of the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2018-19. The CDWP can approve only those projects that are included in the PSDP and have secure financing pipelines. However, the last PML-N government also violated this principle, which adversely affected some ongoing projects.
The caretaker government wants to approve more projects at a time when over Rs6.5 trillion worth of projects are already either under implementation or have been approved by the CDWP and Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec). The country has limited financial resources and growing development outlay has made it impossible to complete even ongoing schemes in time.
The four projects that the caretaker government wants to push through despite having no financial allocations in the PSDP are reconstruction of berths at the Karachi port worth Rs11.4 billion, construction of the grid station and transmission line at Mashkey at a cost of Rs1.2 billion, capacity building of AJK Power Development Organization at a cost of Rs47.8 million and Kaitu Weir Irrigation project worth Rs4.7 billion.
The federal caretaker government has also included construction of the BRT Red Line Project of the Sindh government in the CDWP agenda. The total cost of this project is Rs65.6 billion, to be funded by the provincial government.
Similarly, the construction of Peshawar Sustainable Bus Rapid Transit Corridor at a cost of Rs70 billion is also on the meeting agenda. This project had already been approved during the tenure of the last government at a lower cost.
A Rs45-billion scheme for rehabilitation of national highway road by taking a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is also part of the meeting agenda.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2018.