ISLAMABAD: In a major development, Caretaker Finance Minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar blocked on Monday a move to approve new projects and also refused to revise the cost of some controversial ongoing schemes, saving her government from any financial scandal.
In her capacity as deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission, Dr Shamshad Akhtar also deferred approval of the Peshawar metro bus project at 38% or Rs18 billion higher cost. She also shot down a proposal to allow the planning ministry to procure laptops and computers at exorbitantly higher rates.
Dr Shamshad chaired the first meeting of the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) in the caretaker setup, amid questions over the constitutionality of the move. However, she chose to play it safe, and did not take any decision, which could have undermined the government’s credibility.
Dr Shamshad’s decisions would also save the caretaker government from unnecessary controversy.
The meeting discussed 18 projects costing more than Rs709 billion.
“Out of total 18 development projects, only one ongoing project for capacity building of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Organization worth Rs47.8 million was approved,” according to an official handout issued by the planning ministry after the meeting.
All the other projects were deferred for the next CDWP meeting likely to be held under the newly elected government, it added.
“The caretaker government has a limited mandate, hence the current meeting of CDWP would not approve any new scheme,” said the caretaker finance minister in her opening remarks that set the tone of the meeting.
She said that for the purpose of ensuring continuity of the ongoing projects, the meeting would only consider technical or financial revision of the project, wherever it is necessary.
As a result, she rejected the proposal to increase the cost of Peshawar Sustainable Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Project by 38%. The cost of the last PTI government’s pet project had been proposed to be increased from Rs49.4 billion to a whopping Rs68 billion. There was an increase of 38% or Rs18 billion.
The 38% increase in the cost of the project within one year of its original approval suggests that the last PTI government launched the scheme without proper research. The original PC-I of the project had been approved by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) in July 2017. The last Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government sought a 38% increase in the cost, despite reducing the number of bus stations and buses.
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In its technical appraiser, the planning ministry wrote that “proper working on the project’s design was not carried out, based on ground conditions, investigations at the preliminary design stage”.
“From preliminary design phase to detailed design phase, there are generally no major deviations, as is in the case which could have resulted in 38% increase in cost from the original cost,” it added.
In a more glaring comment, the ministry wrote that the revised PC-I stated that International Competitive Bidding (ICB) has been carried out for the selection of contractor. However, local firms were selected for the execution of works on the project.
Dr Shamshad has constituted a committee to review the revised PC-I of the Peshawar Metro project.
Despite insistence by the planning ministry during the meeting, Dr Shamshad also turned down the proposal to increase the cost of the Jawaid Azfar Computer Centre of the Ministry of Planning to Rs372 million. The ministry wanted to procure laptops and computers at prices that were more than 100% than the prevailing market rates.
The caretaker finance minister also turned down a proposal to approve the Rs2.6-billion project for enhancing the production of pulses.
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However, CDWP recommended one project, the Diamer-Basha Dam, to Ecnec for its consideration. The last PML-N government had approved the project at Rs474 billion. It has now been decided to include 15 megawatts (MW) of Tangir Hydropower Project into the Diamer-Basha Dam Project, increasing its total cost to Rs480 billion.
In order to justify holding of the CDWP meeting in caretaker setup, the planning ministry in its handout noted that the development working party carefully reviews projects and discusses financial, social and environmental implications of the project before taking a decision.
Delays in processing projects result in cost overrun, which is very well known. Holding of CDWP is a normal practice and one of the regular functions of the Planning Commission, which cannot be stalled on the basis of any functional presumptions.
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The ministry added that all the work is being done in the best public interest in line with the mandate and essential requirements. The advice from the law ministry also allows us to proceed with the CDWP for the projects that are necessary or ongoing, according to planning ministry.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2018.
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