PESHAWAR: With fears that it could become a white elephant, the government on Monday disclosed that the mass transit project being built in Peshawar will not receive any subsidy from the government for its operations while it is expected to start operating in March next year.
This was told during a session of the provincial assembly on Monday which approved demands for six of the 59 grants for six departments worth Rs9.2 billion in the fiscal year 2018-19.
During Monday’s session of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly the opposition and the government members withdraw all of their cut motions after their concerns were addressed by the respective departments.
However, Leader of the Opposition in the K-P Assembly Akram Durrani and Awami National Party (ANP) lawmaker Shagufta Malik refused to withdraw their cut motions on the Planning and Development Department. As a result, the matter was put up for a vote.
With the government holding a two-thirds majority in the house, the opposition’s motion was easily defeated.
The house, though, approved grants for the provincial assembly, administration, finance, P&D, information technology and the revenue and estate departments. Lawmakers were dissatisfied with the performance of these departments and sought answers from the respective ministers in the house.
Former K-P chief minister Durrani raised the oft-asked question on the necessity of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Isnaf’s (PTI) flagship project, the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
Questioning the urgency the previous PTI-led provincial government had shown in starting the massive project in its last year in power, he sought timelines for its completion. He further demanded that responsibility should be fixed on the project’s planners for the millions of rupees lost when the fruits of the Peshawar Beautification Project were upended to make way for the BRT.
“This project (BRT) destroyed all the plants and roads which were built for the city’s beautification,” the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) leader said, demanding that the government answer for the waste of money in the landscaping project which was ultimately scrapped.
“That was the first phase of the BRT. After its completion, the government will remove construction along both sides of the road to widen the road because the BRT has squeezed the road (for a mix of traffic),” he said, adding that road would be broadened from 50 feet to 100 feet on both sides with all constructions along the roads removed.
“The government would need money to pay the owners and businessmen who would be affected by the second phase [of BRT],” he said.
Inayatullah Khan of the Jamaat-e-Islami and ANP’s Malik echoed Durrani in seeking information regarding when BRT will be completed, its cost and clarity on reports that Rs10 billion would be provided as an operational subsidy for the project.
Inayatullah objected to the make up of the Annual Development Programme (ADP), noting that it lacked inclusiveness since the most of the developmental schemes revolve around developed districts such as Swabi, Mardan, Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda.
He asked K-P Finance Minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra to change the pattern of the ADP and make it need-based with a greater focus on the under-developed areas.
Jhagra explained that the BRT will be completed at a cost of Rs69 billion. He disclosed that no operational subsidy will be provided for the project.
“Subsidies are given in all public sector projects but as per my information, it (BRT) does not have any operational subsidy,” the finance minister said, adding that this was a third-generation project which will generate jobs and economic activity.
Regarding the deadline, he said that the civil work on the project is expected to be completed by the end of December and a soft launch of the project has been pencilled in for March.
“We have to make it a quality project regardless of the timelines, even if it gets delay by a month or more, but we have to be sure of its quality and to make it successful,” Jhagra said.
Regarding the ADP 2018-19, the finance minister responded to the opposition’s criticism by stating that all the schemes listed in it were need-based with a focus on finishing existing schemes, particularly the large projects.
Noting that the government departments need to own their ADP, Jhagra admitted that the planning approach should be changed.
Inayatullah said that the government needs to enhance the revenue generated by the province so that the province can have a fiscal buffer which it can then use for developmental schemes.
For this purpose, he suggested that the K-P Revenue Authority (K-PRA) should take on experts from the market.
Furthermore, he suggested that the authority learns from the Sindh and Punjab revenue boards — who were generating far more revenue — by offering incentives to K-PRA’s staff in collecting sales tax.
Mian Nisar Gul and Malik Zafar Azam of the MMA suggested that the government focus on enhancing royalties from the oil and gas produced in the province apart from placing a duty on the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) generated in Karak.
Gul further suggested that the provincial government install its own metres at gas and oil fields for independent and accurate data of daily production since the petroleum directorate does not share accurate figures.
The opposition asked Revenue Minister Shakeel Ahmad to explain the delays in the land records digitization project, which had started in the tenure of the last government.
“Certain elements within the department do not want the project to be completed and executed but I have given them a year to complete it,” Ahmad offered in a straightforward reply.
Speaker, Nighat Orakzai exchange harsh words
K-P Assembly Speaker Mushtaq Ghani and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Nighat Orakzai exchanged harsh words during Monday’s session when Ghani chided her for interrupting the assembly’s proceedings.
This infuriated Orakzai who told Ghani that she had a right to speak.
Orakzai had decided to use the forum to take a dig at the ruling PTI, pointing out that the party had been losing seats in the by-elections. Ghani, however, told her to stop veering from the issue being debated in the house and asked her to sit down.
“You stand up on every matter. You have made it (assembly proceedings) a joke,” Ghani said.
“You get up in every matter and waste our time. Take your seat and be quiet,” the assembly speaker thundered.
Orakzai, though, protested the speakers’ high-handedness.
“This is not a dictatorship. It is my right to speak.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2018.