ISLAMABAD: The government has withdrawn a proposal submitted to the Planning Commission seeking funds of Rs493 million for converting the palatial Prime Minister’s House into a research institute.
The project approval summary was withdrawn from the agenda of the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) meeting, which met on Monday. Now, the proposal will be submitted again after taking input of a task force working under Dr Attaur Rehman.
On the basis of a report prepared by a committee led by Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood, the Higher Education Commission had placed the demand before the CDWP. The meeting was informed that the proposal had to be further fine-tuned, resulting in withdrawal of its PC-I from the agenda.
Initially, the government had sought Rs492.7 million to convert the PM House into a research institute, but subsequently the demand was lowered to Rs305.6 million by reducing the project’s scope, according to official documents.
In case of a change in the design of the proposal, the cost estimate will also differ from the initial proposal.
On August 19, 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced that his official residence would be converted into a university. The Shafqat Mahmood-led committee decided that instead of building a new university in the first phase, the PM House will be converted into “Darul Hikmah”, which would provide evidence-based guidelines by conducting research on different policy issues.
In October last year, the federal cabinet approved the conversion of the PM House into Islamabad National University. Existing infrastructure of the PM House will be used for the Institute of Advanced Studies – Darul Hikmah – while a university will be built adjacent to the PM House at a later stage. Despite his reservations, PM Imran has so far used this official residence to accommodate foreign guests. The PM House was also used for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s stay during his visit to the country.
Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh is also residing at the guest house of the PM House. Newly appointed State Bank of Pakistan Governor Dr Reza Baqir has also stayed at the PM House’s guest house.
Total infrastructure of the existing PM House is spread over 30,000 square feet, which will be used for establishing the Darul Hikmah. The proposed working paper showed that Darul Hikmah would be an exclusive institution dedicated to policy research on emerging challenges faced by Pakistan and other countries in the region. In next phases, which are not part of the initially proposed cost, academic activities and graduate programmes will begin.
The government plans to hire foreign and local research and academic staff for the research institute. The plan also includes procurement of new furniture and four vehicles for operational purposes. An endowment fund will be created for research and development activities.
At least five foreign academicians and six local research staff will be hired for this purpose. The government has requested Rs19.3 million for the procurement of furniture and Rs46.4 million for ICT services. Another Rs133 million will be needed for meeting expenses of research, academic and technical staff.
A sum of Rs80 million has been sought for setting up an endowment fund, Rs21.9 million for the operational cost of transportation and utility charges and Rs5 million for contingencies. But all these allocations are now subject to a review by the Dr Attaur Rehman’s task force.
The government plans to follow the Brookings Institute model for Darul Hikmah. A select group of top professionals from Pakistan and abroad will institutionalise the new research centre as the first constituent entity of the Islamabad National University.
The government had set up a project steering committee for smooth execution of the project. The committee comprises Minster for Education Shafqat Mahmood, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, Adviser on Institutional Reforms and Austerity Dr Ishrat Husain and Adviser on Commerce, Textile and Production Dr Abdul Razak Dawood.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2019.