Inquiry into telemetry system directed

Directive comes after cancellation of soft loan by World Bank

Zafar Bhutta June 06, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The cabinet has directed the Water Resources Division to conduct a fresh inquiry into the sabotage of telemetry system project, which is aimed at ending inter-provincial hostility over water distribution.

The move comes following cancellation of a soft loan by the World Bank for implementing the project. The loan was stopped after the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) scrapped a consultancy contract for the project.

The Water Resources Division will come up with a summary, detailing the composition of an inquiry committee and its terms of reference, for formal approval.

The cabinet has also directed the Water Resources Division to take immediate measures for implementing the project of setting up the telemetry system without any loss of time and also explore the possibility of making the telemetry system operational.

A monitoring mechanism has not been developed for decades. As a result, current water accounts are based on the historical data of river flows, compiled and reported by provinces.

As the assessment of divisible water resource is made manually, it has always been manoeuvred by some provinces. Therefore, it has become a source of acrimony over water distribution among Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab since the signing of the Water Accord 1991.

The installation of the telemetry system on seven different sites and measuring water flow on 14 different sites of the Indus irrigation system was planned in 2017 to ascertain the actual flow of water, which would help to determine its availability during different seasons so that its distribution was accordingly worked out.

Funds to the tune of $4.5 million from the World Bank were placed at the disposal of Irsa for project design and installation. Irsa initiated the process of hiring a consultant in 2018.

However, Irsa later realised that the top-ranked consulting firm, evaluated by it, was not capable of implementing the project. Hence, it refused to award the contract to the consulting firm allegedly due to less-than-satisfactory performance in an identical project of the Punjab Irrigation Department.

Despite World Bank’s advice on October 26, 2019 and directives by the then water and power ministry in a meeting on October 28, 2019 to expedite the award of the contract on merit and execute the project, Irsa in its meeting held on November 4, 2019 insisted on cancellation of the project and its re-bidding.

The World Bank did not agree and rejected the re-bidding plan on November 14, 2019.

When contacted, Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda told The Express Tribune that Irsa mismanaged the project and cancelled it despite the fact that the second bidder was Nespak while the top one was a Portuguese company.

He stressed that Irsa selected the bidder which could not execute the project while ignoring other companies like Nespak and other Portuguese firm. “It was a tactic to delay the project,” he said.

If at all the top-ranked consultant was found lacking in parameters, as assessed by Irsa, the second shortlisted firm Nespak was qualified for contract negotiation, which was denied the opportunity against the directive enshrined in the project manual, Vawda added.

He said scrapping the entire process without complying with World Bank’s guidelines after a lapse of one year was simply against the norms of transparency, competitiveness and selection process recommended by the World Bank.

“When I assumed office, I started working on why the telemetry system project was delayed,” he said, adding that an inquiry committee held Irsa responsible for it.

It was an important project to end the row among provinces over water distribution, he said and acknowledged that the cabinet had directed a fresh inquiry.

He added that an independent inquiry would be conducted to fix responsibility.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2020.

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