Govt to go for restructure, reform in IRSA

Decides to remove federal member over telemetry system failure


Zafar Bhutta October 08, 2020

ISLAMABAD:

The government has decided to remove the federal member of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) after an inquiry held all the members responsible for sabotaging the telemetry system, aimed at fair distribution of water among provinces, with collaboration of other members.

The report of the inquiry committee, headed by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan, has been submitted to the cabinet. It has pointed out that Irsa had not been able to put in place a system for monitoring the process of river flows.

Following the report, the government decided to conduct forensic audit of Irsa through independent management consultancy firm. It also decided to introduce reforms through restructuring of Irsa and allow necessary amendments to the Irsa Act, 1992, in consultation with the provinces.

The inquiry report pointed out that the PC-1 prepared by Irsa for installation of telemetry system was deficient in defining various hydraulic conditions experienced at the barrages. It further said that IRSA did not build its capacity for observations and measurements (O&M) of the telemetry system and despite experts’ warnings of short comings of the system installed in 2002, it did not take any action.

International experts appointed by the World Bank for the assessment of the telemetry system had concluded that despite its faults, the telemetry system was capable of solving the problems if rectification was carried out.

As the National Engineering Services Pakistan (Nespak) also concluded that the system had outlived its utility due to lack of maintenance, the World Bank arranged $2.5 million for seven pilot sites through the Water Sector Capacity Building and Advisory Services Project (WCAP) to equip Irsa with a modern telemetry system.

The report raised serious questions about evaluation methodology. It said that the consultant selection committee, comprising four Irsa members and the WCAP team leader, did not exercise due diligence. It pointed out that an international firm was top-ranked at the expression of interest (EOI) stage but was disqualified at the bid evaluation stage.

The report said that Irsa, as an organisation, lacked expertise in the fields of hydraulics, electronics, software engineering, procurement and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) capacities. “Its management structure needs to be realigned to ensure efficient performance of the obligatory functions.”

The report stressed the need for performance audit of Irsa through a reputed management consultancy firm and called for review of the criteria for appointment of the Irsa members. “Maximum age limit for the members also needed to be revisited, in terms of their credentials, competence,” it recommended.

The committee held flawed approach of the Irsa members, Sher Zaman Khan of Balochistan, Raqib Khan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Rao Irshad All Khan of Punjab and Mazhar Ali Shah of Sindh, responsible for aborting the project because of their “incompetence, lack of knowledge and shyness from technology”. However, the committee could not find any evidence that it was done through any systematic scheme.

“Suitability of current nominees to Irsa may be reassessed by the provincial and federal governments and, if found necessary, make appropriate replacements. It must be ensured that they have the leadership and competence to not only install the telemetry system but steer Irsa through much-needed reforms and restructuring,” the report recommended.

The Water Resources Division had sought approval of committee’s recommendations from the cabinet. On May 19, 2020, the Cabinet had accorded the approval, in principle, to initiate the process of removal of Irsa members in accordance with Section 6 of Irsa, Act 1992.

Though, Irsa members from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh have since retired after completing their terms, the competence of the incumbent member from Punjab needed to be reassessed for which the government of Punjab might be requested.

The water resources division is of the view that the federal member of Irsa collaborated with other members in the cancellation of the procurement process. He lacked necessary technical knowledge to undertake the assignment and failed in discharging his duties in terms of Section 6(a) of Irsa Act 1992.

Therefore, the water resources division said that federal government might serve a notice to the federal member in order to take further action for his replacement with a suitably-qualified and experienced engineer.

The cabinet considered the water resources division’s summary titled ‘Inquiry into Sabotaging the Installation of Telemetry System by IRSA’ dated 17th September,2020, and approved the proposal. Accordingly, the performance audit of the Irsa might be allowed through an independent management consultancy firm.

During discussions, it was pointed out that the role of the federal Irsa member in sabotaging the activity was not clearly mentioned in the inquiry report, whereas the proposal suggested action against him. The water resources minister explained that he was also indirectly involved in slowing down the entire process.

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