ECNEC approves Rs32b plan to fight locusts

Pakistan will take a $200 million loan from the World Bank to fight locusts


Shahbaz Rana March 12, 2021
Record numbers of locusts have descended in devastating swarms across parts of Africa and Asia this year. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The government on Thursday approved 13 mega projects costing Rs322 billion, including Rs32 billion plan to fight locusts despite serious questions over the viability of the scheme.

Headed by Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the mega development projects.

“The Locust Emergency and Food Security Project (LEAFS) that probably needed time before arriving at a decision was approved in about one minute,” said a source in the Planning Ministry.

Pakistan will take a $200 million loan from the World Bank to fight locusts and more than half of the amount will be consumed on things that do not directly relate to fighting the insects.

Ecnec did not think for more than one minute before adding $200 million debt into the already skyrocketing debt pile.

In response to food security threats caused by locust in different districts across four provinces, Ecnec approved the locust project at the total cost of Rs31.6 billion or $200 million, said the Ministry of Finance.

The official documents showed that the project was brought before Ecnec without completing the file work.

“Due to paucity of time and urgency, Ecnec may consider the project and authorise CDWP to further deliberate and refine it. And submit compliance report to the body,” requested the ministry to Ecnec which the chairman approved.

The Ecnec presentation had admitted that there were still be outstanding issues of “allocations for POL and pesticides that should be reduced by 50%”.

It added, the PC-1 proposes purchase of 310 double-cabin vehicles. These vehicles are considered as luxury vehicles with high cost of Rs7.5 million per unit.

In order to implement austerity measures, to check their possible misuse and not to compromise field operations, it is suggested that the single cabinet vehicles may be purchased.

But none of the points were discussed in the meeting.

A detailed review of project documents revealed that the focus of the scheme seemed to be more on procurement of 310 vehicles, 200 laptops and creating about 322 positions rather than helping the farmers.

In September last year, Ecnec had directed to reconsider the modalities of the project, which the food ministry did not do till January this year. Subsequently, the food ministry made a few changes in the second modified project documents.

Out of the total cost of Rs32 billion, Rs4.7 billion has been allocated for buying double-cabin vehicles (Rs2.34 billion) and their fuel cost (Rs2.4 billion).

The locust emergency project was not part of the Ecnec meeting agenda.

After 28 years, locust attacked and destroyed crops in vast areas of Sindh, Balochistan and southern Punjab. The government declared a national emergency on February 1 last year to cope with the situation with the support of Pakistan Army.

The Planning Commission had also highlighted that after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the subject had been devolved to the provinces.

In other projects, Ecnec approved Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Human Capital Investment Project worth Rs13.2 billion. The project envisages improving the availability, utilisation and quality of primary healthcare facilities in four districts of K-P and would cover local population of about 8.4 million and 500,000 refugee population.

Ecnec approved the construction of additional 2-lanes and widening/rehabilitation of existing 2-lane carriageway of Shikarpur-Rajanpur section of Indus Highway (N-55) to be executed by the National Highway Authority. It will cost Rs44.7 billion.

Similarly, another summary was placed before Ecnec regarding construction of 69km-long Sambrial-Kharian Motorway. The motorway would be constructed on the BOT basis at the total cost of Rs43.4 billion.

Ecnec approved land acquisition for the Swat Motorway phase-II at Rs20 billion.

Ecnec approved the Sindh Resilience Project (Irrigation Component) for the construction of small dams to address drought-prone areas of Sindh, having a total cost of Rs24.5 billion.

Likewise, Ecnec also approved a Balochistan Integrated Water Resources Management and Development Project at cost of Rs14.7 billion.

Ecnec approved another project in the water sector in Balochistan  - the Basol Dam Project at cost of Rs18.7 billion.

Ecnec approved the Nai Gaj Dam Project (2nd revised PC-I) for Dadu district at the cost of Rs47 billion. Wapda and the Sindh Irrigation Department will be the executing agencies for the proposed project. The main objective of the project is conservation of the available flood flows.

The highest project approval authority also cleared the 48MW Jagran Hydropower Station at elevated price of Rs11.4 billion.

The Sindh Resilience Project was approved at the total revised cost of Rs15.3 billion. The proposed project will contribute to overall needs for enhancing resilience to natural disasters including public health emergencies in the Sindh Province as the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the requirement for integrating health services with disaster management.

ECNEC also sanctioned Gwadar–Lasbela Livelihood Support Project for community development and fisheries value chain development.

The government approved to change the executing agency of the Greater Karachi Water Supply Scheme (K-IV), which is part of the PM’s Karachi package. The total cost of the project will be Rs25.6 billion which will be shared on an equal basis by the federal and the Sindh governments.

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