Taking action against repeated complaints of massive corruption and mismanagement in the initiation of various water and sanitation schemes, including the reverse osmosis (RO) plants, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has started an inquiry into the matter and summoned various officials of the Sindh government.
Official sources said that an inquiry has begun to review schemes worth Rs40 billion starting from July 2008, when the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government presented the first budget. “The NAB had summoned us on July 6, but then they postponed the inquiry. They will give us a new date,” said a senior official at the planning and development department. He said that the notices were also issued to finance, local government and health departments. Some officials have already recorded their statements.
The sources said that a huge budget was allocated for the RO plants to convert brackish/saline water into sweet water, but some plants worth more than Rs80 million have been unnecessarily set up in areas where they are not needed. “A few RO plants have been put in place in the barrage areas of Benazirabad and Sukkur districts adjacent to irrigation canals where plenty of sweet water is available,” an official said, adding that Rs4 billion was allocated for 11 RO plants - five in Lyari and six in Keamari - in 2011-12.
In this connection, a contract was awarded to a company on the recommendation of an influential person of the government. The company had to set up each plant with the capacity of one million gallons per day, but it installed the plants with a capacity of 0.5 million gallons per day instead.
When contacted, secretary for planning and development, Arif Ahmed Khan, said, “NAB had approached them and the department had provided them the required information.”
The RO plants in Keamari and Lyari come under the domain of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB). KWSB’s managing-director Misbaduddin Farid avoided speaking on this issue despite serious allegations of misappropriation of funds against officials of the water board.
A sum of Rs40 million was reportedly also allocated for the maintenance of RO plants but these funds were also not released to repair dysfunctional plants in Tharparkar, Sukkur, Benazirabad and other districts.
According to Ali Akbar Rahimoon, a social scientist working on water and sanitation issues, RO plants are being run by private companies in Tharparkar. These companies charge a high price from the government, which is 12 paisas per gallon, to convert saline water into potable water, he added.
“Around 79 RO plants have been set up in Thar, but except a few in main towns, the others are running on diesel. The private companies are also charging the government for diesel,” he said. Rahimoon was of the view that it was not a sustainable method and the RO plants should be either handed over to the community or the town municipal administration.
“Some RO plants are not properly working. The private companies and government officials are stealing from the budget,” he said. These companies have yet to establish a lab in the area to examine the underground level water level.
When contacted, NAB director-general Wajid Durrani said, “We are not entitled to speak on the issue as it is under investigation.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Sindh NAB said that they had issued letters to different government officials for inquiry, but most of them have not responded. “These are serious allegations but the inquiry is at its preliminary stage.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2013.