Privatisation plans: For CDA, tension over convention centre

Govt move to sell off building worries CDA staffers who claim it is a profitable enterprise, source of pride.

Danish Hussain October 24, 2013
The convention centre might not be a government asset for much longer. PHOTO: FILE


The Cabinet Division on Wednesday sought details about one of Islamabad’s whitest elephants from the Capital Development Authority.

The Jinnah Convention Centre has been included in a list of state-owned assets which the incumbent government plans to privatise.

In the letter, the Cabinet Division stated that since 1997, the Jinnah Convention Centre has consistently been present on lists of assets supposed to be privatised. Now, the Privatisation Commission has again included the building in a list of 60 government organisations and assets to be privatised.

“The details of the building were sought following the privatisation committee’s request for the same through a Cabinet Division letter,” said a CDA Engineering Wing official.

It’s worth remembering that the CDA constructed the building and is responsible for its maintenance.

A top official of the authority terming the building as a hallmark of the city questioned the wisdom behind the decision.

“It’s not a white elephant like PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills. It’s a symbolic building that has successfully been meeting its expenditure, including utility bills, staff salaries and maintenance,” he added.

He said the CDA had been earning around Rs10 million per annum by renting out different facilities at the building.

The building was erected ahead of the extraordinary session of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) held in Islamabad in 1997. Construction work started during the second tenure of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and completed in December 1996.

Spread over several acres, the covered area of the building is 202,075 square feet. Several halls and galleries have a seating capacity of 2,200 people at a time, while the three parking lots have a total capacity of over 600 cars.

The building also houses five committee rooms and 32 smaller conference rooms.

To a question, the official said undoubtedly the building was not meeting its expenditures until year 2004.

“Till 2004, government policy did not allow private conferences or functions in the building, only state level functions,” the official said, adding that to make the building self-sustaining, in 2004 the policy was revised and the CDA started renting out the conference rooms and halls for exhibitions, conferences, seminars and other functions by private organisations, universities, and non-governmental organisations.

Since then, the building has successfully been meeting its expenditures, he added.

He said usually the main hall is rented out for Rs300,000 for a single day, adding that at present, almost all government and private universities use it to hold their annual convocation ceremonies, while education expos are also a regular feature.

“Even the government holds major ceremonies here throughout the year to mark national days, like August 14, March 23 and September 6,” he added.

The official said it is the possible profit the authority had been earning by offering such lower rental rates of different conference halls at the centre. “If it is privatised, the new owner would be charging heavily when the government and other ministries want to hold functions or conferences,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2013.


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