Amid fears of financial embezzlement by civil aviation authorities in the execution of projects, the government has conditionally cleared New Gwadar International Airport at a revised cost of Rs26.6 billion – which is three and a half times higher than the original price.
The clearance was given ‘in principle’ by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) – the body having the mandate to approve up to Rs3 billion projects and recommend mega projects for the final approval of Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec).
The CDWP considered 14 projects, having an accumulative cost of Rs214.8 billion. The projects tabled for the CDWP consideration included three schemes of Gwadar, valuing Rs37.5 billion and five projects of Pakistan Railways worth Rs79.2 billion.
But the body approved six schemes and cleared another two for final approval of Ecnec. The total cost of these eight projects is Rs42.3 billion. Out of eight, as many as six were conditionally cleared, highlighting the lack of proper homework by the relevant ministries.
Ecnec approved the New Gwadar International Airport Project in January 2010 at a cost of Rs7.7 billion. However, the project has been facing delays due to its cost and design. Till June this year, an amount of Rs803 million was spent on the project.
The project came on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) government’s priority list following a strategic partnership between Beijing and Islamabad under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Under the strategic partnership, China plans to use Pakistan’s Gwadar Port to develop its western parts, which are subject to insurgency and separatist activities due to its less developed status, according to defence experts.
Headed by Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the CDWP constituted a committee to review the price of the project. CDWP members also objected over designing a mega airport at a location, where there is only couple of weekly international flights, according to an official who attended the meeting. The CDWP asked the Aviation Division to plan the project in phases so that the money could be saved, he added.
The CDWP chairman grilled the Aviation Division for increasing corruption and misuse of funds in projects, executed by the division. The Aviation Division could not stop massive embezzlements of funds in execution of new Islamabad International Airport.
Aviation Division officials informed the CDWP that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) after an inquiry identified eight to nine people responsible for the misuse of Islamabad airport. They told the CDWP that action would be taken against these officials.
Iqbal is said to have directed the Aviation Division that those officials who were involved in execution of Islamabad airport should not be involved in the construction of New Gwadar International Airport. Despite finding many faults in the project’s documents, the CDWP did not return the scheme for further scrutiny.
The CDWP also approved in principle the Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar at an estimated cost of Rs984 million. It conditionally recommended for the consideration of Ecnec, yet another project – upgrading of the existing medical facility from a 50-bed to 300-bed hospital, to be named the China-Pakistan Friendship Hospital Gwadar. The total cost of the project is Rs9.7 billion.
Out of five schemes that Pakistan Railways tabled for the CDWP consideration, the body took up only one.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2014.