Planning Commission and the PML-N

If Nandipur and the LNG deals are any guide, the future is not very bright


Dr Pervez Tahir November 05, 2015

The Public Sector Development Programme 2015-16, a Planning Commission document, includes a project described as Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab Section (200km) of the Gwadar-Ratodero Road (892km) M-8. This includes Khuzdar-Shahdadkot-Ratodero (143 km), which will pass through Gwadar, Turbat and Khuzdar in Balochistan, and Kamber, Shahdadkot and Larkana in Sindh. It is attributed to the western alignment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. That it was approved in March 23, 1999, is another matter. More interesting than this post hoc attribution is the information that it was approved by the NHC. In the parlance of the Planning Commission, given the estimated size of the cost, projects are approved by the ECNEC, the CDWP or the DDWP. What, then, is this NHC?



To answer the question, we have to go back to the earlier tenures of the PML-N in the 1990s. The Sharifs were fascinated by the idea of motorways. The Lahore-Islamabad Motorway was floated as the first in a series of mega-projects. In the Planning Commission, the thinking was that the project was too large to leave room for other nation-building projects. Improvement of the GT road would achieve the same objective at a far less cost. As part of the Planning Commission staff, I held the same view.

Bobby, as the younger Sharif was then nicknamed after the trouble-shooting brother of John Kennedy, called me to the Prime Minister’s House for an informal chat. (He was a student when I taught at Government College, Lahore in the early 1970s.) He talked of motorways in England, the opening up of areas and the creation of jobs, and so on. Seeing that I would buy none of that, he made a statement that reveals in fullness the thinking of their royal highnesses: Did Sher Shah Suri submit a PC-I before constructing the Jarnaili Sarak (GT Road)? Lo and behold, no PC-I was submitted to the Planning Commission for the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway. Highways were taken out of its purview. The afore-mentioned NHC — National Highway Council — was baptised to approve the highway projects without any economic, financial, social and environmental appraisal. Headed by the prime minister, it was a forum higher than the ECNEC, which is headed by the finance minister. The NHA, the National Highway Authority, was created as its implementation arm.

There is thus nothing new about the PML-N’s disdain for the Planning Commission. The recent statements by two ministers are a continuation of the royal road to development. Khawaja Asif, the Minister of Water and Power, says: “If the Planning Commission had existed at the time, Emperor Shah Jehan could never have built the Taj Mahal.” It is not the roads this time, but energy. Wearing his other hat as the defence minister, he accused the Planning Commission of working against the national interest. “We need a fast and target-oriented system,” he said. This is exactly what the National Highway Council did in the 1990s. Not to be left behind, the other energy minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, also feels “that the Planning Commission should cease to exist as soon as possible if we are to move forward in resolving the key issues facing the country”.

The key issue facing the country is the effective use of public money to deliver affordable energy in the foreseeable future. If Nandipur and the LNG deals are any guide, the future is not very bright. Looking for a scapegoat in the Planning Commission, which is no more than a donor-funded slogan-monger, will not help. A first serious step may be the integration of the two energy ministries into one and the appointment of a minister with some real power.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2015.

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COMMENTS (4)

Roshan Ali Shah | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend I am being a common man agree with Dr. Pervez Tahir in his writing "Planning Commission and the PML-N" that how the powerful individual belonging to PML-N bypass the Planning Commission for the sake of Mega projects despite the fact that alternative with low cast are available.Dr. Tahir is absolutely right that the key issue is effective use of public money to meet and deliver the affordable energy needs of the country. I would like to add only a one point more about the energy crisis facing the rural women of Sindh. Forests have been removed. It was a prime source for the rural economy. Poor people used forests wood for the making of shelter and to meet the daily food preparation needs. To care children,domestic animals and cook food three times in a day is additional responsibility of a rural women besides working in the agricultural fields. Now a days there is no wood for a rural women for cooking purpose. Her working hours have been increased and conditions are becoming hard to collect wood to cook and feed the children. LPG is replacing the wood in the rural area, which is used by a few who can afford it. Women are 52% of the total population of the country whom majority live in rural area. Are we meeting the energy needs of the rural women. Is the democratic system of the country to serious to reduce the misery of the rural women. We all have to think about it before starting Mega Projects.
Bilal | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend did Sher Shah Suri submit a PC1 for GT road ... hahahaha what more can anyone add. Mian Nawaz Sharif wants to rule like a king. This oversight and procedure is just annoying for him
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