The government on Friday cleared two projects that could potentially develop into a controversy due to their high costs.
The projects include construction of roads and acquisition of land linking the New Islamabad International Airport. This development has put certain influential individuals at an advantage with the award of funds three times higher than the actual value of land.
The new Islamabad airport
Headed by Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) approved the projects despite concerns expressed by the Planning Commission over the high cost of land.
After the CDWP clearance, these projects will now be put up for approval of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec), which is headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. The government has already called a meeting of Ecnec next week.
Two projects of transport and communications for connecting roads of the New Islamabad International Airport have been referred to Ecnec, according to a press statement issued by the Ministry of Planning.
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Project details and confusion
It added the first project - Road Network for New Islamabad International Airport (main link-1 and periphery road length 26km) - will be completed at a cost of Rs12.7 billion. An amount of Rs700 million has been allocated in the current fiscal year’s Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the scheme.
The second project - Land Acquisition Affected Properties Compensation and Relocation of Utilities for Construction of Approach Roads to New Islamabad International Airport - will be completed at a total cost of Rs5.98 billion. The government has allocated Rs1 billion in the PSDP to commence work, said the planning ministry.
The Rs1-billion allocation highlights a contradiction in the PC-1 document. The National Highway Authority, which is executing the land acquisition project, has claimed that the project will be completed before June 2016. However, it is not clear from where it will arrange the remaining Rs5 billion.
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The land acquisition had been initially approved at a cost of only Rs932.4 million in 2012 by the Pakistan Peoples Party government. However, the Ministry of Communication, which is sponsoring the scheme, revised the cost to roughly Rs6 billion, according to documents.
Under the original plan, the land cost was Rs3.2 million per acre, which has been pushed up to Rs9.7 million. The Planning Commission had objected that “Rs9.7 million per acre cost is too high compared with the original cost and even higher than Rs2.34 million per acre paid for the Karachi-Lahore Motorway under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.”
Despite this, the CDWP approved the project, indicating the political pressure that it might be facing, which would benefit those who were considered close to the ruling party.
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The New Islamabad International Airport is already facing delays and its cost is expected to cross Rs80 billion against the initial estimate of Rs37 billion.
Additionally, the CDWP approved three projects worth Rs3.6 billion. The meeting also gave its nod to the Pakistan Disaster Risk Management Project and the position paper concerning the governance section.
Three projects of the physical planning and housing sector were approved, for which the sponsoring agency was the Ministry of Interior. Block allocations of Rs2.5 billion for these projects have been made in the PSDP, said the planning ministry.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2015.
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