ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers from the upper house on Monday expressed the fear that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could turn into another East India Company if the country’s interests were not actively protected.
“Another East India Company is in the offing; national interests are not being protected. We are proud of the friendship between Pakistan and China, but the interests of the state should come first,” Senator Tahir Mashhadi, chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development, said when some committee members raised the concern that the government was not protecting the rights and interests of the people.
The East India Company was the British trading mission sent to India, which became the precursor to the British colonial presence in the subcontinent, eventually gaining power and overthrowing the Mughals who ruled India at the time.
Following a briefing by Planning Commission Secretary Yousuf Nadeem Khokhar, a number of committee members voiced their fears over what they perceived as the utilisation of local financing for CPEC projects, instead of funding from the Chinese or any other foreign investment. They also expressed concern over the fixing of power tariff for CPEC-related power projects by the Chinese.
Senators question why most corridor projects are being funded locally, not through foreign investment
Since only one of three Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) members of the committee was present at the meeting, most of this criticism went unanswered.
Even Senator Saeedul Hassan Mandokhail endorsed the committee chairman’s complaints.
The meeting was informed that a major portion of the CPEC depended on local finances rather than Chinese investment.
“It will be very harmful for us if we have to bear the entire burden; will this [project] be a national development or a national calamity? Whatever loans taken from China will have to be paid by the poor people of Pakistan,” Mr Mashhadi observed.
Highlighting the status of CPEC-related power projects, the Planning Commission secretary said that the Matiari-Lahore transmission line project had “not been scrapped” and was being pursued by its Chinese sponsors.
Recently, the National Energy Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) had approved tariff for the project, while the government’s Private Power Infrastructure Board had filed a review petition on the tariff in order to address the sponsors’ concerns.
At this, Senator Usman Khan Kakar pointed out that Nepra had fixed the power tariff for the project at 71 paisas/unit, while Chinese investors were demanding 95 paisas/unit.
“The government has filed an appeal before Nepra, seeking the increase despite the fact that the burden will be borne by poor consumers,” he said.
The secretary also informed the committee that the Gadani power plant complex had been shelved due to the lack of a dedicated jetty.
He also said that the 6,000MW project was not part of the CPEC.
Senator Kakar immediately reacted, saying that despite the fact that the project was not part of the CPEC, Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong had recently claimed that the Gadani power plant had not been scrapped and was indeed a part of the corridor. “Why is this project, which does not even exist, being counted in our account?” he asked.
He said that the infrastructure being established in Gwadar would only benefit the Chinese and Punjab governments, not the local community. “The people of Balochistan will only get one benefit from this project, which is the water supply,” he said, adding that no electricity or railway projects had been planned for Balochistan under the CPEC.
Senator Mandokhail said that a sense of deprivation was being instilled in smaller provinces. “We do not want the CPEC at the cost of the federation,” he added.
Since Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal was not present in the meeting, the senator urged the secretary to advise him to ensure the integrity of the federation.
Senator Mandokhail also accused the Planning Commission of prioritising Balochistan very low on its list, given that it has not representation in the commission itself.
Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Senator Sirajul Haq said that like certain other parts of the country, Fata and AJK were also being neglected in the CPEC. “There is nothing for both areas in the CPEC,” he said and suggested that a 35km road was built to link Muzaffarabad to the CPEC so that the people of AJK could also reap its benefits.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2016