AFTER a substantial delay, the government finally convened a meeting of the leaders of all parliamentary parties to discuss the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The attempt to take the various political parties into confidence on the CPEC is a good move, but there is still plenty of room for further measures.
For one, the meeting did nothing to address concerns with regard to greater transparency and disclosure on the projects that come under the CPEC. Given that three quarters of the total investments planned for the corridor are in the power sector, it is surprising to see how little is known about the technical and financial parameters of these projects.
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Some of the projects are coming under the upfront coal tariff whose details are on the Nepra website. But specific tariff petitions are absent for many of them. This is surprising because the government has repeatedly gone on record to say that the power projects come under the latest power policy, which mandates disclosure of the details.
Since many of the projects are private-sector ventures, it is necessary to know what sort of debt-to-equity ratios have been envisioned under each, and how much of the debt will be foreign and how much of it local.
Further, since the whole corridor is a long-term venture, running until 2030, it is also necessary to know what the sequencing is in the timeline. Why are solar and hydel projects being approved rapidly in Punjab while Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which have much interest and potential in both areas, are left out by virtue of their chief ministers not being included in the delegation visits to China?
The opposition parties are correct to flag all the problems in the manner in which the project is moving ahead; but the prime minister has done himself no service by casting all those raising questions as “enemies of the state”.
Such language betrays a simplistic mindset. Prime Minister Sharif should understand that as a democratically elected leader he has to earn the confidence of the people’s representatives in the National Assembly. He can hardly demand it by using intimidatory rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the planning minister has tried to allay concerns about a route change by releasing a map showing the various roads planned under the corridor.
This is a positive step, even if a tad late. Nevertheless, the demands for greater transparency go beyond maps with squiggly lines on them. Can the minister also share the terms of reference under which the long-term Monographic Study on Transport Planning is being conducted, and tell us why the current PSDP contains allocations under CPEC only for the eastern route and not any other?
A systematic approach to answering all questions is needed and the government should take its disclosure obligations far more seriously than it has thus far.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2015
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