ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet, in its sitting on Thursday, spent a considerable amount of time reviewing progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) amidst concerns over whether the government would be able to end loadshedding before it completed its five-year term in May 2018.
Although the ministers for planning and finance argued that the pace of development on CPEC-specific electricity generation projects was satisfactory, some asked if a special monitoring committee for the corridor was the need of the hour to ensure the corridor’s smooth implementation, multiple sources privy to the meeting told Dawn.
According to one participant, at one point Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also endorsed the idea of the special committee, but this suggestion was opposed by Ahsan Iqbal and Ishaq Dar. The two men were of the view that the CPEC was already being monitored at different levels and there was no need for another committee. Currently, the minister for planning and development is the focal person for the CPEC, whereas the Prime Minister Office also monitors progress on its own.
Though the ministries concerned — planning, water & power and finance — sounded hopeful about the prospects of the completion of power-generation projects before May 2018, other members of the cabinet, including the prime minister, seemed sceptical.
“The future of the PML-N boils down to one point, which is the fulfilment of our promise to end loadshedding within five years. Otherwise, opposition parties will not spare us,” a federal minister told Dawn. Similar concerns were expressed during the cabinet meeting, which led to suggestions for added monitoring of the CPEC.
To a question, the minister — speaking on condition of anonymity — said that some of his colleagues were worried about whether the government would be able to effectively end loadshedding, adding that the prime minister had listened to them intently.
Even for independent observers, no matter what the outcome of the controversy surrounding the Panama Papers, if the government fails to add enough megawatts to the national grid by May 2018, it would certainly be face a tough time in the next general elections.
More or less similar concerns were reflected in the press note issued after the meeting. The prime minister during a detailed briefing on the CPEC stressed that projects in the programme were the top priority of the government and accordingly, concerted efforts should be made to ensure timely progress, the handout said.
“The Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform was directed to ensure completion of the first batch of projects in energy and infrastructure sectors, by 2017-18,” said the statement.
It further quoted the PM as saying that speedy progress on these projects was necessary for addressing existing shortfall and future demand. The completion of early-harvest projects would go a long way in ensuring the elimination of loadshedding by the summer of 2018, the statement said.
According to the statement, the prime minister also attempted to allay the concerns of smaller provinces over the CPEC’s western route.
The prime minister noted that significant progress had been made on the western route, which would generate employment opportunities will be generated for locals and generate economic activity.
During the meeting, the prime minister also expressed firm support for the Thar coal project and stated that had its potential been exploited 50 years ago, the nation would have been an energy exporter by now.
“Progress made so far on the Gwadar port project and allied infrastructure facilities was also reviewed in the meeting. The prime minister directed the concerned departments [to make] progress on initiation of work on Gwadar Airport and the Eastbay Expressway at the earliest,” said the press note.
The cabinet, while approving in principle a summary of the Housing and Works division regarding a joint venture policy for land development in collaboration with the private sector — aimed at providing accommodation or plots to government servants before retirement — formed a committee to finetune the policy guidelines.
The policy envisages providing plots to 100,000 federal government employees. The committee shall comprise Minister for Housing and Works Akram Durrani, Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid and may co-opt any other member. The committee will present its report to the cabinet.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2016