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ISLAMABAD: The disclosure by a federal minister on Tuesday that a lucrative toll plaza contract had silently been awarded to a military-owned construction company for 20 years without a competitive bidding process set off alarm bells in the Senate, with a vocal senator terming it a disturbing development and asking the chair to refer the matter to the relevant standing committee.

The revelation was made by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmad, who told the house that the contract had been awarded to the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) for an extended term of 20 years after the previous contract expired last year.

Speaking on an issue of public importance, Senator Farhatullah Babar criticised the 20-year extension in the contract for toll collection by the National Highway Authority without bids, without discussion in parliament and even without making it public.

He said he learnt about this unusual development during the question hour when Mr Sheikh on a supplementary question related to the NHA disclosed it. “Not believing that it could be true, I went to the minister to ask about it and was profoundly shocked that it indeed is correct,” Mr Babar said.

Lucrative contract has been awarded to military-owned company for extended term of 20 years, house told

He said that the FWO had been given the contract for toll collection without bids. This highly lucrative contract was extended for 10 years during the era of the Musharraf government without bids and without a debate.

Now the contract had been extended by another 20 years in what Senator Babar said was geometric progression. By this mathematical model it would logically be extended in 2037 for another 40 years, he added.

He said that this intrusion of the security establishment in the field of economy without bids and public competition would create resentment among entrepreneurs and pleaded for a review of the decision.

On the issue of the sending of additional troops to Saudi Arabia, he said that if the troops were deployed along the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border they could soon get sucked in quagmire under the doctrine of hot pursuit. “It will be disastrous if, God forbid, it really happens,” he said.

On Monday, Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir had assured the Senate that the troops would remain confined within the Saudi geographical boundaries but refused to disclose deployment location.

The Senate chairman on Tuesday admitted a privilege motion against the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) for not complying with Senate instructions to report on a petition by some PIA employees against violation of their seniority right and directed the privileges committee to report within a week.

The issue was raised by Senator Babar who said that during a meeting of the Special Committee on PIA in December last year, the committee chairman had handed over to the CEO a complaint by some employees with the advice to furnish comments within seven days.

The employees had also addressed their complaint to the Senate chairman. Subsequently letters were sent to the PIA CEO, asking him to furnish comments, but there was no response.

The Senate secretariat approached the aviation secretary for intercession and he also asked the PIA CEO on phone to furnish comments, Mr Babar said. However, there has been no forward movement while the term of the Senate is coming to an end.

Chairman Raza Rabbani then referred the matter to the privileges committee with directives to report in a week.

Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry ruled out reversal of the decision to ban issuance of licences for automatic weapons.

Winding up the discussion on the issue, he rejected senators’ call for revisiting the policy and said that the government had no plans at all to suspend the notification on suspension of licences of automatic weapons. “The suspension of the notification, issued last year, is not doable,” he said.

The Senate Standing Committee on Interior had recommended suspension of the notification.

Mr Chaudhry said that Pakistan was the only country in the world where licences of automatic weapons were issued to individuals. “The decision was taken in the light of a cabinet decision,” he said adding that issuance of licences of automatic weapons opened ways for inflow of unlicensed automatic weapons into masses. He said that it was true that unlicensed weapons were used in terrorism.

“However, the government is ready to incorporate the recommendations of the house in the policy of banning automatic weapons,” the minister said.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2018