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LAHORE: A Project Management Unit (PMU) which had been established to oversee the implementation of the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train scheme has virtually become non-functional after all of its key staff members, including the project coordinator and four progress officers, have either resigned or their contract period that ended on Aug 31 was not extended.

The PMU was established on the directives of the last PML-N’s Punjab government in the office of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) in August 2015. The core objective of establishing the unit was to supervise and implement the civil work of the orange line project on a fast track. Rest of the work (electrical, mechanical etc) was to be directly executed by a Chinese joint venture — CR (China Railways)— Norinco.

“The PMU had been established in the office of LDA after the then provincial government approved a summary seeking the unit. So after the approval, the government hired Mr Saeed Akhtar (former/retired chief engineer of the Traffic Engineering and Transport Planning Agency (Tepa) as project coordinator (PMU head) for a period of three years on a monthly salary of Rs300,000,” an official source in LDA told Dawn on Monday.

Besides hiring Mr Akhtar, the government also recruited four progress officers (POs) against Rs90,000 (each per month) salary for three years, an IT expert against Rs40,000 per month and a couple of support staff (clerk, peon etc). Mr Saeed Akhtar was hired on the basis of his expertise in executing the Lahore, Rawalpindi/Islamabad and Multan metro bus projects on fast track, according to the source.

He said though the unit remained very active for two years. But later, its POs started leaving the job gradually with two to three months interval. The last PO worked in the PMU till April or May this year. The IT specialist also left the job. And the only person left in the office was Mr Akhtar. “As the August 31st was the last date of Mr Akhtar’s job period and as no one asked him to stay or promised him extension in the contract period, he handed over all relevant record (files, reports, letters etc) to the LDA’s engineering wing, besides surrendering the support staff to the administration. After that, he left the office and didn’t contact anyone later,” the official claimed.

After that, the LDA administration neither bothered to appoint more staff nor revived the PMU. “It seems that the government doesn’t want to revive the unit despite the fact that the pace of work on the project has been badly affected during the last four months,” he added.

It may be recalled that a high-level project steering committee on the orange line venture, which was mandated to supervise its pace of work and maintain liaison among several departments, has also become non-functional since May 31, the last day of the PML-N government. The committee, which had been constituted under chairmanship of the Khawaja Ahmad Hassan, former advisor to the then chief minister, was supposed to hold weekly progress review meetings, visit the sites and remove hurdles in the way of project etc. In May, this year, Mr Hassan had held its last meeting. Afterward, the government nominated the Lahore commissioner for presiding over the committee meetings. “But for the last three to four months, no meeting of the committee was held anywhere in Lahore,” he said.

The official said while the Supreme Court had also taken notice of the delay in completion of the project, it must ask the Punjab government to explain the reasons for this in detail, including the matters of PMU and Steering Committee.

The project is being executed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2018