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NAB clubs together inquiries into two motorway projects

Updated October 01, 2018

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— Photo/File
— Photo/File

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has clubbed together inquiries into alleged wrongdoing in two motorway projects launched by the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government.

The two projects are the Rs148 billion Karachi-Lahore Motorway’s (KLM) Abdul Hakeem section and the Rs259bn Multan-Sukkur Motorway (MSM).

“The NAB has decided to club together the inquiries into Lahore-Karachi and Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway projects because the nature of allegations levelled in both cases are quite similar,” a senior NAB official told Dawn on Sunday.

He said the bureau had planned to visit the under-construction KLM (Abdul Hakeem section) to check the quality of the road and quantity of material used by a joint venture of two firms — Zahir Khan and Brothers (ZKB) and China Railway 20 Bureau. According to officials, more than 80 per cent of the project has been completed.

The NAB chairman had ordered an inquiry into KLM affairs in February, but even after a lapse of six months the matter has not advanced to the next stage of investigation. However, according to NAB’s own strategy, it has to complete the inquiry in two months and the whole case has to be turned into a reference in 10 months.

The National Highway Authority (NHA) had awarded a Rs148bn contract for work on 230 kilometres of the KLM’s Abdul Hakeem section in August 2015, ignoring shortcomings in the successful bid.

Interestingly, the Frontier Works Organisation was not allowed to participate in the bidding process by the NHA management on the grounds that the FWO was already engaged in several other massive projects and thus it would be overstretched and overburdened if awarded the contract for the KLM section. The FWO had submitted the lowest bid of Rs134bn — Rs14bn lower than the accepted bid of Rs148bn.

Some of the bidders have lodged complaints with the NHA that the successful bidder had reduced the quantity of material, amounting to Rs10bn, without reducing the cost of the project and that the action will cause an additional burden of Rs10bn to the national exchequer.

“That is the reason the NAB team will examine the quality and quantity of material used in the KLM project during its visit shortly,” the bureau’s official said.

MULTAN-SUKKUR MOTORWAY: The NAB started an inquiry into the 392km MSM project in March, but has yet to complete the process.

A meeting of the bureau’s executive board approved an inquiry against officers of the NHA on a charge of awarding illegal contract in the Multan-Sukkur Motorway project, inflicting a loss of Rs 259bn to the national exchequer.

NAB received reports that three Chinese companies were shortlisted for the project and all of them submitted their feasibilities, putting the cost between Rs240bn and Rs245bn.

The Chinese company that won the contract was allowed to import duty-free machinery and cement. It was also allowed to bring steel from China, even though the price in Pakistan is lower than in China — Rs90,000 per tonne as against Rs150,000 per tonne, according to the charge-sheet.

Senator Nauman Wazir of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf claimed during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Communications in March that there was a misappropriation of Rs137bn in the project.

He said Pakistan should follow the example of Malaysia where projects were being renegotiated because of corruption allegations.

Interestingly, the National High­way Authority has rejected the allegations of corruption in both the motorway projects and claimed that the two contracts had been awarded on merit.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2018