Minister apologises on behalf of govt for rescheduling groundbreaking of dam without informing CJP

Updated January 07, 2019

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Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda apologised "on behalf of the government" to the top judge. — File
Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda apologised "on behalf of the government" to the top judge. — File

Offended over not being informed about the rescheduling of the Mohmand Dam groundbreaking, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Monday said he might not attend the inauguration ceremony.

Chief Justice Nisar shared his grievance with Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda while hearing a case regarding the construction of the Nai Gaj Dam in Sindh.

Last week, the government had shelved the inauguration ceremony of the much-awaited Mohmand Dam project, rescheduling the groundbreaking of the project from Jan 2 to Jan 13.

"You changed the date without informing me; you did not think it was necessary to inform me," remarked the chief justice. "I might not even attend the [Mohmand Dam] inauguration now."

The top judge told Vawda to tell the prime minister to inaugurate the Mohmand Dam project himself. "Do we not have any role in the construction [of the dam]," asked Justice Nisar, further questioning why the inauguration date was changed without the court's knowledge.

"The government did nothing for the dam project on its own. All it did was announce that by 2025, the country will face water shortage."

Vawda offered an apology "on behalf of the government" and urged the chief justice to attend the ceremony when it takes place.

The chief justice regretted that the prime minister "was unaware of the issues that were pending".

Turning his attention to the Nai Gaj Dam, he demanded the reason behind the delay in the releasing of the funds and said that he would ask the attorney general to summon the finance minister for the next hearing.

"We will issue a notice if the finance minister does not appear [for the next hearing]," he said, asking if the federal government was serious about building the dam.

Last month, the Supreme Court had asked the federal government to come up with its plans about releasing funds for the construction of Nai Gaj Dam in Dadu district of Sindh.

The three-judge SC bench had taken up a petition moved through senior counsel Rasheed A. Razvi highlighting hurdles in the way of Nai Gaj dam’s construction.

In today's hearing, the CJP said that if the court had not taken up the case, the dam project would have remained in a limbo for the next two to three years.

Justice Nisar asked Vawda to summon a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec).

"If the [Ecnec] meeting is not held, then we will summon all four of the ministers on short notice," he warned. He also directed the water minister to inform the court about the date of the meeting in the next hearing.

The hearing was adjourned until Jan 11.

Mohmand, Diamer-Bhasha dams

Separately, while hearing a case regarding the construction of Mohmand and Diamer-Bhasha dams, the Supreme Court asked Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) Chairman retired Gen Muzzamil Hussain to submit a written plan for the construction of the dams.

They asked the governor of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to explain how the process for donating money could be made easier for overseas Pakistanis.

The Wapda chairman said that propaganda was being spread against the water development authority. At this, Chief Justice Nisar told him not to worry about it "as spreading propaganda takes place regularly".

When the chairman told the court that there was criticism on the contract [for the dam] being awarded on single-bid, the top judge responded that any individual who has an issue should bring it to them.

"We will then look at all your rules," Justice Nisar added.

He then took aim at GNN news channel, asking why the channel was criticising this project. "Insects have been found in their ice cream," he remarked, referring to an earlier order that all ice cream production units of Gourmet Foods across Punjab be sealed and all other edible products of the company be assessed for quality checks.

Justice Nisar told the Wapda chairman to make a complete plan on when which part of the dam would be constructed.

The court asked the chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to tell the bench if a special tax could be imposed on mobile phones for the construction of dams. They also asked the chairman of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to submit a reply regarding critique on the dams.

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow [Tuesday].

Mohmand Dam contract controversy

The project was made controversial when the government awarded the contract of the Rs309 billion Mohmand Dam to a Descon-led consortium on a single-bid basis.

Speaking at a news conference last week, Vawda had said the controversies being generated around the project "on the agenda of international powers by linking it with Descon Engineering and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood were totally incorrect".

He said Dawood had nothing to do with the contract, nor could he influence the bidding process; he had already resigned from the company and the bidding for the project was held on July 18 even before the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf came to power.

According to Vawda, Descon had only 30 per cent shares in the consortium and that bids were evaluated by technical experts comprising Nespak, an Australian company and another foreign firm and the qualified bidder had secured the contract.

“We are independent in this country. The prime minister is independent, the ministry is independent, but even Wapda was not authorised to award a contract,” he said. He said the government would launch and complete the project before the deadline unlike the previous governments that held repeated inaugurations.

Earlier, Wapda Chairman Hussain at a separate press conference had said that it was just a coincidence that the single bidder’s bid price was almost the same as estimated by the government and insisted there was no conflict of interest in the award of the contract to a company having links with a sitting cabinet member.

Hussain agreed that Descon Engineering was related to Razak Dawood, but said this had nothing to do with the bidding conducted by Wapda. He said there was also no truth in aspersions that he or Wapda faced pressures on the issue of groundbreaking of the project.

Meanwhile, Dawood explained in a statement that he had founded and headed Descon Engineering Limited like several other business ventures but disclosed all his business associations in writing to the prime minister and resigned from these positions before joining the government to ensure transparency and avoid conflict of interest.

“The disclosure had also identified the Mohmand dam project for which Descon had already bid”, but the prime minister felt the pending project should not prevent him from joining the cabinet, the adviser said.

“On joining the cabinet, the adviser has totally distanced himself from his former business interests and has scrupulously observed and implemented all requirements of transparency and avoidance of conflict of interest. There has been no departure whatsoever from this ethic,” he said.