ISLAMABAD: Controversy surrounding the award of the much-awaited Rs309 billion Mohmand dam project contract to a firm founded by an adviser to the prime minister deepened on Sunday when its inauguration was shelved for a second time in two weeks.

The groundbreaking ceremony, which had been rescheduled for the day, was postponed due to the unavailability of Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

The construction of the project, which was to be inaugurated jointly by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the CJP, was deferred earlier on Jan 2 amid the controversy that its contract was being awarded to a consortium of firms led by Descon, which is reportedly owned by Adviser to PM on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood.

Fawad says ceremony has been cancelled due to CJP’s unavailability

Expressing dissatisfaction over the postponement of the previous ceremony, the chief justice had lamented that he had not been informed about the development, according to media reports.

While confirming to Dawn that the ceremony this time was cancelled due to unavailability of the chief justice, Mr Chaudhry said the next date of the event had not been finalised so far.

“The next date of the inauguration ceremony will be decided within three to four days,” said the information minister without elaborating on the point that the chief justice is going to doff his robes on Thursday.

However, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Media Iftikhar Durrani said a new date would be announced only after consultation with Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar who he said would attend the inauguration ceremony.

The government move to award the Rs309bn contract to the Descon joint venture has already been challenged by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), one of the major opposition parties in parliament, which filed a complaint with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The party petitioned the anti-graft watchdog against the award of such a mega development contract to a consortium led by the company in which a sitting cabinet member and his family have ownership stakes. The NAB was informed that the contract awarded to the firm founded by the PM’s adviser would be a “conflict of interest”.

So far, the NAB has not declared if it has taken notice of the issue on the complaint filed on Jan 4. The anti-graft watchdog has yet to announce if it has served any notice to the relevant minister and departments.

The information minister said PM Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government did not see any irregularity in the matter.

Mr Durrani rejected the impression that the project’s inauguration had been delayed due to any controversies.

He said the incumbent government had no role in the matter. The tender for the project was processed by the previous government, he added.

The 54-year-old project had been revived last year by the chief justice and the prime minister.

CJP Nisar had taken the initiative to raise fund for two big dams — Mohmand and Diamer-Bhasha — in view of acute water scarcity that the country may face in future if immediate measures are not taken to build the dams.

Later, the CJP’s fund and PM fund for the same cause were merged.

According to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), a total of Rs8.46bn had been deposited by locals and overseas Pakistanis in the dams fund till December 2018.

The award of the bid to the Descon-led consortium raised questions about the process of the award and a possible conflict of interest.

Two consortiums each comprising three firms were in the run to win the project. One of the consortia consists of Descon, China Gazooka and Voith Hydro while the other comprises Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), Andritz Hydro and Power China.

Sources said “higher authorities” had also intervened in the matter and directed the authorities concerned for fair play after which some reshuffle was made in the hierarchy of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).

Terming it an “international conspiracy”, federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda said Mr Dawood had already resigned from the company before the bidding process began. The bidding was held on July 18 before the PTI government came to power, he said, claiming that the commerce adviser had nothing to do with the contract and had no way to influence the bidding process.

Mr Vawda insisted that Descon only held 30pc of shares in the consortium and the bids were evaluated by technical experts comprising Nespak, an Australian company, and another foreign firm.

Mr Dawood in a statement also explained that he had founded and headed Descon like several other business ventures. He said he had disclosed all his business associations in writing to the prime minister and “resigned from those positions” before joining the government to “ensure transparency and avoid conflict of interest”.

A sum of Rs2bn has been allocated for the project in the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2018-19.

Mr Vawda addressing a recent press conference along with Wapda chairman retired lieutenant general Muzammil Hussain had said the dam would be constructed through local funding. He also had told the media that around Rs17bn to Rs18bn would be spent from the annual allotment of the PSDP over the next five years.

The proposed Mohmand dam is expected to store 1.2 million-acre-foot water and generate 800 megawatts power besides irrigating 18,000 acres land. The project will also help protect Mardan, Charsadda, Peshawar and other areas from floods during monsoon season.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2019

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