PAC subcommittee decides in principle on forensic audit of IIA project

Updated January 17, 2019

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PAC subcommittee has also directed the auditor general to determine whether delays in the project were caused by the contractor or the government. — File photo
PAC subcommittee has also directed the auditor general to determine whether delays in the project were caused by the contractor or the government. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: With the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) saying it needs six months to determine the law under which to file a reference, a subcommittee of the Public Accounts Committee has decided in principle to carry out a forensic audit of the Islamabad International Airport.

The subcommittee, which is led by PTI MNA Syed Fakhar Imam, has also directed the auditor general to determine whether delays in the project were caused by the contractor or the government.

The audit department has said it is quite capable of carrying out the audit as it is already auditing a private firm on Supreme Court orders, but would officially consent after a week.

NAB tells subcommittee it needs six months to determine the law under which to file a reference

While discussing delays in the escalation in cost for the airport from Rs37 billion to Rs105bn, the subcommittee was informed that the PAC has already referred some audit objections to NAB. However, a NAB official said the bureau would need six months to determine under which law it should file its reference, for which it will also consult with law experts at universities.

PML-N MNA Rana Tanveer Hussain said the six month wait would be too long, adding: “When you want to file references or take action against politicians you don’t even take a month to do it.”

Pakistan Engineering Council Chairman Jawed Salim Qureshi intervened in the discussion and said that in other countries, forensic audits are used to fix responsibility in such cases.

He added that here, government departments “ try to accept responsibility to protect the contractor from fines”.

Forensic audits investigate why a project was delayed and who was responsible, he said, adding: “It is inquired from the government department if it asked the contractor why the project was delayed and what the contractor’s reply was.”

Mr Qureshi also alleged that the project cost was deliberately stated to be Rs37bn instead of Rs81bn so “small and incompetent companies would be able to win the contract”.

Audit Works (Federal)Director General Mohammad Azhar told the subcommittee earlier that four inquiries have been conducted over delays in the completion of the airport.

“The ground-breaking of the project was held on April 7, 2007, and the project had to be completed within 30 months. However, at the time of the ground-breaking ceremony, the design of the project was not ready and even the PC-I was not approved. Even after 18 months, work on the runway was done again as work done at the time of the ground-breaking was destroyed,” he said.

Mr Azhar said that while the initial cost of the project was Rs37bn, a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report had revealed that a number of components were not included in the project. The realistic cost of the project, he said, was Rs81bn.

“However even that price escalated and reached over Rs105bn. We have raised a number of objections and even the FIA report shows that our objections were correct,” he said.

An Aviation Division official attributed the increase in cost to the decision to upgrade technology, and the foreign exchange conversion rate.

The official said the SC took note of the issue in September 2013, after which retired Lt Gen Shahid Nawaz carried out an inquiry and a review committee, headed by Shamsul Mulk, also looked into the matter.

The IIA project was conceived of in 1984, and the procurement of land near Fateh Jang began the same year. Land was bought for Rs30,000 per kanal to Rs500,000 per kanal, averaging Rs70,000 per kanal.

A stone-laying ceremony was held in 2004, and construction began without the approval of any design. Construction projects were also awarded at the same time to 17 contractors.

The initial Rs37bn PC-I was approved in 2008, which did not include the fuel system, radar and radio control building, aprons for planes, sewerage treatment plant, electricity or the availability of water.

In order to resolve the issue of water availability, it was decided to build two dams – Ramma and Kassana – at a cost of approximately Rs1.7bn to provide 3.3 million gallons of water per day.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019