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PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on Friday witnessed a heated debate over the alleged irregularities in the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit project, including receipt of kickbacks, flaws in design, escalation of cost, and delay in its successful execution.

The opposition members came down hard on the previous PTI-led provincial government for what they claimed launching the largest development project of the province’s history without detailed engineering design and thus, escalating cost.

The house met with deputy speaker Mahmood Jan in the chair.

Opposition calls for house probe panel, minister says consultant responsible for design

Debate on the BRT project began after PMLN lawmaker Sobia Shahid expressed displeasure at the transport department’s reply to her question regarding the bus project.

“I am not satisfied with the reply of the transport department and feasibility report,” she said after her question was put to discussion.

In the reply, the transport department claimed that the cost of the BRT project was initially Rs49.346 billion but it later increased to Rs66.437 billion.

Ms Sobia said the project’s contractor was already blacklisted by the Punjab government for poor work in Faisalabad and Lahore.

“There is no mention in the feasibility report about how many people will use the BRT service though this information is a must for any such project,” she said.

The lawmaker said the project had a poor design as even the designer didn’t mention underground drains and gas pipelines broken during digging.

“Due to ill-planning, the BRT has become nuisance for Peshawarites for the last one and a half years,” she said.

Ms Sobia alleged that the last PTI government had received Rs1.5 billion kickbacks in the project before they’re used for the ruling party’s general election campaign.

Parliamentary leader of the ANP Sardar Hussain Babak said the transport department had breached the privilege of the house by telling a lie in reply to the BRT project-related question.

He said the bus project’s cost had escalated from Rs49 to Rs70 billion but the department falsely put the figure at Rs66 billion.

MMA MPA Inayatullah Khan, who was the local government minister in the previous PTI government, said the provincial cabinet was kept in the dark for eight months about the BRT project’s cost, design and other details.

He said a presentation was given to the cabinet only few days before its members resigned on completion of tenure in May 2018.

“At that time, I questioned in the cabinet meeting why the BRT project was not placed before the cabinet for approval,” he said.

Later, Inayatullah, whose department (LG) was responsible for executing the bus project, told Dawn that according to the Supreme Court decision, it was binding for the government to take the cabinet’s consent before executing any mega development project.

Participating in the debate, leader of the opposition Mohammad Akram Khan Durrani asked the government to set up a house committee with members from both opposition and treasury benches to probe alleged irregularities in the BRT project.

“The opposition will go all-out to seek a detailed inquiry into the BRT irregularities,” he said, adding that poor residents of the province would pay for billions of loans secured for the bus initiative.

Reacting to the opposition’s criticism, local government minister Shahram Khan Tarakai said instead of former chief minister Pervez Khattak, the consultant would be held responsible if the BRT project’s design was found to be flawed.

He said the former chief minister had floated the project idea, while the consultant was responsible for its design.

Law minister Sultan Mohammad tabled the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

The chair adjourned the session until Monday.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019