IT is a little puzzling to hear repeated mentions from government officials about their intention to create what they have termed a “CPEC authority”. Presumably, this means some sort of body to oversee all CPEC-related work for the government, but it is hard to understand how this can be done without creating a massive parallel bureaucracy that significantly usurps powers from the provincial governments as well as the regulators. For example, would the so-called CPEC authority perform only functions related to coordination, or would it be empowered to make decisions on matters ranging from corporate governance, gas allocations, PSDP releases, power tariffs, custom duties and trade? Thus far, the repeated mentions of such an authority from government officials are scant on detail, but it is important that all this is known before the matter is taken any further.

If a parallel bureaucracy is being contemplated, one which is empowered to make final decisions on all matters related to and arising from CPEC-related investments, then an obvious question becomes unavoidable. Would this not amount to special treatment for one class of investor? What about those investors, whether foreign or domestic, who are not in any way directly connected to CPEC and therefore not eligible for treatment at the window of the CPEC authority? Does this mean that one class of investor will receive white-gloved treatment whereas the others will have to queue up and fend for themselves? It would be wholly unacceptable for such a standard to be developed. The second obvious question that the matter begs is how, and to what extent, the government has adapted and reformed the contours of CPEC considering the nature of the criticisms leveled at the former government as it advanced the venture. For one, greater transparency remains a pressing priority, with the latest discussions on a CPEC authority being the best example of how decisions are being deliberated upon in private, with very little idea of what exactly is in the works. More disclosure is now critical before the government decides to advance this idea further. Long before any such proposal is finalised — should it come to that — it should be discussed in parliament and given an adequate public airing before it is sent to the federal cabinet. There is a long history in this country of decision-making with short-term horizons in mind, and this risks becoming the latest example on that timeline.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2019

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