LAHORE: Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati says the Pakistan Railways (PR) has suffered a huge loss of Rs1.2 trillion, leaving the government with no option but to run this department under a sustainable business mode.
He further says the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has agreed to decide / finalise inquiries of three references within one week against those allegedly involved in corruption made in the modern signalling / interlocking project from Lodhran to Shahdara.
“I am clearly telling you that huge public money amounting to Rs1.2 trillion has so far been sunk in the Pakistan Railways. And it can only be reduced or recovered if we run this important department under a formal sustainable business model,” Swati told journalists at a press conference on Saturday.
He said that after independence, there were two ministries -- railways and postal services -- that were required to be run under business models. But, unfortunately, these were run on charitable pattern that caused massive financial destruction to these departments. Resultantly, the losses continue to emerge and rise.
He quoted the example of Railcop, a PR- owned company, where, according to him, a professional from private sector should have been appointed instead of the railway officer who just receive Rs12,000 additional allowance for heading this organisation. “How can a senior official (Divisional Superintendent) wholeheartedly work to steer the organisation professionally for just Rs12,000 per month,” he wondered.
Responding to a question, the minister said he had a meeting with NAB chairman retired Justice Javaid Iqbal two weeks ago to discuss an issue related to ongoing inquiries over alleged corruption in the PR’s signaling / interlocking project.
“During meeting I requested the NAB chairman to please decide three references related to this project since the issue is hampering the safety of passengers and those working on this project. I also told him that the project started in 2008 and was completed almost in 2012. But later it was referred to the NAB for investigation and delayed further,” he explained.
“I also told the NAB chief that due to this issue (non-completion of the project delay in finalising / deciding references, the PR has been facing operational losses of Rs60,000 US dollars per day.
Being the minister was, perhaps, not updated about the project, as it was approved by ECNEC in 2008 and the work on this was launched in 2011 (from Lodhran to Shahdara section). The work has been done at 21 stations while the system is yet to be placed at many other stations. It delayed after former minister Sheikh Rashid sent the case to the NAB reportedly for investigations over alleged corruption. And finally the work on this important project stalled since the officers started taking a meager interest for completion due to inquiries by NAB.
The minister said the NAB chairman had promised with him to decide the references within seven days after he assigned the task to a prosecutor. “I also asked the NAB chairman to punish all those involved in this case, but make some space for those not involved in this. So he pledged to decide the references within a week,” he said.
He said there was a plan to outsource operations of all PR- owned hospitals and schools to private firms / parties. “It is not our job to run schools or hospitals. We will outsource these schools and hospitals, as we will only run the railways that has started running,” Swati said, requesting the media to give him at least one year to perform and then make him accountable for anything.
To another a question, he said the NA standing committee couldn’t summon the NAB chairman without permission of the NA speaker. “Minister Shibli Fraz’s stance on this issue is absolutely correct, as only the NA speaker or the Senate chairman are authorised to do so. And if they do so, the NAB chairman will be there,” he added.
He said some young professionals had asked him to hand over only two coaches of any train and then see they would change these into a better one than the plane. “I will put the railways into right direction within one year. Moreover, I would remain the minister till the last day of the PTI’s ongoing five- year term,” he claimed.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021