ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet in its next week’s meeting is set to grant exemption to the Darbar Kartarpur Corridor Project from following the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules, shows agenda for the meeting issued by the Cabinet Secretariat.
A summary seeking exemption under Section 21 of the PPRA Ordinance 2002 has been moved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, according to the 13-point agenda issued for the April 20 meeting of the federal cabinet, a copy of which is available with Dawn.
Section 21 of the PPRA Ordinance 2002 titled ‘Power to exempt’ reads as: “The Authority may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, recommend to the Federal Government that the procurement of an object or class of objects in the national interest be exempted from the operation of this Ordinance or any rule or regulation made thereunder or any other law regulating public procurement and the Federal Government on such recommendations shall exempt the aforesaid objects or class of objects from the operation of the laws and rules and regulations made thereunder.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan had formally inaugurated the Kartarpur corridor at a ceremony in November 2019, paving the way for Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit one of their religion’s holiest sites in Pakistan without a visa.
Religious affairs ministry forwards summary for cabinet approval
In his speech, the prime minister had felicitated the Sikh pilgrims on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak and also praised the Pakistan government officials for completing the Kartarpur project in a matter of months.
In March last year, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) presided over by the then adviser to the prime minister on finance and revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh had approved six major development projects with a cumulative estimated cost of Rs100.68 billion, including ex-post facto clearance of Rs16.5bn Kartarpur Corridor.
The ex-post facto approval to the development of Kartarpur corridor had been given on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC)/turnkey basis for phase-1 of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, Narowal district, at a modified cost of Rs16.546bn.
Talking to Dawn here on Saturday, former planning and development minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Ahsan Iqbal, who was elected to the National Assembly from Narowal, assailed the federal government over the move to seek exemption from PPRA rules for the project and declared it a fit case to be taken up by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Citing Section 21 of the PPRA Ordinance, Mr Iqbal asked how the project fell under the domain of national security.
“Rather, it is in the national interest to ensure transparency in the project. It is in the national interest to save national money through competitive bidding. Relying on a single source for the project is in fact against the national interest and the spirit of transparency,” he declared.
He said the exemption provision in the ordinance had been given in ‘extreme emergency situations’ when the government did not have time to issue tenders for the project. “What is the emergency now?” he asked.
He said his party was not against the Kartarpur project, rather it was a brainchild of the PML-N government. He, however, regretted that the present government had not complied any codal formality. He said neither the Planning Commission’s Central Development Working Party (CDWP) had approved the project nor PPRA rules were being followed.
“What kind of transparency is this? Does it not merit consideration by NAB?” he asked.
Mr Iqbal said he had been facing a NAB reference for Rs2.9bn Narowal Sports Complex project despite the fact that the project was completed with all codal formalities and its approval by the CDWP, while the ex-post facto approval was given to the Kartarpur project that was completed without even fulfilling codal formalities.
“These are double standards,” he said and asked if the NAB would now launch investigations into the matter or would it continue to sit idle.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2021