PML-N assails questions over road projects transparency

Published October 1, 2021
A file photo of PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal. — APP/File
A file photo of PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has said that by questioning the transparency of highway and motorway projects undertaken during the party’s previous term in government, Prime Minister Imran Khan has in fact accused China or Pakistan Army of doing corruption as most of these projects were completed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corri­dor (CPEC) and by the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and National Logistic Cell (NLC).

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, who had served as planning minister under the previous government, challenged Imran Khan to write a letter to the Chinese president and ask him to initiate an inquiry against him over alleged corruption in the road projects carried out under CPEC.

Mr Iqbal was responding to the speech made by Prime Minister Khan at a ceremony to inaugurate a road upgrade project of Balochistan on Wednesday in which he stated that he had tasked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) with probing the exorbitant cost incurred on the road construction projects undertaken by the previous PML-N government. Mr Khan had alleged that in every four-lane road construction project, the PML-N had “extorted Rs200 million per kilometre” and this information was available on websites.

“All the road projects carried out by our government were completed either by Chinese companies through a direct financing by China under CPEC or there were other projects which were completed by FWO and NLC, the two organisations working under Pakistan Army,” said Mr Iqbal.

Ahsan Iqbal says most roads built by China, FWO and NLC; challenges Imran to ask Chinese president for probe into alleged corruption

“Mr Prime Minister, please tell whether corruption had been committed in CPEC projects or the FWO and NLC had embezzled money through overbidding of the projects,” he said.

“If corruption had been done in these road projects, then there are only two possibilities — either the Chinese government or the Chinese companies had looted the money of the Pakistani nation or the organisations of Pakistan Army had embezzled the money,” he said, asking the prime minister to tell the nation to whom he was blaming.

Mr Iqbal said one of the ministers of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had previously directly accused him of taken Rs50-70 billion commission in the road projects. He said two years had passed but the government had not constituted any JIT (joint investigation team) to probe the matter.

“If you [PM Khan] have the courage then write a letter to the Chinese president and tell him that a Pakistan’s planning minister had received Rs50bn to Rs70bn kickbacks in the construction of Multan-Sukkur Motorway which had been built by China. Ask him [the Chinese president] to hold an inquiry into the matter,” Mr Iqbal said, accusing the prime minister of becoming a facilitator of anti-CPEC elements.

The PML-N leader said Mr Khan must answer which projects were a victim of corruption because Multan-Sukkur Motorway, Havelian-Thakot Motorway and East Bay in Gwadar were all directly invested by China and had nothing to do with the Pakistan government.

Mr Iqbal said Imran Khan had a strategy of coming up with these accusations as a diversion from how badly he was demolishing Pakistan’s economy and crushing the people. He said this reflected “Imran’s sick mentality” that he did not even think before defiling the image and reputation of Pakistan Army’s subsidiaries like the FWO and NLC. These allegations by Imran Khan, he said, had also tainted Pakistan’s strongest friend and most trusted ally China, which was a “dangerous act clearly against the national interest”.

Mr Iqbal explained that different roads had different costs based on their specifications and engineering designs according to the land and topographical requirements. He pointed out that the Chines ambassador had tweeted praising the Havelian-Thakot project as a model of engineering expertise and perfection and it had received international award, while the PTI government was alleging corruption in the same project. He also provided a list of the roads built by China and the NLC and FWO.

The PML-N leader also lashed out at the PTI government for asking China to renegotiate terms for the energy projects being carried out by Chinese companies. Why should foreign investors take the brunt for “incompetence and incapacity of the unqualified PTI government”, he wondered.

Mr Iqbal said no special concessions were given to China for the energy projects. He said China, on the request of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was the only country that invested in Pakistan at a time when even local investors were not willing to put in a single dollar. He slammed Imran Khan for calling CPEC projects a burden on Pakistan’s economy and that excess capacity was installed.

The PML-N leader also refuted Imran Khan’s statement that the Mattiyari-Lahore transmission line had been delayed since 2013 whereas he pointed out that its agreement was signed in May 2018 and the date of its commissioning was set for September 2021. “Imran should read about things before opening his mouth,” he suggested.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2021

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