ISLAMABAD: A Senate panel on Tuesday sought membership for one senator each in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Joint Working Groups (JWGs) and decided to review development projects of all ministries to phase out non-productive and slow-moving projects.

The meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development was presided over by Saleem Mandviwala of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

While taking up the progress report on its recommendations of September 16, the panel wanted an update on its demand to the CPEC Authority for making one member of the Senate standing committee on planning a part of CPEC joint working groups (JWGs) for future projects.

The committee was informed by an additional secretary of the planning division that the JWGs were headed by secretaries of respective ministries and divisions who also decide about the matters related to composition of the groups. The recommendations of the Senate committee had been forwarded to heads of all CPEC JWGs on October 22 and had not heard back anything.

Senate panel briefed on details of projects costing less than Rs2bn

The meeting also had a briefing on details of projects costing less than Rs2bn. The committee’s members expressed concerns over time and cost overruns of development projects. Officials told the committee that cost and time overruns occur mainly because of “too many demands competing for too scarce resources”. The financial capacity of the federal government was insufficient to fund so many projects as the list keeps growing.

The committee unanimously decided to hold meetings with the representatives of each division and the ministry on time and cost overrun projects and obtain a concrete report on the delay in the projects. The planning ministry suggested that a first-in-first-out (FiFo) method should be adopted to thoroughly study the details of the ageing projects since 2011 – 10 years.

The meeting decided to commence such reviews from the National Highway Authority (NHA) projects in presence of the representations from the NHA, the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Communications.

The committee also questioned why a large number of projects had been shown on the portfolio of the Finance Division, including those involving foreign-funded schemes. The committee was informed that lack of cancellation policy was also one of the reasons the projects were not completed. “No project is ever cancelled” an official said. The Senate committee decided to come up with its recommendations to introduce the policy of cancellation through the FiFo method to reduce PSDP burden.

With regards to the committee recommendations on the Special Ecomonic Zone Act, 2012, which should be amended in order to facilitate the investors, the committee was informed that the process has been initiated to make necessary amendments in the Act.

The committee was informed that oversight committee led by MNA Khalid Magsi had been constituted to review the progress on federally-funded PSDP projects and highlight necessary interventions and also to provide input for future development interventions to uplift Baluchistan through federal PSDP and innovative financing modes like Public-Private Partnership.

The planning division while briefing the committee on PSDP projects worth Rs2bn and less reported that total number of PSDP projects in fiscal year 2021-22 stood at 1,155 with a total cost of Rs9.422 trillion. As of July 1, 2021, an expenditure of about Rs2.886tr had been made with a throw-forward of Rs6.537tr. The PSDP 2021-22 envisaged an allocation of Rs900 billion, including Rs100bn of foreign aid.

The committee was also told that utilisation of PSDP funds as on Dec 10, 2021 stood at Rs190bn which was almost 67pc of sanctioned funds for that period.

During a briefing on the current status of development of Islamabad jail, the committee raised questions about the prison’s construction without permission and cost escalation by almost 300 per cent. “A jail is being constructed in Islamabad’s buffer zone,” said Saleem Mandviwalla and noted that the construction cost has also increased by three times. The planning commission confirmed that Islamabad Jail was earlier to be built at a cost of Rs3.9bn but its revised cost had been estimated at Rs12bn.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2021

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