ISLAMABAD: Terming the China-Pakistan Economic Corri­dor (CPEC) a top priority, Minister for Planning Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal on Wednesday expressed serious concern over the sluggish progress on CPEC-related projects.

The minister showed displeasure over the waste of time and resources over the last four years at a meeting he presided over to review the progress on CPEC projects. The meeting was attended by secretaries of various ministries.

Executive Director, CPEC, Qammar Sarwar Abbasi gave a briefing on the so-far progress in executing the projects which is a game-changer for the region.

The minister directed that progress on CPEC should be reviewed twice a month and all Joint Working Groups (JWG) of CPEC to pursue their sector-specific projects and initiate work on them immediately, the Planning Commission said in a statement.

“How pathetic the delay on CPEC projects which is the potential game-changer for the regions, said the minister while directing the official concerned to hold a meeting to review the progress every fortnight. There is zero progress on the Industrial Zones of Port Qasim, Islamabad and Mirpur which is unfortunate. “When you don’t value your investors why they would come for investment”, lamented the minister.

In 2017, the excitement around SEZs was so high that all major foreign direct investors were lining up to be a part of it. However, due to an inordinate delay in projects Chinese investors moved away, said the minister.

The minister noted that further delay in projects will not be acceptable and directed the officials to ensure the expedite the work. “How would you attract our investors when we fail to complete such important projects in time, the minister said while directing the concerned official to hold a separate meeting over SEZs so that it could be streamlined.

As per the initial plan, CPEC plan, the SEZs were supposed to be ready by 2020 but unfortunately, in the last four years, there has been zero progress on SEZs, said the minister, adding that Interior Division should ensure foolproof security of the Chinese nationals working in Pakistan.

During the briefing, the minister directed the officials to complete Zhob-Quetta Road which was initiated under the CPEC project. “Infrastructural development in less developed regions will contribute towards uplifting quality of life of the locals and generation of socioeconomic activity,” he added.

The minister stressed that all line ministries and departments divert their immediate attention towards SEZs. In this regard, all potential foreign direct investors are to be engaged as well to hear their perspective and requirements which can be accounted for in SEZs design.

The minister also directed the officials to address the bottlenecks, especially in Early Harvest Projects, including infrastructure and energy projects.

There is a dire need of the hour for developing quality human capital that can take benefit of socioeconomic opportunities, opening up due to CPEC, he added.

He also added govt plans to train more than 100,000 young students in various fields like Artificial Intelligence, Oracle, Big Data and others. He also directed HEC to extensively engage with industry to ensure that Pakistani graduates are acquiring an education that is relevant to industrial needs.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2022

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