Marred by years of mismanagement, Pakistan’s highest project sanctioning authority on Friday put a stamp of approval on a dozen projects at a cost of Rs600 billion. Many of these schemes had already been approved by the forum but were awaiting cost estimate revisions.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar chaired his maiden meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) and endorsed 12 projects, including an upward revision in their estimated cost. The cumulative cost of these schemes is Rs600 billion, which included seven projects that were presented for cost estimate revisions, showed a press statement issued by the Ministry of Finance after the meeting. The cumulative cost of these schemes is said to be higher than the development spending expected in the current fiscal year.
The government had already diverted Rs23 billion from the 72 ongoing projects for schemes that were not part of the original annual plan. The committee also approved a Ministry of Energy (Power Division) 500 KV Sialkot Substation project, funded by the French Development Agency (AFD) at a total estimated cost of Rs31.8 billion, subject to its review in the next three months based on the exchange rate of the dollar, according to the finance ministry. Initially, the project had been approved at an estimated cost of Rs25 billion but needed revision due to exchange rate fluctuations.
Ecnec also approved the augmentation of 500 kV and 220 kV transformers at the existing grid stations for the removal of NTDC system constraints at a cost of Rs15.1 billion. This too was subject to a review of cost in the next three months as per the variations in the exchange rate of the dollar. This project had also initially been approved at an estimated cost of Rs11.7 billion. Furthermore, the committee approved the upgradation of the existing 220 kV Vehari substation project to a 500 kV Vehari substation.
The project cost is Rs17.1 billion, subject to a review of cost in the next three months according to the exchange rate of the dollar. This project is also funded by AFD and is expected to be completed in 41 months. This scheme had initially been approved at an estimated cost of Rs13 billion. The committee also approved the construction of the Chasma Right Bank Canal Project at a cost of Rs189.6 billion with a financing share between the federal and provincial governments.
The federal government will contribute 65% and the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will contribute 35%. The proposed canal is an off-taking from the Head Race channel of the Chasma hydropower station at the right bank of the Chasma barrage. In addition to these, approval has been given to the Naulong Multipurpose Dam Project at a revised cost of Rs43.8 billion, which is 266% more than the original cost of less than Rs12 billion. While the project will help in mitigating floods, its completion has been delayed due to a scarcity of resources and ill-planning.
On the education front, Ecnec approved the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) Allama Muhammad Iqbal Scholarship for Afghan National Students at a cost of Rs12.7 billion, covering 4500 scholarships. The project aimed at capacity building of talented and qualified manpower in order to meet a shortage of trained human resources and improve the socioeconomic conditions in Afghanistan. It also is expected to help in strengthening relations with the neighboring country.
Another project Ecnec approved is meant for the Dualisation and Rehabilitation of the KarachiQuetta-Chaman Road (N-25) from Karachi-Kararo and WadhKhuzdar at a cost of Rs74.7 billion. This project is essential to save the lives of hundreds of people who commute on dilapidated roads daily. The Dualisation of the KaraoWadh section of the national highway was also approved at a cost of 67.7 billion to be completed in 18 months. Due to a scarcity of resources, and the addition of new projects, the timelines may be difficult to observe.
The council also gave its approval to the improvement of the Chitral– Booni–Mastuj–Shandur road at the cost of Rs17.8 billion. The revised cost of Rs28 billion for the Lowari road tunnel and access roads project was also approved. Originally, this project was approved at the cost of Rs8 billion, which is now more than double. In yet another case of wastage of resources and unduly adding up external debt, Ecnec approved the Locust Emergency and Food Security project at an updated cost of Rs26 billion, including the World Bank loan of Rs22 billion.
The project had been planned almost three years ago when the country experienced a severe locust attack, however, the scheme had actually been designed to buy computers and expensive vehicles in the name of the farmers. The objective of the project includes enhancing the country’s preparedness to combat future locust attacks, enhancing the capacity of Federal and Provincial Plant Protection Departments and strengthening the national food security information and management system. The committee also approved the government of Punjab’s project called the Punjab Resilient and Inclusive Agriculture Transformation (PRIAT) at a total cost of Rs74.8 billion, including the World Bank loan of Rs45.9 billion.