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Show-cause notice issued to Malir Expressway project director for failing to disclose information

October 26, 2023
This still taken from a video released on July 5, 2023, shows an under-construction bridge under the Malir Expressway project. — X/@murtazawahab1
This still taken from a video released on July 5, 2023, shows an under-construction bridge under the Malir Expressway project. — X/@murtazawahab1

The Sindh Information Commissioner on Wednesday issued a show cause notice to the project director of the Malir Expressway project, Niaz Ahmed Soomro, for his absence before the commission and failure to disclose the information.

A not-for-profit organisation, Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan (PILAP), had filed a right to information (RTI) request on July 12 under the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016 with three Sindh government departments and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).

The Malir Expressway, according to its Environment Impact Assesment report, is a 30-kilometre-long corridor linking the Defense Housing Authority (DHA) with the Karachi-Hyderabad Motorway. The project’s cost is estimated at Rs27.5 billion.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) initially considered paying Rs4.137 billion under its umbrella project supporting public-private partnership investments in Sindh. However, the donor agency later backed out from the project.

The RTI

The PILAP filed the RTI request to the Planning and Development Board chairman, local government secretary, Sindh finance department’s public-private partnership unit director general and Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab.

The organisation requested the above-mentioned departments to provide details of the final and latest design of the Malir Expressway, including its maps of the entire project from starting point to the ending point and the full details of final design.

It sought details of the final signed public-private partnership agreement contract made with the third-party concessionnaire for the construction of the Malir Expressway. The PILAP also demanded details of the independent auditor appointed for the project. “When was the independent auditor appointed? What are the details of audit assessment reports submitted by the independent auditor on the project?” the RTI reads.

Since 2010, the Sindh government has inked 58 public-private partnership agreements worth Rs 800 billion but none of the agreements are public. The PILAP’s representative, Haider Naqvi, told the information commissioner during Wednesday’s hearing that this would be the first such disclosure if the finance department’s public-private partnership unit responded.

The PILAP also sought details of the compliance payment details made to the third party/parties for the Environmental Impact Assessment study for the project and complete details of the financial closure of the construction of the project.

The not-profit organisation filed an internal review on August 2 to all the departments and even then when the request was not heeded, they filed a complaint with the Sindh Information Commission on August 16.

The Information Commission issued notices to all the departments on September 27 to appear in-person before the commission through a designated official on October 11, along with the requisite information.

On October 10, the planning and development department responded to the RTI request that they were not in possession of the requisite information and said that the local government and finance department’s public-private partnership unit being the executive agencies were the appropriate departments to contact for such information.

On October 11, the Malir Expressway project director, public-private partnership unit representative and PILAP’s finance manager Nawazish Ali appeared before the commission.

Soomro assured the commission that the requisite information will be furnished on October 25, Wednesday. The commission also directed the public-private partnership unit to come up with the requisite information on the same date.

Show-cause notice

No Sindh government official appeared before the information commission on Wednesday, which prompted the commission to issue a show-cause notice to the project director. “Niaz Soomro, the project director, gave an undertaking,” said one of the three information commissioners, Shahid Abbas Jatoi, during the hearing.

He stressed that if the information was not disclosed, they will “have no option but to penalise them.”

KMC’s misunderstanding

However, during the hearing, the information commissioners shared the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) response that had been submitted to them on behalf of the mayor.

The KMC’s legal team had misunderstood the request as they had responded that the information regarding the Lyari Expressway rehabilitation and acquisition of land was with the Karachi Development Authority.

Upon receiving the KMC’s response, the PILAP representative said they would write again to the KMC to clarify that they had sought information about the Malir Expressway, not the Lyari Expressway.

To this, the chief information commissioner, Dr Jawaid Ali, said the PILAP would have to carry out their correspondence with the KMC through the commission.