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Troubles facing BRT primarily due to haste to meet difficult deadlines


May 11, 2018

PESHAWAR: Almost all the troubles facing the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is due to the haste being shown by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to complete the Rs49.346 billion project by the tight deadlines it had unwisely set.

The latest crisis facing the BRT erupted when the provincial cabinet in its April 19 meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak decided to remove Altaf Akbar Durrani, the chief executive officer of the TransPeshawar Company for refusing to prematurely procure buses for the incomplete project and failing to meet impossible deadlines. He was formally sacked on May 2, triggering resignations by three other top executives of TransPeshawar, including the Board of Directors chairman Javed Iqbal, Chief Finance Officer Safdar Sher Awan, and General Manager Operations Mohammad Imran Khan. They quit in solidarity with the chief executive officer because they backed his stance on the issue.

Chief Minister Pervez Khattak had put his reputation at stake by giving a six-month deadline for completion of the project to the officials managing it. The contractors were directed to work according to strict timelines. As work on the project started on October 29, 2017 following inordinate delays, it had to be completed by April 29 to meet the chief minister's ambitious deadline. This didn't happen and the next deadline was fixed at May 20, just in time before the expiry of the five-year term of the PTI government in the province on May 29.

This deadline too cannot be met for completion of the whole project. However, the BRT managers are making hectic efforts to complete one of the three portions of BRT known as Reach-1 from Chamkani to Firdous Chowk so that it could be inaugurated by running buses on it. This would allow the chief minister to claim credit for undertaking and partially completing the biggest project in the history of the province in less than seven months.

The entire purpose of this frantic activity is to impress the electorate and enable the PTI to win the coming election. The aim is to send the message to the voters that the PTI chief minister can deliver even against heavy odds.

One is unable to understand the logic of doing things in a hurry by fixing deadlines that are difficult to meet. Though the PTI's provincial government is arguing that the refusal by the federal Railways ministry to give it land for implementing its previous plan for the mass transit project in Peshawar was a major cause of delay in starting work on BRT, one has to ask as to why an alternative wasn't conceived during this period. Another reason being cited is the delay in getting the US$335 million loan by the Asian Development Bank for the project, but this too could have been handled in a better and quicker way.

In fact, one of the major reasons for the delay in starting work on the BRT was the inability of the PTI leadership to make a decision whether the Metro bus was needed or a waste of precious resources. Imran Khan in principle was opposed to the BRT as he has been saying that investing in the people was more important than building motorways and buildings. The PTI leaders used to make fun of the Lahore Metro by referring to it as "Jangla Bus" but before long their own government is KP was busy planning and executing a similar project in Peshawar. In fact, the PTI government is now executing not one but two gigantic projects - BRT in Peshawar and Swat Motorway linking Swabi and Mardan with Malakand division. This was one more example of the PTI changing track and undertaking something that it initially opposed. Also, Imran Khan has been critical of the PML-N and other governments for taking huge foreign loans, but his party's government in KP has ended up procuring such loans to fund highly visible, high-cost projects.

The PTI government had earlier taken pride in building the Bab-e-Peshawar Flyover in Hayatabad in record period. The deadline was 120 days, but it was completed in about six months at a cost of Rs1.77 billion. Questions are still being asked about the quality of work and the longevity and utility of the project.

The Swat Motorway too has been delayed as it was to be completed by the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) by December 2017. The deadline was extended to March and now there are plans to inaugurate part of the motorway from Captain Karnal Sher Khan Interchange located on the Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway to Katlang in Mardan district on May 15. The ruling PTI has been keen to claim credit for building the Swat Motorway in record time and thus the hurry to inaugurate the incomplete project before the end of its rule.

One may well ask as to what was the need to fix such difficult deadlines for executing big projects. In case of the Peshawar BRT passing through the most congested parts of Peshawar and exposing the people to discomfort, the six-month deadline was surprising considering the fact that the other three metro bus projects in Lahore, Islamabad and Multan covered lesser distance and still were completed in a period of more than a year.

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