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Just another disaster


April 22, 2019

Having failed to deliver to this great nation, PTI continues to augment the deprivation of the masses and deliver blows to potential investers at the same time. Irrespective of the fact that the selection of the team has been a miserable failure and has now been proven so, the pace at which the PTI continues to run down whatever little has been achieved in the past is phenomenal. A team that cannot deliver competently destroys existing systems, projects and programmes in a manner that is ironically most efficient and effective.

No funding for the existing local government system, stalling the police reforms programme, negation of the idea of a new province of South Punjab, a total breakdown of existing diagnostic and medical services at the tertiary care facilities of Punjab are just a few to mention. Low and behold, the mighty swing of the Khan has hit the environment sector this time and mind you, we are most vulnerable to climate change as an agriculture based economy.

When they talk of ministers and chief ministers having failed to deliver, nobody talks of the great Khan having failed to choose the right people for the right job. After all, that is his job. A CEO’s job is to choose the right people for the job; to give them a policy guideline and to monitor targets met. And that’s it. But what do we see in our country: confused leadership and inability to get the job done.

I happened to be one of the proud members to author a Public Private Partnership Programme initiative called the “South Punjab Forest Company” (SPFC). Having witnessed through my earlier years in life since the age of fourteen, the barren forest lands of South Punjab, controlled by a possessive Forest Department influenced by timber mafias and qabza groups; I was sick and tired of that unproductive thousands of acres worth great potential lying waste.

The mafia influencing the Forest Department operated through local big wigs and influential people across the province. Forests of native trees like Shisham and Kikar that did not allow light to pass through their beautiful crowns were razed to the ground without any proceeds coming to the exchequer. At the same time, local bigwigs encroached on these lands and usurped government property shamelessly. This degradation of governance by the bureaucratic powers and their political supporters was, and is continuing to hurt not only our region, the South Punjab but also our country and is detrimental to our global perception too.

Bureaucratic resistance was clearly visible and manifested from the very first day the case of plantation was presented through a public private partnership to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. This resistance has finally resulted in the dissolution of the Company through no one but the great Khan and his capable provincial cabinet.

Having operationalised SPFC after the required legislation in October 2016 and after hiring a crew of thoroughly dedicated professionals and transaction advisors, the journey towards a transparent process to bid out lots of land to investers (both foreign and local) was initiated. Involvement of organisations like WWF Pakistan in the process and total transparent coverage of all stages of bidding were the strength of the company that attracted hundreds of bids for the allocated lots.

They scrapped it all because the great Khan did not think well of it; without any research or reason or maybe because of prejudice and an arrogant approach that only he can come up with good projects; or maybe, because he too was influenced by large timber and real estate mafias or maybe by groups with vested interests that fund his party. In spite of having no role in the rules of business of running the Punjab government, he influenced the chief minister and the chief secretary (proof on video) to scrap the entire effort that cost money and effort by a dynamic Board of members. I hope and pray that someone in the judiciary has the courage to take suo motu action on this unconstitutional role played by Imran Khan himself.

The successful bidders would have invested over Rs20 billion over the next 15 years, with no escalation costs and no commissions for the mafia. Technological innovation and value addition was ensured in the concession agreements as signed between the SPFC and the investers. All risk of the government was covered by performance bank guarantees. More than 90 million US dollars’ worth of foreign investment in the rural folds of the most backward part of Punjab was to take place. And they scrapped it all. 15,000 jobs out of the 10 million that the great Khan had promised would have become a reality in South Punjab; 72 million trees would have been planted in the next three years without any cost and commissions for the government and all sorts of mafias. And it was scrapped. More than 27 billion rupees worth of development expenditure would have been put in by the private sector through a transparent process and it was scrapped. It will result in loss of jobs, wastage of public expenditure spent on the company so far; a loss of billions of rupees of revenue sharing by investors towards government exchequer; loss of an opportunity of carbon sequestration of 35 million tons in the next few years. All for Imran Khan wanting to further burden a struggling economy reliant on the government to plant trees. Seeing their performance and incompetence, it does not seem possible in the next five years at least.

The Forest Department has no funding to carry out this scale of plantation. They are broken to the extent that they depend on ADP’s resources to print banners, leave alone carry out plantations on 99,000 acres of land and then take care of it for the next 15 years.

Who will take responsibility for the loss of this viable, ecological, agronomical project? They take credit for frequent rains! Then a shameless silence ensues when frequency in rains causes destruction of crops and shelter. They don’t have money to plant and they reject and go back on written agreements between investers and the government. They deprive South Punjab of jobs and maintain status quo so the same goons have another opportunity to rip off our departments through commissions and encroach on land. They ruin the confidence of local and foreign investors and they deprive our south Punjab region of local and foreign investments.

Who are they to do this? They are no one but the team of Khan. They seem to have grandiloquent ideas that culminate in nothing but chaos. They don’t seem to know much and if they do, their team members today don’t have the courage to stand up and resist wrong doings. Their most important team members in the province today, were part of the board of SPFC at the time, unanimously approving all that has happened. They don’t care if another 300,000 acres of wheat is destroyed, they don’t care if another 100 people die in the flashfloods of South Punjab and I am sure they don’t care if Pakistan’s environment goes to hell.

As the former chairman of SPFC, I salute the team of SPFC for having played their role until they were crucified by an action that was fully supported by the great Khan himself.

The writer is former federal minister for IT, Telecom and Power and chairman SPFC.

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