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December 5, 2019

New DG FIA faces serious challenge of probing BRT project

Top Story

December 5, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Panama JIT-famed newly-appointed DG FIA Wajid Zia perhaps does not know he is faced with an immediate but serious challenge — altogether different from the one his predecessor was confronted with.

If former DG Bashir Memon was under pressure to book every opposition voice that was disliked by the present rulers, Wajid Zia has to probe the PTI’s sensitive nerve - Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Peshawar - and complete it by the end of this months. There is no escape possible, as the direction has come from a recent damning judgment against PTI’s KP government, announced by the Peshawar High Court but generally ignored or underplayed by the media.

Not only that Wajid Zia will have to respond to over two dozen points raised in the judgment about the serious shortcomings of the project but the judgment also contained the names like that of Pervaiz Khattak, Azam Khan, Shah Muhammad and others to ascertain whether “nexuses” were created to manipulate desired shares. All the persons named in the PHC order, however, have already denied any wrongdoing in the project, saying that all the process was carried in a transparent manner.

The judgment was authored by no less than the Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth on Nov 14, 2019. It referred the case to FIA for inquiry noting that the project is grossly mismanaged and mishandled, launched without feasibility study, contains false and deceptive financial model, have poor planning that led to 35 percent increase in its cost and a lot more.

“Probable questions” and “points to ponder” included in the judgment for FIA probe seek response to queries that hints at a possible shady deals, corruption and nexuses between top political and bureaucratic players.

It said that the project has been initiated without any vision and plan by the PTI government, and raised the question why the project was pushed for approval without proper feasibility and PC-I.

Referring the matter to FIA to conduct an inquiry in the light of the points raised in the judgment, the PHC directed the Agency to conclude the same as early as possible but not later than 45 days and to submit the report to the Registrar of PHC. The FIA is also directed to take action against delinquents if found in the inquiry report.

Some of the really alarming “Points to Ponder” raised in the judgment include:

- What is the nexus between Parvaiz Khattak & DG PDA Wattoo, Azam Khan & DG PDA Israr, Shahab Ali Shah & Shah Muhammad, minister transport? How these nexuses were created in order to manipulate desired shares?

- Weekly meetings were convened in the CM House. Despite that the project was not well coordinated resulting in loss to the public exchequer. It needs to be studied why important decision for procurement of consultancies and other related matters were taken and acted upon when the project was not approved.

- Why a consulting firm (Calsons and Maqbool) was hired when they were blacklisted for a similar project in Punjab?

- The consulting firm (Calsons & Maqbool) gave expensive vehicles to secretary transport, DG PDA and Commissioner Peshawar. Why these vehicles were accepted when all these officials were enjoying their respective fleet of vehicles?

- Who took the decision during CM meeting to procure 220 buses, when only 65 buses are being used in Punjab for comparatively longer route?

- The contract of the iron grill installed on the BRT track was given out on exorbitant prices and a bureaucrat and a former provincial minister were the sleeping partner of the contractor. Full payment was made in advance without checking any quality and quantity by the PDA.

- Design of the iron grill was changed to make the contract more profitable in monetary terms.

- The PMU (Project Management Unit) created so as to overlook BRT implementation has been closed in June 2019 despite the fact that project is still going on. The intent is to destroy all the record for future inquiry/investigation if required.

- For the detail engineering design low level consultant was hired and they were not capable for such a mega project. Supervision of the project as also awarded to the same consultant.

- From the day first, all activities were conducted in haphazard manner resultantly existing structures were wasted and not properly utilised.

- Main contracted further sublet the work to the sub-contractors resultantly quality of work damaged as the sub contractor does not have the expertise required.

- The moment of shame was observed while dismantling of the structures’ units constructed during the project but no fulfilling the requirement of smooth operation of the bus service.

Before raising the above “Points to Ponder, the judgment said that the visionless PTI government has concentrated loaned money in one city ignoring people of the remote areas.

It said that the project was launched without proper feasibility study and design which is mandatory for mega projects. The provincial government itself violated the parameters set by the Planning Commission. In the absence of feasibility report, the project design has repeatedly been changed at the implementation stage.

According to the judgment, the detail design for 27.37 km linear project with numerous bridges, underpasses and building infrastructure was to be completed in a short duration of 5 to 6 months. The political announcements resulted in haste in the design and created many errors. It ultimately resulted in delays, cost over-run and loss of productivity.

Owing to improper planning, the project was revised with 35 percent increase in costs and some of its components abnormally increased by 237 percent (package-6), 200 percent (Package-9) and 147 percent (Package-4). This is testimony of poor planning.

The project has grossly been mishandled and mismanaged from inception by the provincial government and thus far three project directions have been replaced. The PC-I of the project contains lavish salaries and per diem for non-project staff like additional chief secretary, principal secretary to the CM who have no direct role to play in project management.

The judgment added the consultants have calculated the value of ridership as 340,000 which is even higher than the ridership of Lahore metro which after five years of operation stands at 150,000. Thus a false and deceptive financial model has been developed to hoodwink the decision makers. Transport department officials were involved in coordination with heavy salaries, which is a sheer waste of government money.

It added that the dysfunctional PC-1 of the project was approved from PDWP and CDWP (federal planning commission) in April/May, 2017 at a cost Rs49.453 billion without completion of the detail design. The design was completed in last quarter of 2017. The project was revised at a cost of Rs66.437 billion on May 23, 2018; which included Asian Development Bank loan of Rs53.320 billion. The BRT costs the exchequer Rs2.4 billion per kilometer, which is exorbitantly high.

It said the project’s financial analysis is flawed on account of comparing partial project costs with inflated project revenues, resulting in an exaggerate picture of the projects financial performance.