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Fleeting moments

June 1, 2020

Beautification or nuisance?

Opinion

June 1, 2020

In American parlance, pork-barrel projects are defined as appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits or winning votes. In our case, public needs do not matter as much as do the whims of those at the helms. The so-called ‘Lahore Gate’ adjacent to the NAB office on Multan road near Thokar Niazbeg is one such project under construction.

Instead of winning votes or public appreciation, the 130ft wide and 60ft high gate causes much nuisance and acts as a stumbling block for vehicular traffic on the main entrance and exit of the provincial capital. Next to the gate is located the police check post to check vehicles leaving or entering the city. Since the work on the gate has been going on at its own sweet speed, the police have to slow down the traffic to facilitate the construction. Result: long lines of motorists wait impatiently to get through the bottleneck. To make matters worse, the police restrict traffic to pass through one lane instead of three because of the construction work on the gate. It’s a test of one’s driving skill and patience.

When the project was conceived, the LDA top planners called it ‘aesthetically’ suitable. Planners’ aesthetics must be questioned. Why would they choose this particular site to construct the gate? The location is most congested because of the police check post and the NAB office with innumerable cars parked outside it. When high-profile accused persons attend the NAB office, the traffic situation worsens as TV vans of various channels and anxious reporters wait outside the office to grab breaking news.

The Rs22.23 million worth project was supposed to have been completed within two months – in December, 2019. It’s nowhere near completion almost five months later. The cost too might have soared because of the delay. The project, as briefed by the LDA chief engineer at the time, was to have ‘unique architectural, RCC (reinforced cement concrete) structure, electrification, landscaping and horticulture works.’ Where’s the space for landscaping and horticultural works? Obviously, it wasn’t the chief engineer alone who conceived the project; it was approved by the LDA on the whole. Now this 'aesthetically' conceived eyesore will continue to cause a perpetual torment for the traffic.

Do such projects, however small or big, justify spending public taxes on them? Could a dispensary of a reasonable size have been built out of the amount wasted on the gate or sewage system of a nearby village, Dina Nath, improved where village folks tuck their clothes up to wade through the slimy water.

It’s only a matter of setting the right priorities. Building a dispensary or improving the sewage system wouldn’t have been noticed as much as would the ‘Lahore Gate’. After all, the civic body had to show its performance by setting up a monument of high visibility, ignoring how it would cause traffic hindrance. To top it, the southern leg of the gate has been situated in the sewage drain recently developed by the NHA. And a few meters ahead of the gate towards the city is a road cut for the vehicles to take a U-turn. Imagine 40-feet long vehicles taking a U-turn. A perfect muddle!

Expending millions of tax money on a project that serves no purpose whatsoever amounts to callousness towards and disregard for public taxes. There's a growing feeling among the business community, which forms the bulk of taxpayers, that its taxes are not utilized prudently. The taxes are used to prop up loss-making public sector entities to benefit few at the cost of collective public interest.

On a larger scale, for instance, why not privatise Pak Steel Mills or other loss-making public entities and save public money. More so, why inject billions of public taxes to keep PIA afloat? In its present state, PIA is destined to remain a huge loss-maker. It was reported in March this year that the airline suffered a loss of Rs6.3 billion every month. About its performance, the less said the better despite what its glib apologists may have to offer, especially after the tragic accident and loss of precious human lives just before Eid.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]