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October 27, 2020

As Orange Line opens, two key guys behind it are in prison

Peshawar

October 27, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Bureaucrat Ahmad Cheema, who has been in jail for 32 months on unrelated charges levelled by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), is the moving force behind the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) project which was inaugurated by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on Sunday.

Although the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has been alleging that massive corruption was committed by the Shahbaz Sharif government in the OLMT project, neither the then chief minister nor Cheema is facing any formal NAB charge on the project.

Officials privy to the facts relating to the OLMT project told The News that Cheema was part of the team which successfully negotiated the mega venture with Chinese companies. They said that when the bids were received, the cost of civil works was quoted at around $1 billion.

The Punjab government side offered to undertake the project for $550 million. Ultimately, the work was transferred to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and the funding was provided by the Chinese EXIM bank. Thus, a sum of over Rs50 billion was saved at the rate of Rs105 per dollar.

Officials said that the LDA, with Cheema as its director general, opted for open transparent bidding, which resulted in a further saving of Rs5-6 billion. During the execution, a contractor was found to be undertaking defective works. Its performance guarantee of around Rs1 billion was encashed by the LDA and the contract was terminated.

Cheema was given the nickname of ‘Metro Man’ for his contribution and his primary role in the OLMT project and in completing other metro projects in Punjab in record time.

The over $1.50bn OLMT project faced prolonged delays after the exit of the Shahbaz Sharif government. Earlier, it remained mired in litigation as the PTI, before coming to power, had challenged the project in the superior courts. At least one year was wasted in this way.

The OLMT is an automated rapid transit system, the first of its kind in Pakistan. It was initiated in May 2014 while financing for the project was secured in December 2015, when China's Exim Bank agreed to provide a soft loan of $1.55 billion.

The construction work that began in October 2015 was scheduled to be completed in 2018 but the project could only be inaugurated in October 2020.

Ironically, when the OLMT was inaugurated, not only was Cheema behind bars, but former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, who always presented it as a flagship project of his government, was also in prison.

Both are facing different NAB charges. The civil works of the OLMT were at an advanced stage of completion when Cheema was arrested by NAB in February 2018. He has turned out to be the longest serving NAB detainee. He has now filed a post-arrest bail plea in the Supreme Court.

To take credit for the Orange Line Metro Train, a group of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders, including Ayaz Sadiq, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Pervez Malik, also inaugurated the project separately on Sunday at an unofficial event in Lahore.