Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) Director General Major General Kamal Azfar recommended on Tuesday to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that strategic projects like Kartarpur Corridor should be exempted from being subjected to audit that is applicable to normal developmental projects.
He also proposed allowing special rates for projects he identified as â€œstrategic projectsâ€ with national interest attached to them.
In his briefing to the committee on the Kartarpur project, the DG FWO suggested that in order to bring relaxation in the procedure, certain rules should be enacted and set in place that differentiated projects of “national interest” from others as â€œthis [Kartarpur] project was first of its kind in the last 70 yearsâ€.
â€œAccelerated cost of a project with no upfront financial support from the client should not be viewed/audited/compared in line with the project executed through the normal course of business/procedures,â€ the DG stated.
Azfar also said that a minimum of 25 per cent of the estimated cost should be arranged for projects of strategic significance as mobilisation advance, revealing that money was borrowed to complete the Kartarpur project due to the delay in the disbursement of funds by the government.
However, the PAC chairman along with committee members raised objections to the recommended changes on the grounds that granting special concessions on the basis of the said features and definition ran the risk of setting a precedent for all other projects in the future as it generalised it for all projects.
â€œTo exempt such projects from audit would not be an appropriate thing to do,â€ PAC Chairman Rana Tanveer Hussain said.
JUI-Fâ€™s Shahida Akhtar Ali also cautioned not bringing it under audit procedure would become a precedent for all future projects. The audit must be conducted, she added.
Appreciating the completion of the Kartarpur project within a set timeframe, Senator Talha Mahmood said that he wanted to commend ex-CM Punjab Shehbaz Sharifâ€™s Rawalpindi metro project, which he said was also completed within a very short period of time.
Secretary Defence Lt Gen (retd) Mian Hilal Hussain said that the Kartarpur project was completed within 10 months even though NESPAK gave the project timeline of 2.5 years. The defence secretary invited the committee to visit Kartarpur, saying the committee members can go for a technical audit of the project during their visit.
The committee was also told that a special audit was conducted of the project but neither was it discussed nor was it presented before the committee.
Meanwhile, PTI MNA Noor Alam Khan raised a few questions concerning the project’s completion, questioning “how many laws were broken while completing the Kartarpur project and who was responsible for broken bridges and roads in Gwadar?”
He also questioned the quality of work at M1 and M2 motorways, saying there was not a single bump on these motorways in the past but now the quality and condition of work was â€œpatheticâ€.
On the revelation that FWO generals were also working on projects abroad, Noor said that the generals were hired to do their job at home and not for going abroad to complete projects. â€œDonâ€™t you think we are exposing our general,â€ he questioned, â€œunder what law they can work abroadâ€.
Referring to the broken bridges and roads in Gwadar, Noor asked the FWO officials about the accountability mechanism, saying public money was spent on the projects and every single penny must be accounted for. He also lamented that FWO officials overcharge and misbehave with people at the toll plazas.
PML-Nâ€™s Khawaja Asif lamented that the Sialkot-Lahore motorway (M-11) was also a substandard road and its surface was uneven.
Expressing concerns about the performance of NESPAK, PTIâ€™s Munaza Hassan added that she gets nervous every time she hears NESPAKâ€™s name attached to any project, especially after witnessing the condition of the Islamabad Airport project where NESPAK was the consultant.
Replying to the questions, the DG FWO while refraining to comment on projects abroad, said that FWO only looks after 1816km of the roads and the rest of the roads were with NHA, adding FWO only looks after Karachi-Hyderabad, Lahore-Islamabad, Lahore-Sialkot and Swat motorways and trying its best to ensure that there was no compromise on the quality of the roads.
While apologising for the misbehaviour of the FWO officials at toll plazas, he clarified that FWO doesnâ€™t charge a single penny more than permitted under the law.
On broken bridges and roads in Gwadar, the DG recalled that he got a text message from the DG ISPR at midnight carrying a tweet showing a truck hanging half on the broken bridge and half in the air, saying he could not reveal what was stated in the tweet.
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â€œImmediate comments,â€ was the text from the DG ISPR, he said, adding he started making calls from midnight and after an investigation of roughly three-to-four hours it emerged that FWO did not build the bridge that was broken due to rains and flood in Gwadar.
On reservations about NESPAK, he said that FWO followed what NESPAK said as the latter was the consultant in the project.
The Kartarpur project, spreading over 140 acres of land at the site where Baba Guru Nanak settled for 18 years for his missionary work and passed away, was completed with a cost of Rs16.546 billion in 10 months. It was started on November 28, 2018, and completed on October 31, 2019. Prime Minister Imran Khan had inaugurated it on November 9, 2019, on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.