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CPEC projects facing snags

It is very unfortunate that the govt. dilly-dally on removing stake-holders apprehensions on CEPC projects have reached a stage where things have started unfurling with the passage of time.  And now a stage has come where China itself has started showing apprehensions on some aspects of the projects related with CPEC. Yes, China has temporarily stopped funding of some projects particularly those related to the road network under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) till further decision regarding ‘new guidelines’ to be issued from Beijing.

Available reports say that the decision could affect over Rs1 trillion road projects of the National Highway Authority (NHA). It was not clear how wide the impact of the delay will be, but initial reports confirm that at least three road projects are going to experience a delay.

The projects to be affected include the 210-km Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob Road, at an estimated cost of Rs81 billion. Of this, Rs66bn will be spent on construction of road and Rs15bn on land acquisition. Also the Rs19.76bn 110-km Khuzdar-Basima Road has also been affected.

The Rs8.5bn 136-km remaining portion of Karakarom Highway (KKH) from Raikot to Thakot is also impacted.

All three projects were originally part of the government’s own development programme, but in December 2016, the spokesman of the NHA announced that they are to be included under the CPEC umbrella to become eligible for concessionary finance from China.

Another report says that Chinese side was quite disturbed with increasing news reports being published in Pakistan regarding the PML-N government’s corruption in CPEC projects and that was the reason China has temporarily halted release of funds for the corridor.

This latest development shows that all is not well on Pak-China’s CEPC front and government is responsible for such a development as it failed to guarantee transparency in these projects.

It may be mentioned here that at a recent seminar speakers expressed serious concern over the way the government was handling affairs of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), contending that it neither properly negotiated the CPEC projects in the country’s interests, nor did it take relevant stakeholders on board before or after striking deals.

They had also complained that details of the CEPC project, which apparently lacked an overall feasibility report, were being kept secret whereas the government was yet to allay fears of local businessmen and manufacturers – particularly those of small and medium-sized enterprises – facing threat due to the project. Titled ‘CPEC – Prospects, Challenges and Way Forward’, the programme was held Karachi where the speakers also spoke in details about removing the apprehensions of stakeholders.

The four-hour long programme provided the audience with ample evidence that the federal government has so far completely ignored the business communities as well as locals in Gwadar in relation to the project and there is a dire need for winning their trust and getting them on the CPEC bandwagon.

This was indicated by completely divergent views presented during the seminar by those who are either involved in the project’s execution, monitoring it or who have a big stake in it.

To conclude one may say that every Pakistani fully supports CPEC provided we do it right. Undoubtedly, the project has the potential to change the geography of Pakistan’s economy but there are important questions on the project that need to be answered.

One wonders as to why the government is keeping the details of projects on CPEC as confidential.  Experts think a report on feasibility of CPEC projects doesn’t exist, though studies of individual projects have been carried out.

Questions like what is Pakistan’s share in Gwadar port revenue? What will be the impact of transit trade on Pakistan’s manufacturing sector? What will be the impact of tax exemptions to CPEC-related foreign imports on Pakistan’s manufacturing sector?  All such questions are left unanswered by the government.

To conclude one may urge the government to adopt an inclusive approach and take local stakeholders on board.

The important thing is to give space to local people, or else we will allow the other narrative to establish itself.

There is no doubt that  CPEC is a ray of hope, and that the underdeveloped regions like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata could benefit a lot from the projects but right now, there is no strategy in front of us. We don’t know how local industry (barely surviving amidst many challenges) would compete with Chinese products. The government should only allow import of value-added products.

In a nutshell, the CPEC affairs should be made transparent and the culture of secrecy was not the answer. The long road to getting CPEC going and the question of how to manage the fruits of the corridor require serious deliberation. The government should take the Parliament into confidence and there should be an open debate. That’s the least a democratic government should be doing.

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