Rejecting Auditor General’s report

The ghost of financial irregularities in the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) Project refuses to go away despite the repeated trouble shooting exercise in media by Shaukat Yousafzai, the skillful and articulate information minister of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. A few days ago, a report released by the Auditor General of Pakistan had pointed towards not so transparent financial matters regarding this project. The audit report of this institution has always been regarded credible. In his media talk, the information minter rejected the report, described it remote from facts and consisting of mere reservations.

The Auditor General of Pakistan report is not the only fact finding exercise on BRT which has remained in the media limelight, critique of leaders from opposition political parties and general public as well. On a writ petition filed by a JUI (F) leader, Peshawar High Court directed NAB last year to conduct a probe into the affairs of this project. Subsequently, NAB took over the relevant record. Responding to the media reports about the faulty design, bad quality of construction work and abnormal delay in completion of Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) project, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan has directed the provincial inspection team in March this year to carry out an inquiry about the factors that caused delay in its implementation and other related matters.. In mid October last year the provincial government had set a final deadline to complete the civil work by the end of December and opertionalise bus service on BRT road at the end of March. But the deadline could not be met because at certain places the bus track was found narrow. As a face saving exercise, the provincial information minister performed the BRT buses road experimental test on 23rd March.

The provincial inspection team report also pointed out major faults in the design of BRT, the brainchild of former PTI Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak. The report highlighted technical loopholes in the design which may endanger human lives and recommended the closure of some underpasses. On 6th March a private channel ran a ticker in its 1500 hours news bulletin about the narrow bus track and demolition of sidewalls. On the same day a leading and widely circulated Urdu daily newspaper had prominently published a photo of a section of BRT in the University Town, vividly showing the demolished palisades along the bus track. In a letter written by the former Assistant Resident Engineer Gohar Mohammad Khan to the then Chief Secretary stated about the bad quality of work and financial irregularities in payments to contractors.

It was the wrong decisions to excluding National Engineering Services of Pakistan (NESPAK) from the bidding process of obtaining consultancy contract for project design. NESPAK had remained involved in project designing with other International Engineering Consultancy firms accredited by the multilateral donor agencies during the construction of Tarbella dam and it had designed the Lahore and Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro projects. Because of the inherent faults, frequent changes had to be made in the original design of BRT which resulted in cost escalation of Rs. 18 billion and delay in the completion of the project. Federal government was then requested to provide additional funds for the project but the caretaker federal finance minster did not accord the requisite approval while chairing the CDWP meeting on 16th July last year in which the provincial government request for granting approval of an additional amount of Rs. 18 billion was deferred?  The technical appraisal of Planning Ministry pertaining to the project design and its observations of not fulfilling the necessary codal formality of International Competitive Bidding cannot be ignored and is worth consideration because fulfillment of this condition was mandatory as the project was to be financed from the Asian development Bank loans.