- Can the government make good on its commitments?
After about a gap of 10 months the 58th Progress Review Meeting between Pakistan and China for CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) was held, the last one being chaired by the PML-N. CPEC, now in phase 2, has seen a slowdown in progress that the PTI government had promised to overcome and get back on schedule by August. That has not happened as most, if not all, revised deadlines have been missed as pointed out in the meeting. It is no coincidence that there has been a visible increase in Chinese officials visiting Islamabad while the government’s frequency of statements expressing its ‘firm commitment’ to the project is also on the rise. Planning Minister Khusro Bakhtiar has suggested a ‘CPEC Authority’ to oversee the second phase of the project, which is confusing considering he is the Federal Minister responsible for the CPEC. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated his commitment to the project, stressing the need for ‘speedy implementation’, though what exactly has stopped the government from speeding up the process in the past year is hard to understand.
Perhaps PM’s Commerce Adviser Razzak Dawood’s interview in the Financial Times at the start of the PTI government, where he suggested a renegotiation of all CPEC deals, can provide some indication towards how the newly formed government felt about the project’s viability at the time. He would later explain his comments as being taken out of context– an oft-repeated excuse for a faux pas. One does not have to look too far to get a feel for the PTI’s competence when it comes to infrastructure development. The much touted ‘cheaper’ response to Punjab’s Metro Bus by PTI’s KP government, BRT Peshawar, has overshot its budget by almost Rs23 billion with the deadline extended to 2022. It is quite a sight to see various ministers from KP attempt to spin this as something other than a monumental administrative failure, while the ADB that is providing funding has pointed towards corruption and misappropriation of funds. It is hoped that the PTI realises that there is not this much slack with the Chinese and any more missed deadlines will put the entire CPEC mission into question. Bringing in a more competent team with experience would be a good start towards improving performance on this crucial bilateral megaproject.