A Senate panel on Thursday expressed concern over the slow pace of development on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Recently appointed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on CPEC Affairs Khalid Mansoor also endorsed Committee Chairman Mandviwalla’s view that the Chinese companies were not satisfied with the government institutions on account of their pace of work. What is more even he himself was disappointed with the progress of work at Gwadar Airport. He assured the panel that things were now on recovery mode.
But are they? Attempts are being made at the instance of the IMF and World Bank to seek the revision of power purchase agreements brokered with the Chinese companies, meanwhile withholding their payments. It suits the PTI leadership to blame the former PML(N) administration for negotiating costly power purchase deals. At a time when no other country was willing to invest in power production at IMF-proposed rates and the country suffered several hours long daily blackouts, closing industries and making life hell for the common man, should the PML(N) government have gone to seek the IMF permission instead of providing electricity to the country?
The Chinese power companies are right to ask why the agreements were brokered if the country was not able to honour them. There is a need to urgently settle the accounts with Chinese power companies.
While the CPEC projects were mostly completed on time under the previous government, their pace has significantly slowed down under the PTI. The New Gwadar International Airport (NGIA), which was to be fully operational by 2022, would now be on track by September 2023. There is still no arrangement for potable water or local production of power for the tens of thousands of extra workers who would be needed to make the port city functional.
The lack of capacity in the government, combined with bureaucratic hurdles, continues to retard the CPEC progress. In February, a meetings of the Cabinet Committee on CPEC ended within minutes due to lack of progress on issues identified in a meeting a week earlier. At times a CPEC project takes months of committee work as summaries move between various ministries. The PTI is in a dilemma. The CPEC has to be completed because it is the country’s economic lifeline. But once completed, it will carry Nawaz Sharif’ nameplate.