Cabinet body urges talks with China on key railway project – Newspaper

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister of Planning and Development, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar, chairs a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on CPEC on Monday.

ISLAMABAD: Amid the concerns of three cabinet members, the Cabinet Committee on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) decided on Monday to start financial discussions with China on the Main Rail Line (ML-1) project of $ 8.2 billion and passed a bill of the CPEC Authority for cabinet approval.

Informed sources told Dawn that the Minister of Railways, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, had expressed his distaste for almost no progress by the planning authorities in ML-1 despite being a strategic project, while the Prime Minister's Advisor on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, Dr. Ishrat Hussain was critical of creating yet another organization despite the financial crisis.

The Federal Minister of Planning and Development, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar, chaired the meeting. Sheikh Rashid and the Minister of Maritime Affairs, Ali Zaidi, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, the advisor to Prime Minister Abdul Razak Dawood, the vice president of the Planning Commission, Dr. Jahanzeb Khan, and federal secretaries attended.

Deletes the bill of the CPEC Authority for cabinet approval

Sheikh Rashid said at the meeting that it was painful to say that the Planning Commission had become the biggest obstacle to the launch of ML-1 and that the decision had not been made to turn over the project to China. He said the project had been delayed since the government had entered an IMF program. An official quoted the railroad minister as telling the meeting that he would take people in confidence on the issue.

A senior official of the Planning Commission explained that there was still no framework agreement on the ML-1 project.

After further discussions, the "committee decided that the financial discussion on the ML-1 project should begin to finalize the mode and the PC-1 of the project," an official statement said.

Bakhtyar reiterated that ML-1 was a very important project within the CPEC portfolio and that the government promised to accelerate it.

The sources said that Dr. Ishrat and Mr. Dawood questioned the wisdom behind a great CPEC Authority when an important part of the CPEC had already been completed. Dr. Ishrat said it was not necessary to have a staff of 70-80 for the proposed authority for CPEC, which is expected to be completed in 2024, at a time when the country is facing a financial crisis. He said he was against the spirit of the government's austerity program and asked to rationalize the strength of the proposed authority to ensure there are no problems with their salaries and other expenses in the medium term.

Dawood supported these views and said the organization should be thin and equipped with some intelligent people. It is reported that he told the participants how painful it could be to cut jobs if they became redundant at a later stage.

It was reported that around 50 employees currently working under the CPEC receive monthly contracts instead of one-year contracts, as was the case in the past, which created disturbances in the workforce. It was explained that a new induction would be carried out for positions as president of the authority and executive directors, directors and sector members, but the existing staff would receive priority qualifications.

The secretary of planning and development informed the meeting about several projects under the CPEC.

The Minister of Planning and Development ordered that progress in the Rashakai Special Economic Zone be accelerated to ensure its progress before the Ninth Joint Coordination Committee of the CPEC in October. He said that CPEC was now entering the next phase with the incorporation of additional areas and sectors and for this purpose there was a need for an integrated entity in the form of the CPEC Authority. It was decided that the authority's bill would be submitted to the federal cabinet for approval.

About the Rashakai Special Economic Zone, the meeting was informed that negotiations on the development agreement were in the final stages with the China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC). The committee ordered that the early provision of public services to the Rashakai EEZ be guaranteed as a priority so that its innovative project can be carried out next month.

Bakhtyar reiterated that the government promised to provide incentives for EEZs, including the repatriation of 100 percent of the profits.

The committee also decided to present to the cabinet the land use plan for the smart port city of Gwadar after incorporating the recommendations of the Balochistan government.

Energy projects were also discussed, including the 300MW Gwadar coal power plant, the Kohala hydroelectric project (1,124MW) and Thar coal projects, and infrastructure projects, including the Multan-Sukkur highway and the Orange Line Train.

The meeting was informed that the Multan-Sukkur highway would be inaugurated soon, while civil works on the Orange Line Train project would be completed in December.

The Minister of Planning and Development stressed that all interested parties should resolve outstanding issues related to CPEC projects as soon as possible to obtain maximum benefits from the next Joint Cooperation Committee. It was decided that the next meeting of the Cabinet Committee on CPEC would be convened in September.

Published on Dawn, August 27, 2019



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