Opposition complains govt has ignored national consensus on multibillion-dollar project
Accusing the government of ignoring national consensus on the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), senators from opposition parties staged a walkout from the house on Tuesday for prioritising what they called ‘early harvest projects’.
The protesting lawmakers demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who seldom attends sessions of the upper house of parliament, come to the Senate and tell if the national consensus evolved in the May 28 all-parties conference has been forgotten.
They alleged the government was hoodwinking people despite its commitment of giving priority to the Western alignment of the $46 billion projects under the agreement with China.
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal was in the middle of his speech when Pakistan Peoples Party’s Taj Haider led the opposition’s boycott. He claimed a Senate special committee was informed that CPEC’s western corridor fell in the third phase and was to be taken up in 2030.
“This is negation to democracy,” the minister complained while reacting to the walkout, which ended on the persuasion of Raja Zafarul Haq, the leader of the house.
Iqbal clarified the CPEC was not merely the name of one road but a framework of development projects in four sectors: (a) building Gwadar port on international standards; (b) addressing the energy crisis; (c) infrastructure development; and (d) industrial cooperation.
He said people were thinking that China had put $46 billion in Pakistan’s pocket. “This is wrong,” he said. “Some $38 to $40 billion would be invested by the private sector [of China] in energy projects and the government has nothing to do with that.”
Clarifying misunderstandings about ‘early harvest projects’, Iqbal said all over the world projects on which homework had been done were implemented first. “This is not a conspiracy against any particular area [province],” he added.
The moment he said that Chinese firms would invest in the areas where feasibility studies have been completed or which were close to cities in order to reduce transmission losses, PPP’s Haider remarked: “The minister’s words have verified our apprehensions.”
Iqbal, however, responded: “I reassure this house that commitment in APC is sacrosanct.”
PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said the impression of “Punjab economic corridor” instead of CPEC would be dangerous for the integrity of the federation.”
On Senator Osman Saifullah Khan’s concern over increasing public indebtedness to foreigners on account of the recent issuance of Eurobonds worth $500 million, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said neither the total debt nor debt-servicing had increased.
On the delays in distribution of the National Finance Commission award, Dar said the commission was incomplete as a member from Punjab was missing. Once it is complete, the government would convene its session.
Earlier, the opposition also staged walk out over the unsatisfactory replies of Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf on bringing back the bodies of Pakistani pilgrims from Saudi Arabia. The minister also admitted to be ‘helpless’ in getting information about the 18 pilgrims still missing.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2015.