by Yasir Habib Khan
It has been very rare in the history of Pakistan that mega projects and organizations enjoy complete national consensus. If evaluated and analyzed, CPEC authority is perfectly among of them. Garnering harmonious consent in parliament (Lower House and Upper House), provincial governments, federal setup, judiciary, army, departments, institutions, opposition parties, even civil society belonging to different sphere of life, CPEC authority has gained currency expeditiously. Definitely, among other development projects, Gwadar Master Plan and ML-1 Rail track will be immediate beneficiary of CPEC authority. That is why work on its formation is in full swing and it is expected to be established in four to five months.
After Pakistan Nuclear Program on which government never comprised despite massive foreign adversaries and internal pressures, constitution of CPEC authority seems to be another one on which parliament, civil leadership and bureaucracy stand united and they have unanimity not to cave in against any expediency and compulsion.
CPEC authority, a dynamic establishment in making, is order of day. Both strategic partners China and Pakistan put a complete weight behind it. Reason is that the iconic authority offering vibrant “One Window Platform” is termed as a master key to fix all critical issues and hiccups bedeviling rapid pace and development trajectory of all ongoing projects. Creating a centralized mechanism to facilitate multi-faced and multi-dimensional tasks on a fast-track, it aims to stimulate cohesion among different departments and institutions from Pakistan as well as Chinese side to ensure steady and smooth flow of synergic collaboration, execution and implementation of projects under CPEC. It is being designed to integrate all stakeholders under one roof to open an era of ease of doing business so that modern investment mechanism may thrive.
According to Green Book 2018 published by Pakistan Army, an academic paper titled CPEC challenges and opportunities says “for CPEC to progress smoothly, a one-window platform needs to be created to override the bureaucratic bottlenecks that impair the progress of the project.
Keeping in view Pakistan’s complex, tedious and lethargic system as well as decentralization of powers between provincial governments and central government, formation of CPEC authority is cure. It is long awaited to do wonder.
Since 2013, a number of energy and infrastructure projects out of total 22 projects amounting approximately $ 28 b have been completed under CPEC. Remaining ones are on various stage of completion. In the absence of CPEC authority, some projects could not pick the pace as they were supposed to gain. Somehow they hit the snags suffering traditional bureaucratic hitches and glitches. Departmental lack of coordination and misunderstandings also played their parts. Although governments of both countries spared no efforts to streamline the procedures & processes and finally succeeded in acceleration of work but few delays festered the momentum to some extent.
For instance, Gwadar Master Plan being envisaged to transform Gwadar a modern city equipped with high-tech development kicked off in 2017. In the course of time, officials of a world-reputed Chinese company First Harbour Engineering Company Limited of China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC - First Harbour Eng. Co., Ltd.) engaged in drafting of Gwadar Master Plan. The company has undertaken or taken part in the construction of more than 40 ports and harbours in China, out of which, eight ports have ranked among the first ten ports in the world.
From Pakistan side officials of Gwadar Development Authority (GDA), Balochistan government, Ministry of Planning, development and Reforms, CPEC secretariat and many others stakeholders put their heads together to rationalize Gwadar Master Plan. On June, 2019, Chinese finally company submitted its draft to relevant ministry. Pakistan government appreciated the effort in befitting manner. However, in the meantime, few bureaucratic bottlenecks and difference of working mechanism between Pakistan bureaucracy and Chinese bureaucracy hindered the progress.
In the view of GDA Gwadar Master Plan coordinator Nadir Bloach, CPEC authority will make a difference in putting an end plenty of pitfalls that impaired the smooth progress of Gwadar Master Plan.
“Initially, what we suffered was collection of data. Since Pakistan departments are not good in gathering of data so it took too much time to do the job. Around 50 various departments were involved to amass data from each department. It was hard nut to crack. Another problematic point was that in China land belonged to government but in Pakistan, government has nothing to do with private land. Owing to different land-use procedure between China and Pakistan, Company had no knowledge about the fact and shared a preliminary draft that did not cover this aspect,” he explained.
After CPEC authority comes into reality, centralized command and control system will emerge. It will put Gwadar Master Plan on fast-track. It will help improve understanding of local rules & regulations between China and Pakistan. It may trigger deep coordination and synergic collaboration among various departments and institutions engaged in finalization and implantation of Gwadar Master Plan.
Under one roof, he says, if there are some drawbacks in execution of Gwadar Master Plan will be diagnosed quickly and to be addressed accordingly as all relevant administrative infrastructure and governmental apparatus will be there to take prompt action.
Gawadar Development Authority (GDA) and Gwardar Port Authoirty (GPA) hope that CPEC authority will put development pace into high gear.
CPEC project director Hassan Daud had a view that CPEC secretariat did a great job as it paved a way for inking the projects of $ 49 billion under CPEC. A number of projects worth $28 b have started contributing in Pakistan economy. CPEC authority, he says, will put its positive impact forwarding the cause of quality developments. In terms of Gwadar Master Plan, it will help foster inclusive coordination, comprehensive research and professional implantation. He hopes that by end of August, Gwadar Master Plan will be approved having undergone required technical and professional evaluation procedures.
It is believed that CPEC authority is dire need of hour particularly to expedite those commercial strategic projects like ML-1 rehabilitation and up-gradation of Karachi-Lahore-Peshawar Railway Track with 1872 length and $ 8.2 b cost.
Although feasibility study completed, framework agreement and commercial contract for preliminary design were signed on May 15, 2017, but few issues including lack of understanding made some twists and turns. Some amendments came with cut in cost and change of execution formula. Soon, coordination and understanding improved and all things got reverted to previous plan.
According to Mushahid Hussian, senator and chairman of Pakistan China Institute (PCI), an acclaimed research Think Tank, ML-I project will definitely benefit the CPEC authority. It will break new ground of uninterrupted progress, speedy coordination and sound execution plan.
CPEC authority has a mandate to let all stakeholders of ML-1 to sit together under one umbrella to help accomplish the task as ML-1 up-gradation will increase the freight volume from six to 35 million tonnes per annum by 2025. It would help ramp up railway share of freight transport volume from less than four per cent to 20 per cent. It will happen first time in the history of Pakistan that ML-1 will allow train speed from the existing 65-105 km/h to 120-160 km/h.
Another purpose of formation of CPEC authority is to create investor friendly climate and easy doing business environment for national and international marketers and businessmen. It may work on World Bank's ranking on 10 parameters that deal with existing processes and regulations: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
There are 27 different interdependent agencies/departments, 7 at the federal level and 20 at the provincial level, which are relevant in the context of the 10 business indicators against which 190 countries in the world are evaluated. CPEC authority should be doing coordinated efforts to achieve the desired objectives.
In order to create profound understanding between elected lawmakers in national assembly and senate, CPEC standing committee in senate and CPEC parliamentary Committee in Parliament are very active in formation of CPEC authority as they know that one window operation will open a new era of timely and quality developments under CPEC.
CPEC Parliamentary committee chairman Sher Ali Arbab says CPEC authority will be like one window platform in Board of Investment (BOI) integrating all departments and institutions for creating hassle-free foreign investment flow.
Pakistan’s ranking improved to 136th in the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking in October last year from 147th. Pakistan has set the target of 100th position. Situation may be improved more if autonomous CPEC authority comes into being, he opines.
In the wake of CPEC’s five years on weathering all odds, Pakistan and China have zeroed in on formation of CPEC authority. In order to constitute CPEC authority, policy framework, legal framework and terms of references are in making. After the prescribed bill will be tabled in parliament (top decision making body that passes laws), CPEC authority will get constitution cover to play an anchoring role in spurring expediting progress of different development projects.