Dec 6 - 12, 20

The recent floods have jolted Pakistan's fragile infrastructure. While the experts are sill struggling to work out the numbers, work has already started in certain areas. Experts are of the opinion that inadequate infrastructure is the second biggest impediment after energy shortage. Since the government does not have enough funds at its disposal, private sector has to be involved. However, there are certain reservation regarding involving the private sector, without clear-cut policies.

Many of the critics say that allowing construction of independent power plants (IPPs), transferring management control of Pakistan Telecommunication Company and Karachi Electric Supply Company was a blunder. However, they fail to take into account the contribution made by IPPs in power generation, billions of dollars foreign investments made in the telecommunication sector and saving of billions of rupees paid to KESC when it was operating as state owned enterprise.

In the telecommunication sector, introduction of cellular technology, broad brand spectrum has facilitated in not only reducing the cost to subscribers but also improved teledensity significantly. Now the government is contemplating 3-G spectrum that will bring revolution in the telecommunication sector of Pakistan and the way people do business. It is the vibrant telecommunication sector that has helped in creating 'information highway' for online banking, use of credit/debit cards and even transfer of money and payment of bills through mobile phones. Creation of safety walls has saved the customers but efforts are being made to make the systems foolproof.

While telecommunication sector is registering progress in leaps and bonds, Pakistan Railways seems to heading towards complete collapse. Some of the cynics say that the system is being destroyed to facilitate ėtransporters' mafia' to take the travelers hostage. While operation of many of the passenger trains have been suspended, cargo trains are also likely to meet the same fate.

It is necessary to point out that the decision made to construct black and white oil pipelines from Karachi to Mahmood Kot was the best decision. Had these pipelines not been functioning Pakistan Railways could have plunged the country into darkness and brought industrial and commercial activities to a grinding halt.

Ports and shipping ministry took most prudent decisions: first construction of an alternative port at Karachi and second at Gwadar. Added to these have been container and liquid cargo handling terminals in collaboration with the private sector. Pakistanis still have in their memories the worst congestions faced at Karachi port.

While some groups have been trying to create difference between the federation and provincial government of Balochistan regarding Gwadar port, it is necessary to remember that the provincial government does not have the resources and the expertise to operate deep-sea mega port like Gwadar. Unless the port is run on commercial basis and all the supporting infrastructures are put in place private sector will remain hesitant to use it. Till today only government cargo, more specifically fertiliser and sugar imported by Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) has discharged at Gwadar. The TCP also had to bear additional handling charges.

Some of the experts fear that a rift between the federation and Balochistan provincial government is created to sabotage a project constructed with the financial and technical assistance of China. It should be kept in mind that India is constructing Chabahar port in Iran and also the road and railway networks to connect the port to Central Asian Countries. Experts know very well that Chabahar just can't be an alternative to Gwadar port. Therefore, the supporters of Chabahar do not want Gwadar to become an economically viable port. This objective can only be achieved by creating all sorts of obstacles.

Highways, roads and bridges, flyovers and underpasses are constructed to facilitate speedy transportation of cargo and making traveling a pleasure. Over the years many motorways and expressways have been constructed. Residents of Karachi alone are cognizant of the fact. Construction of signal free corridors was impossible with constructing flyovers and underpasses. This has not only curtailed traveling time but also helped in overcoming worst traffic jams and pollutions. If this is true for Karachi it should also be true for rest of Pakistan.

Pakistan has many entities responsible for power generation, transmission and distribution and also the facilitating concerns like Wapda, Pakistan Electric Power Company, Private Power & Infrastructure Board and Alternate Energy Development Board. All these entities are in addition to ministry of water and power. While one can argue on the logic behind creation of all these entities, their contribution has been the least. In fact some of the entities are 'good for nothing'.

The government has decided in principal to wind up Pakistan Electric Company but the process is moving at snail's pace. Some of the quarters are opposing winding up on the grounds that board of directors and managements of corporatized entities are incapable of managing these entities. The only argument is if corporatized entities have remained toddlers in nearly a decade they would never learn to work at their own.

Let it be known to all that a strong and efficient infrastructure is a must for attracting foreign investment and accelerating GDP growth rate of the country. The job can't be accomplished without involving the private sector. Therefore, preparing elaborate and incentivised policies is a must. The government has decided years ago not to run the business but to facilitate the private sector. The change in government must not result in change in policies. Let the private sector play its role. (SHK)