Dec 03 - 09, 2007

Perhaps the country made a history when during the last two weeks (November 13 to 26) 20 development projects relating to the different sectors of economy involving an expenditure of about RS. 103 billion were approved by the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet (ECNEC) and the Central Development Working Party (CDWP). Besides CDWP recommended 15 development projects costing RS. 243.8 billion to ECNEC for approval.

Two days before his departure (Nov. 30) the former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, presided over the ECNEC meeting, which approved 16 projects worth about 98 billion rupees, which covered infrastructure, education, health, energy, environment and other sectors. The Prime Minister lauded performance of ECNEC during "at eight years and said that it greatly helped in creating a lot of economic activity generating millions of jobs. He noted that in the "at eight years the ECNEC held 27 meetings and approved 649 projects worth 2.4 trillion rupees, which is a record in the history of the country. The projects covered all sectors of national activity including 403 projects in infrastructure and 207 in social sectors.

After the meeting of the ECNEC, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Dr. Akram Sheikh told journalists that the projects approved by the ECNEC included KKH up gradation at a cost of about 31 billion rupees. The Chinese funded project envisages up gradation of 335 kilometers of highway from Raikot to Khunjerab. Another important project is doubling of track from Khanewal to Raiwind, Shaiwal, Okara and Kasur districts of Punjab at a cost of 8.3 billion rupees. The West Bank Bypass Construction Project in Muzaffarabad city would cost 1.736 billion rupees.

Other important projects cleared by the ECNEC included Development of Forestry Sector Resources for the four provinces at a cost of about 11.5 billion rupees; Strengthening of UET Lahore at a cost of about 6 billion rupees; Ph.D. Fellowship for five thousand scholars at a cost of 6.4 billion rupees; infrastructure development of COMSATS Institute of Information Technology Islamabad at 2.9 billion rupees and strengthening of NED University Karachi at 2.2 billion rupees. According to Dr. Akram Sheikh, the emphasis of the government is on technical training, higher education, national trade corridor and development of energy resources. He said that a core group chaired by Dr. Attaur-Rehman has been assigned the task of identifying emerging and new technologies and disciplines to keep pace with the modern day requirements. He said as part of the national trade corridor project, a deep container terminal is being established at Karachi at a cost of one billion dollars besides huge investment in Port Qasim and Gwadar. He said as a result of economic activities about half a million jobs are being created annually in the country.

While shelving decision on wheat support price, the ECNEC, which seemed to be in a hurry deemed it expedient to grant 20 years corporate tax exemption on construction of Gwadar Port. Moreover, three companies, to be formed by Gwadar Port, would be excepted from sales tax, while material and equipment to be used for construction of Gwdar Port would also enjoy sales tax exemption for 40 years. These revelations were made by Dr. Ashfaque, Special Secretary of the Finance Ministry, while briefing journalists after the meeting.

While ignoring their recommendations, the ECC to raise wheat support price also decided to de-link support price and procurement price, thereby, virtually sending the message to farmers that the government was targeting 7 million tons wheat procurement, that is, two million tons more than last year. Dr. Ashfaque also said that the issue was discussed in detail and it was decided that support price would be determined at the time of procurement. This, to say the least, it will be found as confusing for the farming community.

The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) on Monday referred 15 development projects, costing RS. 243.8 billion, to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC), while approving 16 schemes worth Rs. 4.5 billion. The CDWP, which met with Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr. Akram Sheikh in the chair, also cleared the concept papers of reconstruction of berths at Karachi Port Costing Rs.6 billion and up gradation of Lok Virsa Media Centre.

Karachi Port Trust (KPT) expects that World Bank would provide a loan of $ 100 million for the projects, said Asif Sheikh, spokesman of Planning Commission, while briefing reporters after CDWP's fourth meeting in the current fiscal year. The PC-1 of the scheme will be submitted later, he added. The overall foreign exchange component (FEC) required for execution of the 31 projects has been estimated at Rs.86.3 billion, he said.

Flanked by Member, Infrastructure, Dr. Asad Ali Shah, and Member, Implementation, Lt. General Muahmmad Zubair, Asif said that 29 projects, costing RS. 242 billion, would be financed by the federal government. Since the costs of five projects have been revised upward, by Rs.9 to Rs.12 billion, the total net addition for new projects is Rs.239 billion.

In infrastructure sector, 13 development schemes costing Rs.75 billion, with FEC of Rs.30 billion, have been approved/recommended for consideration by ECNEC, while 13 projects worth Rs.172.1 billion with FEC of Rs.56.2 billion were approved in social sector. The CDWP also approved five projects worth RS. 1.2 billion in other sector.

Asif said that 17 projects, approved in CDWP meeting, would be implemented all over the country. Five p[projects were approved for Punjab, two each for Sindh and Balochistan and one project for NWFP. Of the five projects located in Punjab, the Punjab Irrigation System Improvement Project costing Rs.6.6 billion will be financed by the provincial government. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) will provide 88 percent funding for the scheme.

Of the two projects located in Balochistan the construction of different road in coastal areas will be financed through Omani grant. The total cost of the scheme is Rs.934 million.

Four projects costing RS. 25.94 billion have been approved in the energy sector. The CDWP gave the go-ahead signal to Wapda's project of 450-500 MW combined cycle power plant at Nandipur, near Daska. The project costing Rs. 22.33 billion would be completed in five years. Wapda will fund this project from its own resources, said Asif.

Detailed exploration of uranium resources in DG Khan (Revised) costing RS. 856.5 million, and uranium mining project of Rs.2.386 billion in Taunsa, DG Khan, were other important projects in energy sector.

In transport and communication sector eight projects costing Rs.42.45 billion have been approved. Some of these projects are part of the mega project of National Trade Corridor Improvement Program, said Member Infrastructure, Asad.

Most of the important schemes approved in the Monday meeting were establishment of universities of engineering and technology, (UETs) in collaboration with Australia, Germany, China and Italy. One UET will be established each in Karachi and Islamabad and two in Lahore. The project cost has been estimated at Rs.165 billion. The FEC in the project is Rs.55 billion. Asif said that the government will not get financial foreign assistance for establishing these universities. The foreign countries will provide the teaching staff for all the four universities, he added. He said that the number of scholarships for students of Indian Held Kashmir has been increased to 200 from 100.