A senior official of the Civil Aviation Authority informed the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat that work is still ongoing on the new airport at Islamabad even five years after the 2010 scheduled completion date.
The project was initiated in 2007; it was not completed during the five-year tenure of the PPP-led coalition government and remains incomplete even after two years of the incumbent government. After the passage of nine years, only 82.5 percent of the construction work has been completed.
The official also revealed that delays have led to more than doubling of the cost estimates: from the estimated 37 billion rupees in 2007 to 81 billion rupees; or in other words the national kitty is suffering a loss of 2 million rupees on a daily basis due to delays in the completion of the new airport.
The official further told the standing committee members that had the project been completed on time the extra cost of 44 billion rupees could have been used to build three more airports.
It is extremely unfortunate that in Pakistan inordinate delays in project completion have become the norm with no one seemingly concerned about identifying the reasons and, where appropriate, assigning responsibility for the delays and meting out due punishment.
There can be a number of factors that can account for delays. First and foremost, it has become a standard normal practice for our governments to announce mega projects at the start of a fiscal year, a practice designed to convince the electorate that the incumbent government is committed to development, but by the end of the year, failure to generate the budgeted resources to fund these projects accounts for considerably lower disbursements.
Or in other words, slashing the development expenditure is the usual way to cut the deficit by the end of the year – a policy decision that is more applicable when the country is on an International Monetary Fund programme as at present, and has committed to containing the budget deficit.
In this context it is relevant to note that during the past two years several mega energy projects including dams did not receive the budgeted disbursements leading to the delay in their construction in spite of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s directives.
What is however inexplicable in this case is that in May 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, inaugurated rather costly improvements on the old Benazir Bhutto International Airport, expected to be demolished once the new airport is operational.
We do support the security-related improvements that included a blast-proof concrete wall separating the main terminal from the car park to make the airport more secure, especially in the context of the recent terror attack on our airports.
However, it is difficult to justify the other expenditure on the old airport such as, a new runway at a cost of 4 million dollars, “fast-track section” near the outer gate to allow passengers with light baggage to enter and leave the airport, a new building for international departures, fast track check-in counters, business class fast track, 35 per cent enhanced car park area and an addition of 32 new public toilets.Surely the money spent on these improvements could have been diverted to the new airport.
The element of inefficiency and corruption are the other two factors that account for delays in project implementation. To deal with these issues the government needs to improve governance and strengthen its integrity division thereby ensuring that those held responsible for inefficiency or indeed corruption that lead to project delays and cost escalation are made to pay a price.