WEBDESK: Amidst mounting pressure to investigate massive irregularities and delay in the Nandipur project that has cost the beleaguered exchequer tens of billions of rupees more than the original estimate without a single MW or even much less coming into the national grid, the PML-N government has decided to conduct third-party audits.
The most glaring fact that has emerged in the Nandipur project is that it was an Achilles heel for the PPP-led coalition government as well as the incumbent PML-N government. The PPP government was accused of inordinately delaying the project through the refusal attributed to the Law Ministry then led by Babar Awan to issue a no-objection certificate that would have enabled the deployment of the procured machinery to the project site.
Shahbaz Sharif in his inimitable style not only accused the former government of corruption but committed to the nation that he would complete the project in record time. While he did meet his commitment to inaugurate the plant in record time amidst much fanfare with the Prime Minister attending the ceremony yet he has failed to make the project operational to this day.
The reason: those charged with the responsibility of commissioning the plant, did not have the necessary technical expertise to determine the appropriate fuel for operating the plant in terms of cost and availability as well as whether the additional cost required for additional procurement (of machinery and the Chinese company’s services) would make the project unviable. The current scenario shows that the project is not only cost ineffective but also technically defective.
So how did the governments – PPP-led and the incumbent – decide to deal with the controversy surrounding the project? The PPP-led coalition government did not focus on defending the Nandipur project given the other much bigger scams that were surfacing at the time; notably the rental power projects.
However, the then Finance Minister, Shaukat Tarin, a technocrat, insisted during a cabinet meeting led by Yousuf Raza Gilani that the government must undertake third-party audit of rental power projects to dispel the impression that the process was in any way rigged.
Third-party audits undertaken by the Asian Development Bank presented a disturbing picture of the efficacy of the rental power projects in contrast to the then government’s claims to the contrary and thereby saved the country billions of dollars in foreign exchange.
What is unfortunate is that the incumbent government has reportedly selected an independent firm of financial auditors who obviously would not be doing a technical audit. It is imperative to undertake a technical evaluation or assess where decisions taken on the technical aspects of the project went so very wrong. And to reiterate it is the technicalities of the project that are equally if not more than mismanagement/corruption held to be responsible for the project’s failure.
While reportedly the government did first request a former Supreme Court justice, and on his refusal, a private audit firm to undertake third-party audits yet the two were inappropriate because Nandipur requires a technical evaluation as well.
While the PPP-led coalition government, with an extremely poor governance record that the PML-N capitalised on to win the 2013 elections agreed to undertake third-party independent audits yet the Sharif administration is unwilling to do so leading to the conclusion that accountability and transparency do not appear to be the hallmarks of the present government.
One would hope that the government takes cognisance of the fact that a partial audit, ie only with regard to the financial and not the technical aspect as well, will not quell but instead fuel the controversy surrounding the project.
There is thus a need for the government to revisit this decision and to appoint a team led by an auditor as well as a technical expert who is not associated with the incumbent government. A multilateral like the ADB would be a good choice.