Peshawar BRT Scam: No action against K-P govt yet despite Rs75billion loss

Hassan Naqvi Staff Reporter

22nd Oct, 2021. 10:12 am
BRT project

Peshawar BRT Scam: No action yet against KP govt despite massive Rs75 billion loss. Image: File

LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) have been unable to launch a probe into the alleged corruption and loss of Rs75 billion to the national exchequer in the BRT Peshawar project, even after three years since it surfaced in 2018, as the PTI government moved the Supreme Court twice to stop the investigation, BOL News has learnt. 

Interestingly, the original project cost for Peshawar BRT was worth Rs49 billion, which was revised upward by PTI to Rs66.4 billion, and later further increased it to Rs70 billion. But the total amount spent on the project by the PTI government so far is between a staggering Rs90-Rs105 billion, according to estimates. 

Former premier Nawaz Sharif’s spokesperson and economic expert Muhammad Zubair told BOL News that Rs90-105billion spent by PTI on Peshawar’s BRT is at minimum (Rs 90billion), almost the same amount Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) spent on three BRTs (Rs92billion) and in a worst-case scenario (Rs105billion), Rs17billion more. 

“The actual cost of Peshawar BRT should have been only Rs30 billion,” Zubair alleged. 

He maintained that both Peshawar and Lahore BRTs are around 27km long, but the amount spent by PTI on Peshawar BRT (Rs90-105billion) is 3-3.5 times more than the cost of Lahore BRT (Rs29.65billion). 

Sources told BOL News that Peshawar BRT contractor, Maqbool-Calsons, is owned by Syed Iqbal Shah and his son Syed Masood Shah, a close family friend of PM Imran Khan’s close aide and friend Zulfi Bukhari. 

“Scope of Peshawar BRT project was enhanced several times to accommodate Maqbool-Calsons,” sources said. 

They added that the same underperforming and overbilling Maqbool-Calsons have now also been awarded several new projects in Punjab and Islamabad, despite the fact that it was blacklisted by the Punjab government under PML-N for violations of contract in the Orange Line project. 

In July 2018, Peshawar High Court (PHC) had directed NAB to conduct an investigation and inquiry regarding transparency of the BRT project and to submit a report before the next hearing on September 5, 2018, and the PHC also removed the BRT project director. The PHC stated in its order, “The delay, the contract awarding process, feasibility and all issues relating to BRT project are “all shady and shaky.” It has “been informed that the contract has been given to a firm, which was blacklisted in the same time of work by any other province, under malafide intention.” 

Between July 2018 to September 2018, the PTI K-P government and Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) filed a petition with the SC requesting to set aside the PHC order directing NAB to conduct an investigation and inquiry. 

In September 2018, the SC suspended the PHC’s order before the next hearing at PHC was scheduled for September 5, 2018. Therefore, the findings of the NAB inquiry did not see the light of day. 

In November 2019, PHC directed FIA to (a) conduct an inquiry into the project, in light of 35 points identified by PHC, (b) conclude the inquiry within 45 days and submit the report to PHC, and (c) to act against any delinquents found in its inquiry report.     

In December 2019, the PTI K-P government and PDA again moved to the SC to stop the FIA probe into Peshawar BRT, following which in February 2020, the top court stopped the FIA from investigating the project. The stay order was subsequently extended by the SC. 

In February 2021, the stay order which stopped FIA from investigating BRT was extended for yet another month by the top court.

Sources told BOL News that the SC set aside the PHC judgement directing NAB to investigate the BRT project. However, there is nothing legally stopping NAB from investigating BRT. 

Major issues raised by Auditor-General Report on BRT Report 

In 2019, a performance audit report by the Auditor-General of Pakistan (AGP) found irregularities in various aspects of the BRT project including, the award of the design consultancy contract, procurement of buses, hefty allowances to bureaucrats from project money, award of civil works contract, and delays in the project’s completion. 

A subsequent audit report by AGP documented the following findings: unauthorised variations in the project of Rs10.4billion, premature procurement of BRT buses of $7.9million, construction supervision contract awarded without fulfilling performance assessment criteria (Rs615million and $1.7million), a contradiction in approved PC-I and business model regarding annual subsidy (Rs1.6billion), non-implementation of penalty/liquidated damages (Rs1.9billion), wasteful expenditure on beautification, construction of roads and electrification (Rs716milllion), loss due to depreciation of buses waiting to be brought on roads (Rs10milllion), loss due to payment of excess quantity of pile concrete (Rs200milllion), loss due to non-recovery of cost of dismantled material (Rs54.8milllion), payment as salaries without approved pay structure (Rs95milllion), unauthorised payment to officers (Rs45milllion), non-deposit of profit into government treasury earned from saving account (Rs12milllion) and interest earned not reflected in the financial statement (Rs12milllion). 

Damaging findings by the K-P government’s inspection team 

The provincial inspection team’s report on Peshawar BRT found that “havoc has been played with public money through faulty planning and designing, negligence in the execution of work, and poor management of the project.” 

The report also found that frequent design changes caused delays in completion and loss to the exchequer, and recommended that responsibility for the losses may be fixed, but nothing of the sort has been done. 

One finding stood out in particular; before the launch of BRT, the KP government executed a project for widening roads, construction of U-turns, beautification, installation of LED lights, signals, and general development on certain roads. Immediately afterwards, the BRT project was launched on the same location/corridor, and all of the work done in the first project was uprooted, despite the fact that both projects were planned, and approved around the same time and executed by the same agency, PDA. 

“This is a blatant case of corruption because a contract was awarded, and money was spent on a project knowing that it is completely unnecessary and will be uprooted soon after completion,” sources said. 

Awami National Party’s (ANP) Provincial Secretary Information MPA Samar Haroon Bilour told Bol News that the PTI slogan against corruption was just a hollow election slogan, and there was no depth or substance to it.

“PTI slogan against corruption became a political witch-hunt against their political opponents. NAB, in the past three years and past eight years in K-P, has been used to target whom the government considers its opposition,” she added. 

Bilour maintained that the BRT has been a flawed project which has been hastily executed that has led to complete carnage on Peshawar roads despite the fact that loads of people use it for commuting as it is a good way to carry out public transport in a systematic manner. 

“Its route is incorrect, and it is the most expensive mass transit system in Pakistan as compared to many parts of South Asia,” she claimed. 

Bilour added that the recently promulgated NAB ordinance and before that an SC court judgement it is a clear indication that they want to give a clean chit to the people who have made the BRT, people who were given the contracts to construct it at higher rates, who have delayed the work, used cheap and shoddy material, and in one month, it has to be broken and made again multiple times. 

“The day BRT project is investigated by an independent agency let’s not say NAB under the hands of another political government; you will witness one of the biggest financial loopholes and biggest financial scam if investigated by an independent investigation body,” Bilour claimed. 

Agreeing with Bilour, sources privy to this development told Bol News that Peshawar High Court, Auditor General of Pakistan, and the PTI K-P government’s provincial inspection team have all identified major issues with Peshawar BRT. 

“The Peshawar High Court not once but twice ordered inquiries into Peshawar BRT, first by NAB then by FIA. Both times, the PTI KP government moved to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to block the inquiries rather than face the inquiries. The Supreme Court stopped the inquiries in both instances,” sources said. 

Senior officials from FIA and NAB told BOL News that they were ready to investigate the BRT project but the provincial government managed to get an SC order against the PHC decision due to which we could not initiate an inquiry. 

However, some sources told BOL News that the accountability watchdog is also not serious in investigating the alleged corruption in Peshawar BRT, and it was evident from their lethargic attitude when it comes to this case in the last three years.