The government has appointed a new head of two research and administration support projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) ahead of a meeting of the highest decision-making body of the bilateral strategic initiative.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has given the charge of Centre of Excellence project of CPEC and CPEC Support Project to Qazi Zaheer Ahmad, a grade-21 officer working in the Ministry of Planning and Development. The responsibilities have been given on a temporary basis.
“I have been appointed project director and the CPEC Support Project has also been extended for six months or until the new CPEC Authority law is passed, whichever is earlier,” confirmed Ahmad, the newly appointed project director, to The Express Tribune.
The PTI government had decided to merge both these projects in June last year but the administrative order for the merger was never issued despite the decision by a relevant forum.
Both these projects had been launched during the tenure of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government to provide research and administrative support for coordination and implementation of the CPEC initiative.
Ahmad has also been given the additional charge of executive director of the Centre of Excellence Project. However, there is a need to appoint permanent heads of both these important projects as Ahmad’s key responsibilities are related to other work of the Ministry of Planning.
Earlier, both the responsibilities of project director of CPEC Support Project and executive director of the Centre of Excellence were with Liaquat Shah, an employee of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).
There has been resentment within PIDE over withdrawal of the Centre of Excellence project charge.
The new project director has also asked staff of the support project to shift to the planning ministry’s premises with immediate effect.
The development took place ahead of the meeting of CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), which is tentatively scheduled for the end of October, said a government official. The Foreign Office has intimated about the tentative schedule of the JCC meeting.
JCC is the highest decision-making body of CPEC, which is co-chaired by Pakistan’s minister for planning and development and the chairman of National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC) of China.
JCC makes decisions on the inclusion of any new project into the CPEC framework and also takes stock of implementation work.
Pakistan and China on Monday also signed a development agreement for the Rashakai Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The development of Rashakai will revitalise economic activity and create a lot of jobs in the construction sector for the local population, said Commerce Adviser Abdul Razak Dawood.
However, a financial agreement and a commercial agreement for the SEZ have not been signed yet.
The government is struggling to put together an incentive package for prospective investors, who will invest in such economic zones.
In 2014, Pakistan and China had announced that they would deepen their economic and strategic cooperation through CPEC, which is the pilot project of the trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative of the Chinese president.
Initially, both the countries announced $46 billion worth of agreements for infrastructure and energy sectors. The volume subsequently increased to $60 billion.
However, a couple of years ago, CPEC started hitting roadblocks and it is now estimated that actual Chinese investment in energy and infrastructure projects will remain lower than that projected earlier, according to documents of the Ministry of Planning and Development.
Lately, the government approved the $6.8 billion Mainline-I project of Pakistan Railways, which is seen as a sign of revival of CPEC.
In June last year, the government decided to enhance CPEC’s scope to trade and market access. Subjects of industrial development and global value chains have also been brought under the CPEC scope.
In June also, the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) approved the merger of CPEC Support Project and CPEC Centre of Excellence. But these were never merged.
As per the merger plan, the project director will be responsible for all operational and policy matters of CPEC, and he will be hired in the Management Pay Scale-I, which is equivalent to grade-22.
The project director will head two wings - the coordination and monitoring wing and the research wing - and will enjoy vast powers, according to the concept paper of the new CPEC Secretariat.
The secretariat was supposed to be responsible for overall coordination and implementation of CPEC work.
There was also a plan that the CPEC Secretariat would coordinate activities for conducting meetings of the joint working groups and JCC, and implementation of the decisions taken by these two forums.
The CPEC Authority Ordinance has lapsed in early June and since then administrative decisions are being taken by the Ministry of Planning.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2020.