ISLAMABAD: Experts at a webinar on Saturday feared that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) might become a debt trap if the authorities did not efficiently actualise the targets of the game-changer initiative.
Institutions, experts and the public at large are still unclear about the scope and targets of CPEC where the Pakistan government has committed billions of dollars to pool in on high rates of interest.
They said a fact-based narrative building is very important while the enemies and unwise friends are spreading rumours for their own vested interests and to malign the CPEC initiatives. A one-window operation shall be the backbone of the agricultural and industrial phase of CPEC which should be handled by the relevant and expert human resource.
Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) organised the webinar. The panel of experts included Adviser to President National Defence University (NDU) and former ambassador retired Gen Raza Mohammad, who is a PhD on CPEC, former project director CPEC with the Planning Commission of Pakistan and presently CEO KP Board of Investment Hasan Daud Butt, NASCOM Director and former executive director CPEC Centre of Excellence, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) Dr Shahid Rasheed, Director CPEC Study Centre SDPI Shakeel Ramay, development experts Dr Zahoor Bazai (Quetta) and Dr Khushboo Ejaz (Lahore), and executive director Devcom-Pakistan Munir Ahmed.
General Mohammad said CPEC was a ray of hope for the economic prosperity of Pakistan.
“We need to make the CPEC projects more transparent and efficient if inspired to achieve the targets and harness the economic benefits. A rational narrative is imperative to wipe off the ambiguity and rumours by engaging parliamentarians and media counter-offensive campaigns,” he said.
Hassan Daud Butt said 22 projects had been completed so far despite an 18 months delay due to political disruption.
“The federal government need to revive the monthly meetings of the CPEC stakeholders and the periodic meetings of the seven joint working groups to improve efficiency. CPEC is indeed a game-changer but it could be a debt trap if not taken seriously and worked hard to achieve the targets of the project on time. The CPEC authority shall have more powers and authority to combat the challenges and bottlenecks,” he said.
Dr Shahid Rasheed said CPEC improved Pakistan’s GDP to 5.7 per cent in 2018 from 3.3pc in 2013, and also improved the security situation.
“Covid-19 and political instability has marred the performance of CPEC in recent years. But a reborn of CPEC would bring much better benefits to the nation. Parliamentarians of both sides shall work in harmony for an inclusive CPEC authority that is much needed in its new phase to invigorate agriculture and industrialisation around CPEC,” he said.
Shakeel Ramay said Pakistan needed to understand that it is one of the 139 countries that have signed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and in case of sluggishness the investors would go to other parts of the BRI.
“Speed of work matters in the international development projects but we are lagging behind the schedule of development because of very casual behaviour. Unfortunately, the government could not project the economic benefits of CPEC. Rumours are in the air without any check. We need to have an empowered CPEC authority,” he said.
Munir Ahmed said only the strategic partners could understand the importance of the CPEC initiatives while politicians have no idea about the strategic and socioeconomic culmination of the project.
“Many have been projecting it as a debt trap. Every investment and loan has the capacity to become debt if not used efficiently. We need to develop the CPEC narrative according to its objectives and targets beyond the political scoring and vested interests of the individuals and the interests groups,” he said.
Dr Zahoor Bazai stressed the need to prioritise the engagement of locals in the projects and also ensure environmental integrity through adequate Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2021