WEB DESK: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, leading a business delegation, paid an official visit to China from July 24-29. True to traditional Chinese hospitality, he was warmly received in China where he held meetings with Zhang Gaoli, China’s vice premier, and many other high-ranking officials, businessmen and potential investors.
Seven agreements and 17 MoUs were signed during his visit.
While in China, CM Shahbaz Sharif received praise for his exemplary efficiency in executing projects in Punjab.
It is reported that Hu Xiaolian – Chairperson of China’s Exim Bank remarked that they in China use the term ‘Shenzhen Speed’ as a symbol of fast track development and progress in Shenzhen, but, instead ‘Punjab speed’ was currently cited in China for the rapid execution of projects.
The Chief Minister of Punjab acknowledged the appreciation and is reported to have stated that the term ‘Punjab speed’ with regard to pace of implementations of agreements and projects in energy sector in the province is not only an honour for him, but also for the Punjab government and the people of the province.
This is indeed a remarkable compliment to the Punjab government by China – a nation which is globally recognised as the fastest and most efficient economy of the world and where project execution runs by the clock with no room for falling behind schedule. It is cited as a global benchmark for efficiency and speed.
For a nation with this mindset and a track record, it is not difficult to understand that China is concerned, if not frustrated, at the pace of progress at China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
They describe government’s approach to the CPEC as sluggish and lacking clarity and motivation. China is now depending upon the support of Pakistan Army for its early completion. General Raheel Sharif has on numerous occasions underlined the importance of the CPEC and assured his support to this project of great strategic value to Pakistan and China.
On July 28, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 89th anniversary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army, General Sharif gave his own guarantee to the project – ‘As chief of army staff, I assure you that security of CPEC is our national undertaking and we will not leave any stone unturned to ensure its timely completion and uninterrupted success’.
Also, determination for the success of the CPEC was demonstrated by CM Shahbaz, who on his return to Lahore spoke about the importance of the CPEC in strengthening the China-Pakistan relations.
China is aiming to work with partners in Pakistan who show competence to match its implementation targets and those falling behind will be left out. There are indications that some projects in Balochistan and Sindh will be withdrawn from the CPEC if completion is not foreseen to be achieved by 2018.
At risk are five energy projects worth $7 billion of being axed from the CPEC owing to slow progress of work. Earlier this year, funding for Gadani Power Park, to generate 6000MW of power from coal, was withdrawn by China as the government failed to show any progress on ground inclusive of its failure to set up infrastructure for coal berth and coal transportation to site. Gadani Power Park now stands abandoned.
Smaller provinces have raised objections to the CPEC and are underscoring need for greater transparency and of rightful share of the pie.
While all of this is understandable but of greater importance is the provinces’ motivation, sincerity and competence to effectively and timely complete the projects and effectively utilise the funds allocated to them under the CPEC.
So far Punjab is in the lead and is likely to turn out to be the major beneficiary of the CPEC in terms of better project completion timings and utilisation of allocated funds.
Presently, work is in progress to set up three LNG based, 3600 MW power plants in different parts of Punjab and a 1320 MW coal-fired plant in Sahiwal and other infrastructure projects.
CM Shahbaz Sharif and his team deserve praise for earning the ‘Punjab speed’ title. There is a proven track record to justify the same.
Lahore Bus Rapid Transport System, under which operate 86 buses on a dedicated track of 28.7km rattling from one end of city to another and serving 180,000 commuters on a daily basis, was completed in a period of 12 months with construction work starting in March 2012 and buses plying between routes in February 2013.
Similar time efficiency was achieved in the execution of Rawalpindi-Islamabad Bus Rapid Transport System which was inaugurated on 4th June 2015 with the operation of 68 buses over a track of 22.5km; it serves 100,558 people on a daily basis.
There are many other referral infrastructure projects in Punjab which achieved completion as per schedule or earlier. This is a benchmark for others to follow and a proof that projects in Pakistan can also be completed in time.
Under focus now is the under-construction mega project of Orange Line of Lahore Metro. It will be Pakistan’s first light rail train system (LRT). The 27km metro train, mostly running on an elevated track, is expected to cost $1.65 billion and would serve a daily ridership of 250,000. It is targeted to be operational by October 2017.
The other provinces need to catch up. The progress on small hydropower projects in KP is reported to be promising whereas progress on Thar coal mining and power projects in Sindh is reported to be sluggish. The work at Gwadar port in Balochistan is also reported to be slow. They are all high priority projects on the CPEC list.
It needs to be recognised that the CPEC is a joint venture between China and Pakistan and both are stakeholders. Both have to match performance and speed to retain their positions as equal partners, failing which the efficient one will take the lead over the inefficient one.
China is largely positioned as project financier and Pakistan as project facilitator and executioner. As most of the funding from the Exim Bank of China is dedicated to project’s feasibility and risks associated with the project, it is required to be ensured by the bank that there are no cost overruns due to poor project management and delays thereby jeopardising the project feasibility and loan return capacity.
The traditional project financers to Pakistan like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and similar show some flexibility in accommodating delays, inefficiency and cost overruns, but Chinese banks have no appetite to match their benevolence.
Although the CPEC is more of strategic importance than economic value, China will never lose sight of its commercial interests. It will ensure that the funds allocated by it are well utilised and paid back.
(The writer is former President Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce & Industry)