The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has taken the step many expected it to and used a Presidential Ordinance to establish a CPEC Authority to expedite projects under the CPEC banner and finish work on the Corridor as soon as possible. Alongside this, the President has also taken the steps to constitute the Gwadar Free Zone, with several duty waivers in play. However, now that the Presidential Ordinance has been passed, what guarantee is the government providing that projects under the CPEC banner will be treated more seriously?
With the terms of this newly established authority still unclear, it seems that the government’s answer to bureaucratic inefficiency and backlog is to add another bureaucratic body into the mix, which really would not solve anything. Unless the authority is given the power to speed up fund disbursal and work towards approving all projects under the CPEC banner – such as the ML-1 and OLMT Lahore – this body will only be yet another office the projects go through before they are initiated, let alone completed.
The timing of setting up this authority also belies the government’s real intentions; the Prime Minister’s China visit is a litmus test of the current government’s seriousness regarding the completion of CPEC. It is no wonder then that the President constituted a new authority at a time when the government needs to convince our northern neighbour of the seriousness with which we are approaching the project. The powers of this new authority are unclear so far – how will its duties differ from that of the Planning Commission or the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit established in 2016? Will the CPEC Authority have the power to supersede decisions of the Finance Ministry when it comes to projects under the CPEC banner? In its haste to look like work is being done, the government looks to be taking a step back from CPEC instead of actually looking to complete the various projects.
Ultimately, China will gauge Pakistan’s success or failure on CPEC with specific deliverables and timelines; has the Pakistan government provided any reliable framework for completion of various projects since the ruling party came into power? The answer to this sadly, is a resounding no. There was no need for a Presidential Ordinance regarding a new authority; Pakistan’s government already has the necessary bureaucratic steps in place to ensure that the CPEC projects are completed; it is up to the government to release funds, hire contractors and fulfil the other logistical requirements for completion. No matter how many new bodies are created, completing projects under CPEC will only be executed if the government is really determined to do so. For the sake of the country’s economic welfare and relations with our closest ally, it is hoped that the PTI government is indeed working on CPEC in earnest.