Islamabad -  The cost of the Development Communication project of the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform is likely to go up by 33 percent, from Rs616 million to Rs944 million, it is learnt reliably.

The project is financed through the federal PSDP with the scope of 60 months ending in 2018, the year of next elections.

The ministry wants to expand the scope of the project although it has failed to make appointments to some key positions such as member, Development Communication (Dev Com), and constitute a steering committee to look after the affairs, The Nation has learnt.

Although the ministry has failed to fill the seat of the member of Development Communication (Dev Com) that has been vacant for the last two years, the project director wants to expand the scope of the project and hire consultants for Chinese/Arabic translation, a programme officer (Young Development Corps), a graphic designer and a research associate. Similarly, the ministry has yet to constitute a steering committee for overseeing the work on the Communication Development project, sources confirmed.

The total implementation period of the project is five years and its earlier estimated cost was Rs616 million. As per the organisation chart, the minister is the head of the project, followed by the Project Steering Committee, member of Development Communication, project director, communication specialist and 15-member staff of the Project Management Unit. PC-I of the Development Communication project was approved three years ago by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP).

According the PC-I, the government was supposed to constitute a steering committee under the planning minister, hire a member, project director, communication specialist, editor and four programme officers but currently only communication specialist is working as project director, in the absence of member and steering committee. The post of editor is also vacant. The posts of two programme officers were recently re-advertised. This shows how committed the ministry is in the continuity of policies and stability which the minister termed essential for development and progress.

As per the PC-I, the Project Steering Committee shall be headed by the minister, with secretaries of Planning, Development & Reform and Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, parliamentarians, representatives from corporate sector, eminent economists, representatives of civil society and head of a mass communication department of a top ranking university as members. The Project Steering Committee shall guide in designing the project implementation programme, oversee the overall project in terms of finances as well as operation and constitute selection committee for various positions, periodic review of plans and progress.

Although the government was pushing CDWP for approval of the PC-1 and pleading that delay in implementation of the project would result in waste of public funds on the project, it is unable to explain what kind of social benefits have been achieved so far through this project.

Similarly, member of Development Communication left in August 2014 and since then the post was advertised at least three times, but it is still vacant, the source said.

When asked to comment on delay in the hiring of the member of Development Communication, Communication Specialist and Project Director Asim Khan Niazi, who is a former office-bearer of the PML-N and current special assistant to the planning minister, said, “The federal minister for planning, development and reform is the decision-making authority and only he can comment on the issue. If you ask me, I will say we have not found a suitable candidate for the post,” he said.

As per the PC-I, the project director must be hired on an additional charge basis (as the project cost is below Rs1 billion). As per rule, the additional charge of the PD could be given to the government official of 20 or 21 grade, an official said.

Meanwhile, the planning ministry has issued a fresh advertisement for the posts of programme officers without evaluating their performance. The programme officers are being hired for one year and renewal of contract was based on performance evaluation.

Ironically, in the previous two years the experience required was 7 to 8 years but in the fresh advertisement it was reduced to 5-7 years. The content of the advertisement violates what is mentioned in the PC-I. The additional secretary for planning is the approving authority for the issuance of advertisements. However, it was issued without the approval of the additional secretary. "There is no need to take approval for such tasks," Asim said.

As per PC-I, there is an allocation of Rs51.5 million for the bimonthly trips of journalists/academia to the project and for purchase of a car. There is no car which, according to the PC-I, must be purchased in the first year. There is an allocation of Rs25 million for bimonthly interprovincial visits of university students and civil society.

In the absence of the steering committee and member of development, the project seems to have become a one man show.

Asim said the advertisement for the new recruitment was issued with his approval. “The reduction in experience is my mistake,” he said. When asked are they going to re-advertise the post after making a correction to it, he said, “No, but I assure you that people with 8 to 9 years of experience will be hired for the post”.

When asked why don’t they have the member and the project director, Asim said that he was working as a project director. However, he said, the minister was the right person to respond to the question about the delay in appointment of member of communication development. “I will just say that we didn’t find a suitable person for the member’s position,” he said.