LAHORE - Punjab Assembly was yesterday told that an additional amount of Rs 742.02 million were required to complete the new Assembly building, a project which is in limbo since 2005 and whose cost has already escalated by Rs one billion.  The project of Punjab Assembly’ extension was to be completed within one year at an estimated cost of Rs 1387.574 million.

According to an official of Buildings Department, it will take another year to make the new building functional.  Punjab Minister for Communication and works Tanvir Aslam informed the House on Monday that total cost of the project has been estimated at Rs 2523.39 million, out of which Rs 1381.36 have already been utilised which is 55 per cent of the estimated cost. He further told that Rs 400 million have been allocated for the project in the financial year 2015-16 while an additional Rs 742.02 were needed to complete it. Though the Minister did not give any precise date for completion of this much-delayed scheme, he expressed his optimism that additional amount would be allocated in the next financial year.

He was responding to a question by Dr Wasim Akhtar of Jamaat-e-Islami who had sought details about utilisation of funds on the project and an assurance to complete the new Assembly hall in the earliest. Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal told JI lawmaker that project was facing delay since work has to be halted during Assembly sessions due to security reasons.

Dr Wasim insisted that construction work could be carried out round the clock for rest of the days when the Assembly is not in session. But he failed to get any such assurance from the Speaker who only committed to expediting the work. The Punjab Assembly’s extension project, started in August, 2005 by the Pervaiz Elahi government has apparently fallen prey to political rivalry between the PML-N and the PML-Q. Though the delay has cost Rs 1 billion to the exchequer so far, the PML-N government has no plans to complete the project even during its present tenure ending in 2018. The seriousness of the present government to complete the building can be gauged from the fact that it had been allocating symbolic amounts for this project in the previous budgets not exceeding Rs 0.5 million per year.

Except the construction of dome of the new Assembly chamber, no visible progress on the renovation side has been witnessed since 2007.  When contacted, an official took shelter in the budgetary constraints to justify the delay, but the fact remains that ‘political constraints’ have in fact forced the government to disown the project. There are also questions on utility of the new building amid talk of creation of a new province comprising south Punjab.   

“If the procedural delays, poor planning, mismanagement, flaws in implementation and slow pace of work by the construction company marred completion of the project in the beginning, the incumbent government’s funding priorities have brought it to a virtually halt”, a senior officer in Punjab Assembly said.  As per initial plan, the work was divided into two components - Scheme for Construction of Additional Punjab Assembly Building with an allocated amount of Rs 783.015 million, and Scheme for Construction of Extension of Punjab Assembly Building, for which Rs 604.559 million were apportioned. As per official documents, the administrative approval of both the schemes was granted on February 2, 2005 by the competent authority. 

It has been learnt that besides hurdles at the initial stages, construction work remained suspended for eight months from July 2007 to February 2008. It was only after repeated reminders that the firm restarted the work on the additional building from October 2007 and on extension of Punjab Assembly in March 2008. An inquiry in 2008 revealed that work on middle round portion of additional Assembly building remained suspended for more than four months due to provision of second basement, which was objected by House Committee of Punjab Assembly . Consequently, second basement was removed. Pace of work remained slow and contractor could not meet the deadlines.

Also, Opposition on Monday alleged that the government had diverted funds of other departments to election projects like the Orange Line Train Project. Opposition Leader Mehmoodur Rashid said that the government had completely ignored the agriculture sector and the farmers were not getting adequate price of their agri yields. He alleged the government had spent Rs 12 billion on advertisement campaign of its Rs 340b farmers package which needed to be probed. He said the framers spent Rs 250b on diesel annually, but the government did not provide them relief by reducing its price in the wake of declining prices in the international market. The Assembly also passed a resolution condemning terrorist attacks on media houses.