LAHORE - Despite all arrangements, the Punjab cabinet members are still reluctant to shift to Ministers’ Block over security hazards, said sources in the provincial government.

The Punjab government which earlier wanted to sell out the complex with 48 office suites constructed adjacent to People’s House during the Ch Pervez Elahi era has finalised arrangements to make the building functional.

The government has not only created a good number of vacancies to run the offices of the ministers and parliamentary secretaries but also has completed the finishing work at the building, to be utilised as offices for ministers, parliamentary secretaries and their staff at one place.

“At least 46 vacancies of ministerial staff, including comptroller, clerical staff and security guards, have been created by the S&GAD that will be deputed at the Ministers’ Block,” said a senior official of the general administration department. Primarily, the staff will be deputed from the S&GAD pool.

A bombproof gate, first of its type in official buildings, worth Rs 3.6m, has already been installed at the main entrance of the complex. LCDs, deep freezers and microwaves have been made available in the building so that the ministers could easily start their official duties, the officer added.

Punjab Privatisation Board failed to sell the Ministers’ Block located near Civil Secretariat. At the 29th meeting of the Provincial Development Working Party, the Planning and Development (P&D) Board approved Rs 851.189 million for the finishing work of the complex.

The P&D approved the amount on the proposal of the S&GAD that had earlier opposed the move to sell this building.

The Punjab government of PML-N decided in 2008 to privatise the block and convert the Chief Minister’s Secretariat at Club Road into an information technology university for women, both built at an estimated cost of Rs 730 million and Rs 900 million, respectively, during Pervaiz Elahi’s tenure, an officer revealed. He added the decision was taken after a poor response from the bidders who had shown reservations over the high reserve price fixed by the Privatisation Board, the location and the structure of the block, he held.

The Privatisation Board had fixed Rs 1.225 billion after carrying out assessment in collaboration with the Communication and Works (C&W) and Board of Revenue (BoR) departments.

The government has, therefore, decided to allot the offices to the provincial ministers, advisers and parliamentary secretaries who have their offices in different departments or Old Ministers’ Block inside the Main Civil Secretariat. After the ministers leave the Old Ministers’ Block, the government might demolish the old building and construct new offices, an officer said. Since the building was constructed for a specific purpose, it should be used for public sector offices, the committee report stated. The PML-N government had approved the privatisation of the block even after the report.

The opposition parties in the Punjab had also criticised the Shahbaz Sharif government’s plan to sell the state-owned property and constructed building. The government had completed all formalities to sell it, but private parties did not participate in the bidding successfully. The government tried to privatise the state-owned plaza, but failed, said an official of the S&GAD. Opposition MPAs had also demanded the provincial legislative assembly stop the sale of the Ministers’ Block which, he said, could cause security threats for the Punjab government’s head offices at Civil Secretariat.

He said construction of the block had begun during the regime of former Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi at an estimated cost of Rs 600 million that later rose to Rs 730 million, he held. But the PML-N government found the block unnecessary as well as waste of money and decided to sell it. By this time Rs 380 million had been spent on the main structure of the complex, he stated. Now Rs 1.23 billion will be the total cost of the block, the officer estimated, adding an undue delay had burdened the kitty with Rs 851 million. He hoped that after the nod of the ministers, the S&GAD would shift the ministers to the new complex. The security arrangements at the Ministers’ Block would be foolproof, the officer claimed.