LAHORE - Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif claims credit for completing the Rs30 billion Metro Bus Project in Lahore in just eleven months but he failed to spare funds for completion of the new building for the Punjab Assembly, which should have been functional seven years ago.

The new building was constructed because the existing one built in 1935 was not sufficient for 371 members as the strength of the Punjab Assembly was raised before the 2002 elections.

As the completion is being delayed, the cost is going up by every passing day. At present, it is estimated more than one billion will be needed for completion of the work. The delay in this project adds to assumptions that the incumbent political setup has no interest in converting the historic old assembly building into a national museum, as planned.

As per budgetary documents, the estimated cost for the construction of new building was 2.52 billion. An amount to the tune of Rs1.20 billion have been spent on the construction till June 2012 and estimated cost for additional construction in the assembly was Rs1.47 billion but 760 million of it could be spent till June 30, 2012. Moreover, the cost of extension of the assembly was estimated as Rs1.5 billion but only 440 million rupees could be spent till June 2012.

A Nespak consultant said the delay would cost millions of rupees to the exchequer. He said that the present government must complete the new building and preserve the old one two storey building that presents a rare admixture of grandeur and good looks. “The more you linger on, the less will be the age of the old house after preservation,” he said. He said if government lacked funds for its national asset, it must request the donors for help.

Requesting not to be named, an assembly official told this paper that the administration did not want to complete the building. Moreover, the complaints of financial embezzlement, use of substandard material and probing the factors behind undue delay were never addressed by the concerned quarters, he held. He said that the old house lacked required room for the respected members, journalists and the assembly staff.

Why the government is still reluctant to complete the assembly building despite ever increasing expenses remains unclear, said the ruling party MPA requesting anonymity. But another ruling party MPA defended the delay saying the old building is still serving the purpose so the government thinks that it should give priority to the issues of masses than spending money on the complex that has already consumed billions of rupees.

He said the government did not want to execute such lavish projects when the poor are finding it too hard to have a meal twice a day. He said that the administration wanted to resolve basic issues and did not intend to spend on luxuries. Pointing towards the austerity policy of the current regime, he stressed, the projects meant for the elite would be discouraged.

An opposition member said that the cost of delay in completion of the project would be multiplied in the coming years as rates of the construction material increase. “The project was started by the previous regime therefore the PML-N government is wantonly delaying its completion, he alleged. The former CM was assured of completion of the assembly complex by September 30, 2007 but this target was not met, he added.

He said that the old building must be preserved as a national asset as early as possible owing to its international status as the building was also used for hosting the Second Islamic Summit in 1974. Dignitaries of Islamic World assembled in this prestigious house to discuss and resolve issues the Ummah had been facing since decades. The house speaker and assembly secretariat secretary could not be reached for comments.

Another official of the Assembly said that the new hall, built at the grounds, was the biggest parliamentary house in the country as it could accommodate over 600 members. The existing assembly building was constructed in 1935 for housing only 58 members he told. But it was used to cater to the needs of 240 members until 1999. When the political process was restored in October 2002, the number of constituencies of the Punjab Assembly increased to 371.