ISLAMABAD - Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reform, Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar said the Cabinet Committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has decided to establish CPEC Business Forum to tap true potential of this important corridor.

Talking to media after the committee meeting, the minister said that the formation of the forum was being deliberated since long and now its establishment has formally been decided.

Going back on its earlier decision of constructing Karachi to Peshawar Railway (ML-I) on build-operate-transfer (BOT) mode the government has announced to undertake $8.2 billion project on previously agreed loan basis (EPC mode).

Govt to undertake $8.2b ML-I project on EPC mode now

“An implementation committee on ML-I Project (Karachi to Peshawar Railway), headed by Minister Railways was constituted to identify financial savings, phasing of the project, scope etc. within two weeks in order to fast-track the project,” Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar, Minister for Planning, Development & Reform said while briefing the media on decisions of the Cabinet Committee on China Pakistan Economic Corridor.  The Cabinet Committee on CPEC met here with Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar, Minister for Planning, Development & Reform in chair. The meeting was attended by members of the committee and secretaries of the federal ministries.

The minister said that cabinet committee on CPEC has decided to undertake the ML-I project on the previously agreed terms of agreement, instead of BOT. Replying the query the minister said that now the project will be completed on EPC basis under the terms that had been agreed earlier. Regarding the mode and terms of Chinese loan he said that final decision in this regard would be made in the light of the implementation committee recommendations.

It is pertinent to mention here that soon after coming into power the PTI government while criticizing the previous regime for choosing the EPC mode for ML-I project and said that wants to change the funding mode of ML-I Project from loans to Built Operate and Transfer (BOT) mode. Earlier it was agreed that China will provide concessionary loan for $ 8.2 billion for ML-I project. However after the government decision to undertake the project on BOT mode, china refused to join.

The minister further said that the Cabinet Committee on CPEC has decided to launch an important road project of Western Route in Balochistan soon.

He said previously no work was undertaken on the Western Route and people of those areas have developed feeling of deprivation. The incumbent  government attaches priority to the construction of Western Route; therefore one of its important projects in Balochistan would be launched soon.

Bakhtyar said that the committee has decided to develop Sukkur-Hyderabad section on Eastern Route through built-operate and transfer (BOT) mode and National Highway Authority will complete the design as well as feasibility and award of the contract will done in 2019. The project will yield savings of billions of dollars, he estimated.

The planning minister informed that a Chinese experts’ team visited Pakistan and different level of discussions were held at federation and provinces. List of the projects in sectors including agriculture, education, health, poverty alleviation, water supply and vocational training is being finalized and would be shared with China soon.

A memorandum of understanding on socioeconomic development would be signed to ensure early implementation of the projects with the cost of $ 400 to 500 million in first phase, he intimated.

Minister while highlighting the importance of agriculture cooperation under CPEC, informed that the newly established joint working group will meet in the first week of April in order to expedite cooperation for modernizing Pakistan Agriculture sector and utilize potentials for export maximization. It envisages cooperation in meet, food supply chain, processing and cobranding, livestock and fisheries, enhancement of seeds quality, irrigations system and technology transfer, he added.

Bakhtyar said that no headways were achieved in industrial cooperation sector over the last five years; however, present government prioritized this field by ensuring speedy implementation wherein concession agreement of Special Economic Zone at Rashakai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be signed till 25th of this month, while groundbreaking would be made in April next.

Minister announced that groundbreaking of New Gwadar International Airport would be made till end of this month.

The Cabinet Committee also accorded approval to CPEC Business Forum in order to create an interface with the business community.

Minister said that a link between government institutions and business community was missing since the inception of CPEC. “The newly established forum, comprising of leading businessmen from different sectors, would work as a bridge between the government and business sectors”, he added.

Minister clarified that none of the funds allocated for CPEC projects were diverted to any other purpose; rather allocation for other initiatives in public sector development program (PSDP) were re-appropriated for sustainable development goals. The minister however didn’t reply the question of releasing SDGs funds only to the ruling coalition MNAs.