Rs 35b for clean Lahore only, Rs 4b for all rural Punjab

LAHORE –  After spending over Rs 35 billion on clean Lahore programme alone, the Punjab government has earmarked only Rs 3.80 billion for the rest of rural Punjab under its ‘Saaf Dehaat’ programme.

Official sources said the Local Government and Community Development Department would execute and oversee the ‘Saaf Dehaat’ programme through union councils. Every UC would be given Rs 0.5 million under ‘Saaf Dehaat’ plan.

The Punjab government also wants to further strengthen mutual cooperation with the Turkish government on potable water and cleanliness issues. Two delegations comprising a minister, secretaries for housing, local government and community development department, officials of Wasa and Punjab Saaf Pani Company visited Turkey in this regard last week. The Turkish counterparts are also expected to visit the Punjab soon.

The Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) was established to make the provincial capital neat and clean. Two Turkish companies, Ozpak and Alberak, were engaged for the purpose. The WMCs in other big cities like Multan, Faisalabad etc were also there. These companies are facing charges of financial irregularities and failure to deliver.

The mushroom growth of companies in the province, award of dozens of contracts to the Turkish firms on heavy packages, somewhere in dollars, and lack of mechanism to control them undermined the agencies already working in the public sector. Not only funds’ consumption was multiplied but also flow of money went unchecked as was pointed out by the audit.

They further said the amount for “Saaf Dehaat” programme was just a peanut for thousands of villages compared to Rs 35 billion for only one city. He said the act would further ignite criticism regarding focus of public funds on the city. He said financial record of at least 38 companies was still missing.

Two of the companies, Ozpak and Alberak under the cover of the LWMC, were engaged to clean the provincial metropolis. They were to collect garbage from door to door and rickshaws were engaged to collect trash from the old city. Although the companies were partially successful in cleanliness matters, but most of the city still faced dirty environment. The companies ran on public funds against the expectations that they would deliver and collect taxes from the domestic areas too.

When media raised fingers on the LCWU, the company came with a stance that it was not a company at all as it was a subsidiary of the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation, so it was not bound to be audited like other public sector companies.

The companies were established as the Punjab chief minister was inspired by the Turkish model. These companies were reported to undermine the already existing set of departments. It was blamed that the officers were appointed against per month salary of Rs 0.3 million to Rs1.5 million.

A chief executive officer (CEO) of a company, on condition of anonymity, said all the 60 companies were established under Companies Ordinance, 1984. As it was CM Shahbaz’s vision to deliver speedily by knocking out red-tapism, a major hurdle in service delivery, a group of bureaucracy didn’t like this and started hatching conspiracies. He said since traditional working of the administrative departments badly failed, CM Shehbaz Sharif decided to establish such bodies on the Turkish model. There were issues regarding appointment of the CEOs and the staff on executive positions and audit of the companies, but when the issues were highlighted in the media, the government ordered audit, not only internal but also external. The legal proceedings in the LHC and the NAB also triggered pressure on the government to settle the company matters. The chief secretary and the ACS were directed to conduct meetings to settle the unsettled financial irregularities. Many committees were functional to settle them. Despite repeated meetings, the issues are still pending, he added.

Third parties were also directed to conduct audit besides the AGP. Responding to a query as to why there was a big difference of salaries among the companies’ officers and the administrative officers, he said it was the chief executive’s prerogative to appoint any officer or a private person who meets the criterion.

When contacted, Punjab government spokesperson Malik Ahmad Khan didn’t respond to the queries on the issue.

 

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