Undermining PM’s incentive package for construction industry

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Hassan Syed

Since the incumbent government took charge of the country, the Construction Sector has been one of the major casualties of the inherited economic woes. Over the last couple of years, this sector has seen a steady decline creating a vicious whirlpool which gobbled up not only the construction sector itself but a number of allied sectors which are directly or indirectly dependent upon it, rendering thousands of skilled and unskilled human resource useless and unemployed.
In such circumstances of utter desperation, the news of PM’s incentive package for the Construction Sector came as a welcome relief. While the said package indeed contains a lot of stimulants, it revolves mainly around tax exemptions while ignoring a few fundamental obstacles faced by the construction sector at the very basic level relating to the launching and commencement of a project. Unless these hurdles are removed, not even a single project could be initiated that would be able to avail the inducements offered by the PM’s package, hence destroying its very purpose. The situation in district Sargodha is a case study in point.
Let’s start from the very basics. In order for a project to commence, it has to be approved by the concerned local governmental body of the district. Since, currently the local governments are not functional, this whole approval mechanism is under the control of the district administration headed by the Deputy Commissioner. After a cumbersome process of completing the paperwork which in itself involves a number of government departments, from Irrigation Department to Environment Department and many others in-between, the approval file is presented in a committee formed specifically for this purpose called the District Planning and Design Committee (DPDC) which is chaired by the worthy Deputy Commissioner who has the last word on the fate of any project.
Now this DPDC also has two stages meaning thereby, every project has to be presented in the meeting twice, which are as follows:
1. PPP – Preliminary Planning Permission’
2. Technical Scrutiny
Furthermore, even if a project miraculously gets the nod from the DPDC, it still needs at the third stage, a Form-E, again issued by the district government and signed by the Deputy Commissioner to finally initiate the project.
In district Sargodha, this meeting of DPDC, which by law has to be held once every WEEK, has not been convened for last two years as far as the projects relating to the technical scrutiny are concerned. This criminal inefficiency on the part of the district administration has left more than a hundred projects in a lurch. Simultaneously, the district administration has banned registration/transfer of plots in all such projects/schemes along with a prohibition on connectivity of basic utilities like electricity, gas etc. As a result, on the one hand floodgates of corruption have been opened whereby the underhand transfer of plots by Patwaris is continuing who demand huge bribes leading to a loss of millions to the government exchequer, and on the other the whole construction sector has come to a standstill adding to the economic woes of the country in general and people of Sargodha in particular. Moreover, this situation has also discouraged overseas Pakistanis who channel most of their foreign remittances in this sector.
Despite repeated appeals and representations to successive Deputy Commissioners, the plight of the construction sector of Sargodha remains unchanged. The meeting of the DPDC is postponed on one pretext or the other and the corruption continues unabated. Unless this bureaucratic red tape is cut and the district administration is compelled to perform its functions and duties, the vision of the PM for the revival of the construction sector would only remain a distant dream.

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