Failed projects and infringed human rights

Published: February 3, 2011
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The latest cockamamie scheme was to replace the light bulbs in streetlights around Islamabad with LEDs. PHOTO: EXPRESS

The CDA has been going through a tumultuous period since the incumbent government came to power, with budget surpluses disappearing amid overly ambitious revenue projections, delayed projects and overlapping organisational roles following the inception of CADD and the PM’s task force on Islamabad.

The latest cockamamie scheme was to replace the light bulbs in streetlights around Islamabad with LEDs, based on the argument that it would save money in the long term and reduce the strain on the national electricity grid.

The phrase you must spend money to make money goes back at least 2,000 years, and the civic body appears to be quite inspired by it.

The only problem is that it can’t even afford to pay the salaries of thousands of lower cadre staff, which are seemingly covered using loose change in members’ pockets.

This is in no small part because of the losses incurred on Park Enclave and other overambitious housing schemes hatched by the civic body, which were designed to cater to the ultra-rich, rather than the poor and middle classes. Of course, there is also buzz about the role it played in enhancing the viability of a seemingly failed private housing estate across the road, with the names of at least one well-connected front man for the private developer, and one former minster-cum-debarred lawyer continually popping up.

Instead, the CDA pushed ahead with the project anyway, with the rumour mill clamouring about the role of a close friend of certain VVVVIPs in pushing the deal through. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that the CDA chairperson and member engineering were reshuffled at a time when the deal seemed to be off the table.

Then came the formation of the PM’s task force, because apparently, career bureaucrats who have spend their professional lives managing city affairs are still not qualified to manage city affairs on their own. Or, somebody desperate for a constituency to run an election campaign needed to establish himself as a household name in the city, and because he was ineligible to be appointed as the CDA boss or any other bureaucratic position of use, he asked his buddy to help create a post for him, however redundant it may make the already existing post of CDA chairman, and however much it may unnecessary drain the national exchequer.

Strangely enough, even with new CDA boss Farkhand Iqbal’s ties to the last remaining obstacle, the Planning Division, the plan still got shot down a few days back, with the planning division’s representatives just as astounded as much of the public at the cost of the plan alone.

The timing of the member engineering’s removal suggests that he took the bullet for the failed proposal, though the CDA spokesperson denied this.

What rights?

A separate story, run with the headline “Man robbed of land and asked to apologise”, seems to be something written by the gods of irony, if only the headline were more apt, maybe something like “Human rights minister’s uncle infringing on sickly old man’s human rights”. For anyone who missed it, an uncle of the PM’s Human Rights Adviser Mustafa Nawaz Khokar, Mr T, apparently helped ‘acquire’ land from an elderly man who refused to sell it to a housing developer, which itself is owned by the publisher of an Urdu newspaper.

Incidentally, after meeting the old man, I am quite sure he wasn’t crying wolf, especially considering the buzz around Mr T’s role in a number of land deals that fall in the not-quite-legal category, including those to the benefit of a housing colony whose name rhymes with the same animal.

Since many elements of the media are rumoured to be on the payroll of real estate tycoons anyway, this represents great progress for the media, as the middleman has been eliminated. In this case, almost literally. Incidentally, Mr T was also believed to be involved in the dirty dealings across the road from Park Enclave. Food for thought.

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

The author is a senior sub-editor on the Islamabad Desk and also reports on diplomatic events. He tweets as @vasghar (twitter.com/vasghar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.