Prevention is better than cure

Published: November 19, 2012
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Civic problems go unaddressed for weeks, lower staff goes unpaid for months, projects are delayed by years, and corruption has been rampant since the CDA's inception.

Not for the first time, a court order has gotten the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in a tough fix. After the Islamabad High Court ordered the formation of a three-member panel of retired judges to investigate allegations of corruption in the CDA, more than a few serving and former CDA officials would have broken out in cold sweats.

The CDA is not by any means a model organisation. Civic problems go unaddressed for weeks, lower staff goes unpaid for months, projects are delayed by years, and corruption has been rampant since its inception. The new chairman hasn’t been in office long enough to really comment on his efforts thus far, but he, like his predecessors, did claim he would clean up the civic agency.

Every new chairman has made that claim, only to leave it in a condition that is just as bad, if not worse. While there have been some bosses who did get some things accomplished, these heads have been exceptions to the rule.

Unfortunately, while the objective behind forming the commission is more than justified, the ability of the commission to correct them is in question. The civic agency, like most of the bureaucracy, has been politicised to an extreme level, with appointments, hiring and contract award decisions often based on political connections and the potential for kickbacks, rather than competence.

That problem is exacerbated by the fact that the political meddling is not always top-down. The CDA’s unions are believed to wield enough power to force the chairman’s hand whenever they please, and like most unions, they are organised well enough to ‘maintain discipline’ in the ranks.

Will they give the commission straight answers?

Given the risk of persecution at the hands of their co-workers, even potential whistleblowers will have to give it a good hard think before mustering up the courage to talk about the misdeeds of their co-workers and their superiors.

In fact, despite recent suspensions and reshuffles in the CDA, sources within the civic body continue to maintain that it is business as usual vis-a-vis corruption and influence peddling.

But the CDA and its well-reported misadventures are not the only problem surrounding the commission formation story. It would seem that the three members of the panel are due for very healthy compensation packages, with the chairman, retired Supreme Court judge Sardar Raza Khan due to get Rs3 million for three months of work with the commission, and the two other judges, Sakhi Muhammad Kahut and Baqir Ali Rana, due to make Rs1 million each for their services. The IHC had ordered the CDA to pay the trio within the upcoming week.

Now, the cash-strapped agency, struggling to pay employees or even keep the lights on in its office, has been stuck with a Rs5 million salary bill that it can’t afford.

Ironically, a couple of days later, the Senate was informed that the CDA can’t even fund its ongoing projects.

On that note, investigating the CDA’s cash flow woes is also part of the mandate of the commission, and will probably be one of the places where definitive answers can be found. However, it is not just about answering past wrongs. The (alleged) corrupt practices in the CDA are by no means innovative. Judging by past scams which were unearthed, a set formula seems to have been evolved, which relies on dubious tendering, political interference and a complete lack of due diligence. All this happens because of addressable flaws in the organisation structure.

If the commission can go beyond the reported scams and also look into these flaws, by this time next year, Islamabad might have a civic body capable of addressing civic issues instead of staffers cribbing about the lack of funds to perform its primary duties.

Read more by Vaqas here or follow him on Twitter @vasghar

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.