Don’t let Riko Diq go to the dogs

Published: January 17, 2011
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According to the current estimates, the total worth of the gold and copper reserves at Reko Diq lies at more than $500 billion.

The Riko Diq deal has created a lot of hue and cry. Thanks to some conscientious petitioners, the matter has come to into the limelight with the judiciary actively investigating the viability of the deal.

Dr Samar Mubarakmand’s opinion over the issue has exposed what can be arguably regarded as one of the largest corruption scandals in the history of this nation. The Tethyan Copper Company (TTC), a conglomerate of companies, which claims to be undertaking the project in goodwill and bringing employment opportunities here, is currently the most probable candidate for getting the project. It had been sanctioned by both former President Musharraf’s regime and President Zardari’s officials.

Corruption’s new milestone

The problem is that TTC’s goodwill is evident in the fact that when the deal was being brokered, it initially offered an insulting two per cent to the government. Eventually, the deal was struck at some 25 per cent, even if the motives for the official end were personal benefits and perks, having nothing to do with national economy.

According to the current estimates, the total worth of the gold and copper reserves lies at more than $500 billion. The deal brings Pakistan a paltry $165 million a year – whereas it could be actually some $2 billion if no outsourcing was being done. The intriguing part is that the TTC intends to transport the ores in their liquid form through an underground pipe which will bar anyone else from estimating the real amount being mined. The ores will then be transported to Chile where they will be chemically processed and made hefty profits from.

A miracle for the economy

The worst part in this entire saga is that a project worth billions of dollars that can immensely help Pakistan with its foreign debt, is going to the dogs simply because of an utter lack of will. Government officials seem to love closed-door negotiations where they can dump all the workload on someone and get millions in return, even if that’s peanuts compared to what could actually be earned. This ends all chances of the project contributing to the national economy. Not only that, it also removes a huge employment opportunity for the people of Balochistan.

According to experts, if the processing plant is placed within Pakistan, ideally near Riko Diq, quite like the Chinese plant at Saindak, this would provide thousands of employment slots to locals. This single project may become the start of a change in the fate and fortunes of Balochistan. But like always, it is being negotiated by the government in terms of the bumps in personal accounts of officials and the rest is left to be damned, exploited and enjoyed by a foreign company while leaving the locals, as usual, in tatters.

Let the Chileans have it

The question is not whether or not the judiciary will go against the deal. In all honesty, that barely changes things. Even if the Supreme Ccourt rules for the project to be domestically treated, if the government is not a willing partner, it will still go to the dogs. Hefty resources will be poured and then left to rot , and if that’s what will become of it – if the judiciary and civil institutions can only pursue things to an inconclusive end – they’d better be left as they are. Let the Chileans have it, I say!

Govt scams and the need for transparency

If, on the contrary, the case is pursued so that not only is the ruling extracted against the TTC party, but the government too is forced to work fully on the project with a proper accountability setup installed, then the pains are worth it.

A workable plan was proposed by former financial minister Shaukat Tareen. According to him, even if excavations are done by the government, a company could be hired only to install and process the ores, a service for which it can then be fairly paid. Considering our lack of both technical equipment and personnel, this could be a viable plan and would leave government with no more excuses.

This and similar other scams from the state require a monitoring authority which should overlook the transparency of the governmental projects being outsourced and approve them before they are quietly ticked off in a clandestine meeting.

The absence of such a body is doubly damaging since on one side, it results in losses of God-knows-how-many billions of dollars to the national economy, thanks to corrupt officials. And on the other, it earns us a bad reputation with prospective investors from abroad. If we want to become anything other than a degenerate, dwindling third world economy, it’s time we got serious about it.

salman.latif

Salman Latif

A blogger who blogs at salmanlatif.wordpress.com/ and tweets @salmanlateef

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