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For the government, the sharing of CPEC’s long term plan (LTP) this week may be a giant leap towards transparency, but in reality, especially for businesses and policy observers, it is only a small step. But kudos nevertheless for keeping the promise of sharing the plan.

The plan itself offers little new perspective. Anyone following CPEC, such as this column, could have weaved this document together from the flow of CPEC news and views being published since 2015: the three axis; the routes and the passages; the radiation zones; the functional zones; the key areas of cooperation and much more is already much reported and commented upon by this newspaper, and others. The devil lies in the details, and the details are missing from the LTP.

Granted that the LTP is to provide a “conceptual framework for CPEC”, but if this document was released just months after the CPEC agreement was signed, one could have given due leeway to the government for not spelling out the details. But released after such hue and cry, there were expectations, and aptly so, that the document would answer a lot of questions. Only that it doesn’t.

It spells out goals, but those goals are not ‘SMART’. And yet in some area it does offer the specifics. For instance, in the case of institutional association and policy support, the LTP specifically says that “the training of Pakistani technical status shall be strengthened for the construction and maintenance of major projects in the fields of transportation, energy and industry and agriculture. Pakistan shall select and send senior officers from governments at all levels, universities and enterprises to participate in the construction and management of related projects and learn from China’s experience”.

This and a handful of other examples like this, where the LTP offers ‘specifics’ in a document claimed to be a ‘conceptual framework’, makes one believe that either the two governments – Pakistan and China being co-signatories - have not figured out the specifics of other areas of the LTP, or do not want to share them. An honest disclaimer of at least the former would have been a giant leap towards transparency.

Sticking to the subject of transparency, the LTP offers no institutional mechanism for transparency, and seeking public opinion. Nor is transparency included in the list of five guiding principles of the plan. One of those principles have a certain heading called ‘openness and inclusiveness’. But a quick read of the explanation reveals that it’s only about being open to the idea of international community’s participation in the CPEC, rather than being open and transparent to the public.

“The planning and building of the CPEC will learn from the latest theories about and achievements of other international corridors. China and Pakistan welcome the international community to provide intellectual support to the CPEC by various means, international organizations, other countries and the international capital to jointly work on the CPEC building,” the LTP says on the subject of ‘openness and inclusiveness’. This sits well with China’s and Pakistan’s intentions to be open to loans of multilateral agencies and other international financial institutions.

There is a paragraph on the establishment of a database that will contain basic information of, as well as regular updates and indicators relating to, CPEC projects in a GIS manner. But whether the public will have access to that database is a missing piece of information.

What are other missing elements in the LTP? Follow this space on Tuesday as BR Research dissects the much-awaited plan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2017