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ISLAMABAD: The final approval of Darbar Kartarpur Sahib Corridor (DKSC), a project of over Rs 16 billion, constructed by Frontier Works Organization (FWO) from its own resources, has reportedly become a thorny task for the government, well-informed sources told Business Recorder. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony

(MoRA&IH) on May 18, 2021 briefed the Cabinet that the development of Darbar Kartartur Sahib Corridor, a flagship project of the present government, is aimed at realization of important strategic objectives.

In this regard, Prime Minister, in a directive of March 29, 2019, assigned specific tasks to the relevant organizations/ministries/provincial government for completion of the project by November 09, 2019. One of the tasks assigned jointly to MoRA & IH, FWO and PPRA was that the "case will be moved for seeking exemption from PPRA Rules". This directive was conveyed directly to the Chairman, PPRA. Accordingly, MoRA & IH moved a reference on August 28, 2019 for exemption from PPRA Rules through the Cabinet Division followed by a self-contained note of October 28, 2019, categorically seeking exemption under Section 21 of the PPRA Ordinance, 2002.

The Cabinet Division on September 25, 2020 stated that PPRA Board, in its 39th meeting held on November 25, 2019, decided that 'in view of already completed activities of construction, operationalization and inauguration, development of Katarpur Sahib Corridor (DKSC) the project does not merit consideration of exemption under Section 21 of the PPRA Ordinance, 2002', and that the Ministry should resort to negotiated tendering enshrined under rule-42(d) (iii) of Public Procurement Rules, 2004.

The concerned Ministry argued that the decision of PPRA does not take into consideration the peculiar strategic context of the DKC project and its urgent completion which precluded resort to negotiated tendering. Therefore, the Ministry of Religious Affairs requested the Cabinet Division on October 14, 2020 to impress upon PPRA to discharge its obligation with regard to grant of exemption as envisaged in PM's directive of March 29, 2012.

Religious Affairs Division, however, maintained that the opinion of PPRA is according to the legal regulatory framework, therefore, the Ministry may abide by it, and if necessary, place the matter before the Prime Minister for his order. Accordingly, a summary for the Prime Minister was moved on November 11, 2020 seeking approval to place the case before the Federal Cabinet for its consideration to grant exemption to DKSC under section 21 of the PPRA ordinance 2002. In response, the Prime Minister's Office stated that the Minister In-charge was empowered to place a summary before the Federal Cabinet in the matter, if he deems it appropriate.

Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony argued that it is an admitted fact that FWO had already completed the construction of the project from its own resources, pending release of funds by the Finance Division. Even CDWP and ECNEC had accorded ex-post facto approval acknowledging it to be "an atypical project, which cannot be approved through the applicable yardsticks of project appraisal". MoRA & IH had never had any option to decide on the method of procurement such as negotiated or single source tendering etc. It was of the considered view that the Prime Minister's directive of March 29, 2019, requiring PPRA to move a case, 'seeking exemption from PPRA Rules' was categorical and in consonance with section 21 of the PPRA Ordinance, 2002.

The case was therefore placed before the Cabinet, in light of Rule 16(k) of Rules of Business, 1973, for granting the requisite exemption and endorsement of all procurement done so far in compliance with the Prime Minister's decision/directive of March 29, 2019.

During a discussion, the Minister for Law & Justice drew attention to section 21 of the PPRA Ordinance, 2002 which envisages that exemption of PPRA Rules can be granted by the Federal Government only on the recommendation of PPRA Board. The matter, therefore, needed to be placed before the PPRA Board to reconsider the matter and recommend to the Federal Cabinet the grant of requisite exemption as per the procedure enunciated in section 21 PPRA Ordinance 2002.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

FWO

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