EDITORIAL: It’s a shame that the M6 Hyderabad-Sukkur Motorway – the last piece of the puzzle in establishing a countrywide motorway link from Peshawar to Karachi — has hit yet another snag; as it has done repeatedly for the last eight years.

Yet news reports about the caretaker government allegedly delivering some “huge blow” to SIFC’s (Special Investment Facilitation Council’s) plans to attract foreign investment by terminating the contract for the 306km stretch of the road appear slightly exaggerated.

Therefore, this breakdown needs to be properly investigated, to see if there have been any irregularities, as is being claimed, and also to chalk out a plan to finally complete this project.

In its defence, the National Highway Authority (NHA) seems to cite the concept of sanctity of tender, since the concessionaire, M/s TECMC — a joint venture of local and foreign companies (whose contract was cancelled) — was unable to achieve financial close within the given period of six months from the signing date.

Then, on the request of the concessionaire, the period was extended by another six months, yet financial close still could not be achieved. NHA duly issued a preliminary notice/default notice, which required the concessionaire to remedy its default within a 45-day period. But the default was not remedied, hence the termination.

Yet there is enough noise and confusion, including allegations that NHA might want to award the contract to a preferred party, to warrant a quick and thorough probe, especially since the termination has raised the cost of the project by more than 100 percent. And now all there is to show for all these years is no work and a much-inflated price tag, which borders on the ridiculous.

It’s also very unfortunate that Pakistan’s bitter and divisive politics of narratives has played a role in diminishing public appreciation of road networks that facilitate movement of people, goods, services and ideas, only because they formed the core policy of one leading party and others felt obliged to attack and ridicule it. It was precisely such networks that linked cities, countries and regions with each other and triggered trade, commerce, even wars, over centuries and led to the creation of the modern world.

Even within Pakistan, the web of highways and motorways has made travel easier and economic activity much more lucrative. And once the M6 part of it is complete, the country will be able to charge transit duties on trade among other countries that will save time and money by passing through here. Such projects are national treasures and as such should be protected from all negative influences, including inefficiency, corruption and political victimisation.

One reason for M6’s cost inflation is the twofold increase in construction material price in all the time that it remained frozen. That should suffice to make the government realise that time is one luxury it does not have in this case. This project must be pursued with full seriousness as soon as the new government takes office in a few days. And this time, it must be made sure that the new deadline is not missed.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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