CDA out of cash for Bari Imam project

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Nov 14, 2012.

Islamabad –  For four years, the Bari Imam Complex project has lingered on. Now, with more than half of the work for the first phase complete and money released for the remaining first phase work, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has found itself in a new fix.

It might not be able to provide its share for the second phase of the project.

According to a 2011 directive issued by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and CDA must share the cost of the project’s second phase, which is estimated to be Rs478 million. That is a massive Rs239 million liability for the cash-strapped CDA.

Gillani issued the directive during a meeting about the project in October last year, according to Ayaz Khan, the CDA’s director for the Bari Imam Complex project.

Khan said the CDA was granted the remaining Rs160 million for the first phase during the same meeting. The first phase of the project has an estimated cost of Rs255.8 million. It deals with the construction of the shrine building, its courtyard and a minaret. The major part of Phase 1, however, is the construction of a 252 square foot arcade building which would accommodate 9,000 people.

The ICT project, which is being implemented by CDA, started in April 2008. Its estimated cost, according to the project’s PC-1, is Rs641 million. The project’s second phase, which can only begin once the first is complete, deals with landscaping, road and electrical work.

Khan said around 60% of work has been completed in Phase 1. He was wary of the financial requirements for phase 2 though.

“The CDA finds it difficult to pay its employees’ salaries at times,” he said. “Paying for the project might be near impossible.”

Khan is going to move a file to get the Ministry of Interior, which released funds to the ICT for this project, to at least pay for the landscaping after phase 1 is completed. He said he would bring the matter to the notice of the Islamabad chief commissioner and the new CDA chairman before forwarding the request.

Meanwhile, signs of ongoing work are obvious at the Imam Bari shrine. Workers are busy in putting marble on the floor around the shrine. But that also means visitors cannot get closer than 40 feet from the grave of Islamabad’s patron saint.

Mubarak Ali, a middle-aged, bearded man wearing a green plastic prayer cap, works at the shrine. He said people blame the shrine administration for not being able to get close to Imam Bari’s grave.

It’s not the shrine administration’s fault, though.

Khan said the delays in the project are caused by the technicalities in payments from the ministry.

“The interior ministry has a quarterly payment mechanism for the project,” he said.

This means that if the ministry has to dole out Rs1 million for one year, it will do so in four instalments of Rs250,000. Khan said this sometimes hampers work progress because the money needed for the work is not available till the end of a quarter.

“We faced great difficulty in getting funds for phase 1,” he said. Tahira Aurangzeb, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA, asked about the project’s estimated cost during question hour session in the National Assembly on Monday.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik provided a breakdown of the two phases of the project. For the second phase, he said an estimated Rs225 million would be required, which is around the same as the 50% share, according to the former prime minister’s directive.

Rehman also said there is “no increase in cost of said project as a result of delay,” according to the text of the question hour available on the National Assembly’s official website.

Khan said the estimated cost is different from the actual cost, which only becomes known when the tender is awarded. He said the phase 2 tender process has not been initiated yet.

Just last week, Islamabad Chief Commissioner Tariq Mahmood Peerzada gave a December 31 deadline for the completion of the project. But the completion of the overall project depends upon the cash available, Khan said.

Unless the CDA finds a way to fund the second phase, the project will remain in limbo.

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