CPEC Projects Slowdown

You can’t go a few days in Pakistan without hearing a government official or department paying glowing odes to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and how it will be a “game changer” for the region. While the statement is undoubtedly true, the government – especially the executive arm of it – has not always acted as if it believed in the strength of the statement. As a result we have often seen CPEC related projects suffering from the same problems that befall our local government initiatives.

The latest project to fall victim to the government’s operational mismanagement is the $2 billion 660kV high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line from Lahore to Matiari. According to reports the Chinese company has all but stopped working on the project by drastically reducing the pace of operations due to various problems, including differences with the government over size of a revolving fund.

For its part, the government has decided not to enter into an agreement over another HVDC transmission line of 660kV (between Port Qasim and Faisalabad) with the company till the completion of the first line (between Lahore and Matiari).

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this specific project for Pakistan. The combined project, stretching from Port Qasim to Lahore will be the country’s first project based on direct current (DC). The line will have capacity of transmitting about 4,000MW of electricity; greatly alleviating the energy crisis once it comes online.

Yet, issues overs sourcing of spare parts, the governments delay in setting up a revolving fund for the project, as well as disagreements over the exact amount to be put in the revolving fund have ground the project to a halt. That is not the end of the government’s troubles; four coal-fired power plants in Thar, which were earlier scheduled to be commissioned in May 2020, are now expected to be operational by November 2020. The result – according to government estimates is – is incurring billions in loss, as the power line has become operational but the power plants have not.

Projects run into delays worldwide and disagreements over specifics are part of such ventures, but the circular nature of this instance – where the failure of one key aspect detrimentally affects another, setting off a chain reaction – is something that is specific to this government. The term “circular debt” is part of our daily lexicon and perpetually mismanaged infrastructure projects are infamous in every major city.

Before this delay becomes a permanent cause of failure, the government needs to act to ensure all energy related projects are working at maximum efficacy.

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