Authorities of Pakistan Railways are reportedly bent on premature termination of a three-year contract awarded to a foreign company for containers’ handling at Azakhel dry port last year, although the matter is in the a court of law.

The move, allegedly on the nod of its minister Azam Swati, can be seen as an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Imran Khan’s efforts to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) in financially-strapped Pakistan, which already recorded 28.9% decline in FDI in fiscal year 2020-21.

A Qatar-based firm named Al-Zahid Heavy Equipment secured the three-year contract in 2020 and also cleared the initial payments.

However, the railways authorities issued a new tender for the same project abruptly in July this year with no valid reasons, leaving the foreign firm in agony.

Sources said that the action taken in haste clearly reflected the ulterior motives as efforts were being made to allegedly award the contract to a favourite company of the railways minister.

Aggrieved at the act, the Qatari company filed a petition with civil court in Lahore which issued restraining orders, barring the authorities from interference in Al-Zahid’s business. The railways later managed to get the stay order quashed.

On August 10, the international firm again moved the court and it suspended the orders issued by a deputy superintended of railways and the minister “to see the majesty of law”.

The company revealed in its petition that the government entity is receiving the “usufructs and the regular payments” from it as per the award.

On the other hand, railways officials claimed that they had issued the new tender due to unsatisfactory performance of Al-Zahid Heavy Equipment. But, the foreign firm contends that it was never issued any show-cause notice about the performance since the contract was awarded.

Furthermore, the railways move also violates PPRA rules as new tender cannot be issued until the previous agreement is expired.

This is not the only instance as such malpractice was also reported in Lahore where a contract for handling of containers was illegally awarded to Azam Swati’s alleged front man.

At the Lahore dry port, a company was handling containers on ongoing contract basis and it was ousted by giving the contract to another firm named Irfanullah and Company, allegedly owned by Swati’s front man, without issuance of any advertisement for the tender.

The move was revised after it got attention from media and a tender was issued for bidding.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Pakistan Railways rejected the report that the minister was favoring own people and said the Railways Ministry was trying to improve work, this is why they asked the company to vacate the dry port so that another firm takes its place. The spokesman said all this was meant for improvement in operations.