National Highway Authority (NHA) owes Rs. 330 billion, including Rs. 80 billion for the current fiscal year (2018-19), of non-tax revenue to the Finance Ministry, which contributes to the budget deficit.
This was revealed by Joint Secretary Finance Division Dr. Imranullah Khan while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Communications. The committee met with Hidayat Ullah in the chair.
A Finance Division official said that the government extends financing to autonomous bodies in shape of loans which they need to pay back. Since 1991, Rs. 350 billion was outstanding till 2017-18, besides Rs. 80 billion of non-tax revenue for the current fiscal year against NHA, which is not being paid and reflected in a budget deficit. In the current fiscal year, only Rs. 4 billion has been deducted from NHA as Cash Development Loans (CDL). During the last 30 years, NHA has paid back Rs. 100 billion.
Chairman NHA Jawwad Rafique Malik objected to the rules while saying that government first directs NHA for building roads and then says you have to pay back so many loans. He further said that NHA generates revenue from toll collection and Right of Way (RoW) fee.
Malik further said that government has to pay over Rs. 30 billion in liabilities under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the current fiscal year 2019-2020 to clear contractual obligations, as delay in projects, as well as an escalation in projects cost, is feared.
The Committee was informed that a total of Rs. 33 billion had been released until the fourth quarter. It was revealed that a major impediment in NHA’s work is the disbursement of finances in the form of loans.
Senator Ahmad Khan said that due to short releases to contractors, projects are being delayed and around 0.4 million people have lost their jobs during the last eight months. The committee directed the Finance Division to not cut Cash Development Loans (CDL) as well as ensure an early release to avoid project delays which are causing unemployment in the country.
Khan was of the view that a delay in fund disbursement leads to deferred work that gives rise to the escalation factor. This leads to a massive financial crunch that has affected the labor market adversely. The committee took notice of budget cuts and directed NHA to submit details of the schedule of payments issued to them by the Department of Finance.
The committee was informed that the previous government allocated Rs. 301.6 billion for NHA under the PSPD for 2019-2020, but the incumbent government revised it downward to Rs. 185.197 billion, and slashed the number of projects from 79 to 8. The government has released Rs. 144.45 billion to NHA in the current fiscal year so far including a major chunk of Rs. 110.697 billion foreign components; however, the government released only Rs. 33.75 billion against the allocation of Rs. 112.997 billion which is around 25 percent.
Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini said that the system of lending to a department for development is a major impediment. He said that an Act of Parliament must be passed against this.
The committee took strict notice of non-compliance of rules at Toll Plazas. Senator Moula Bux Chandio showed extreme displeasure at the attitude of staff at Toll Plazas on motorway especially at Hyderabad and said that small cars are exempted, yet travelers are harassed at Toll Plazas.
Speaking of billboards messages at Toll Plazas, Chandio said that these were an insult to Parliamentarians. The billboards read: Honourable Member National Assembly and Senators are not tax exempt. The Committee demanded that all such billboards be removed immediately.
While discussing details of Shabozai to Taunsa Road Project, the Committee enquired reasons for the delay despite 60 percent funding being released from the Federal Government and 40 percent contributed by the provincial government, Balochistan. Senator Usman Khan Kakar said that the work that was completed initially was compromised and that the Finance Department, as well as those involved on a provincial level, must be summoned in the next meeting.
While deliberating over the issue of broken fences on the Highway, Senator Behramand Tangi, enquired reasons for a delay in repair despite numerous reminders. Senator Fida Muhammad said many similar breakages can be seen on the highway fence onwards from Attock. He stressed the need for immediate repair since it was threatening the lives of local people and livestock. He also said that he is not satisfied with details of the maintenance and development work and complete details must be re-submitted to the committee.
The committee also expressed serious reservations over the poor condition of Motorway from Mardan to Swabi and recommended for early repairs and maintenance. The committee expressed dissatisfaction over NHA’s briefing and directed it to attend the next meeting with correct figures.
The meeting was attended, amongst others, by Senator Mir Muhammad Yousaf Badini, Senator Syed Muhammad Sabir Shah, Senator Muhammad Usman Khan Kakar, Senator Fida Muhammad, Senator Dr. Ashok Kumar, Senator Bahramand Khan Tangi, Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Senator Moula Bux Chandio and other senior officers from the Ministry of Communications along with all concerned.