ADB shows severe concerns about removal of project head

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has expressed severe concerns over the Punjab government’s move to remove the bank-funded irrigation sector’s mega project head.

The ADB has also recorded its reservations on assigning this key position to a XEN Shabbir Haider, a grade 18 officer, currently posted as Superintending Engineer, Panjnad Circle on his pay and scale (OPS).

Citing notification of 16th September 2022 the donor agency wrote to the secretary irrigation department Manzoor Nasir that the existing Project Director (PD) PMO Canals, Raza-ur-Rehman Abbasi, has been relieved from his duties. Haider (BP18) has been assigned this position, in addition to his regular duties as Superintending Engineer, Panjnad Circle.

In this regard, the bank has further pointed out the department on the provisions of the loan agreement signed between the ADB and the Borrower.

As per the contract, the Borrower shall ensure that ADB is consulted on all significant matters relating to the management and implementation of the project, including selection, appointment, or change of project director for project management office canals (PMO-Canals) and project implementation office (PIO) director to ensure continuity, transparency, and efficiency of management.

Moreover, the appointment of PMO-Canals project director or PIO director is not terminated and/or terms of the appointment are not altered in any material way until the third anniversary of such appointment unless a determination of serious misconduct is made through a due process; ……”

The bank has further asked to reconsider the replacement decision and to provide continuity to Raza-ur Rehman Abbasi in the PD position because the project is going through a critical stage. Abbasi was appointed after following the due process by the high-powered board (HPB) headed by Planning & Development Board.

It is likely to strongly benefit from his ongoing engagement to solve the critical challenges facing the project, the letter added.

The key challenge is completing the land acquisition and resettlement by December 2022 as agreed during the recent portfolio review meeting with the Chairman of the P&D Board.

Another challenge is concluding the forthcoming loan review mission, and reaching an agreement between ADB and the Government of Punjab on the revised project implementation plan.

A transfer of PD Raza-ur-Rehman Abbasi, while the project is facing these challenges, is likely to delay the project, the letter warned.

The source in the department revealed that Shabbir Haider XEN has been given the additional charge of the post of Project Director PMO Canal by the Secretary of Irrigation who is not competent.

The CM Punjab is the authority for posting or assigning additional charges to the Project Director (BS 20). They said that Shabbir Haider was allegedly facing corruption charges in Faisalabad and Sheikhupura canal circles.

He was arrested by ACE red-handed while he was posted as XEN Sheikhupura. Currently, he is also facing departmental inquiry under PEEDA Act 2006.

He was a deferred promotion by the Provincial Selection Board, during the last meeting. Now he has been given the additional charge for the new Jalalpur Project of more than Rs 31 billion which is being funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Panjnad Canal Circle, Alipur, Rahim Yar Khan is about 800 KM from the project site.

Shabbir Haider does not meet the criteria for the post of Project Director as an MSc Engineer is a prerequisite besides relevant experience. Moreover, the PD should also have the expertise to handle donor projects. Secretary Nasir didn’t reply to queries sent to him on the issue.

Javed Iqbal is a special correspondent covering the Punjab government with a particular focus on bureaucracy. He has unearthed a number of mega scams while working with leading media houses. He tweets @javedjahangiri and can be reached at javediqbal344@gmail.com.

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