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Who is to blame for K-IV failure?

A technical committee to re-examine the original feasibility report

SAMAA | and - Posted: Oct 25, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
Posted: Oct 25, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

You’ve heard this story before. Mega infrastructure project is delayed. There is plenty of political noise on the technical points, with every other talking head suddenly emerging a civil engineer. The people of Karachi, who all this infrastructure was meant for, will eventually have two questions: why did this happen and who is to blame. We hope we have answered the ‘why’ in the previous section. The ‘who’ is next.

“Now the question is, who will bell the cat?” said one of the main characters in this story. I disagree with him. There is more than one cat.

Who will pinpoint the exact project director of the five on K-IV who made the wrong decisions. Mashkoor ul Husnain refused to be interviewed. It was on his watch that the route was signed off on.

Even if you manage to assign blame to the project director, what will happen when you look beyond them to their bosses who did not listen when they flagged a problem. The Sindh government inquiry report felt that project director Saleem Siddiqui may have brought up and written many letters telling Osmani off, but “it was his and his team’s responsibility to terminate the agreement with [it], if [it] did not abide with the terms and conditions and repeatedly fails.” UPDATE: In response to this point, by Oct 25, after this piece was published Saleem Siddiqui contacted SAMAA Digital to say that
 the “consultancy contract agreement for designing and supervision” was signed between the then KWSB MD Hashim Raza Zaidi and Lt Col (retd) Ajmal Rasheed of Osmani Company Limited in 2015. “I repeatedly informed the then KWSB MD through letters during my tenure that OCL was not up to the mark and [he should] take action against them, as it was in the ambit of the KWSB MD to call off or cancel the agreement,” Siddiqui said. He clarified that a PD does not have the power to cancel the agreement. 

Who is going to question the men who chose a clearly flawed route 8 because it goes close to Bahria and DHA City—if indeed this was deemed to be a motivation? Will anyone ask Osmani’s Lt Col (retired) Ajmal Rasheed, who was the team leader, and ostensibly working with Mr Zarris on the entire project. 

Secretary Mahesar’s inquiry commissioned by the Sindh government sheds light on how several levels of the administration were well aware of the problems. In fact, the FWO had flagged its concerns with the HQ 5 Corps Karachi.

What will happen to the designer Osmani based on what the Water Commission, Nespak, the FWO, a Sindh government inquiry and an independent consultant have pointed out were clearly bad choices and substandard work? Who will question Sindh’s local government officials (such as Ali Ahmad Lund) who approved a moth-eaten plan of the K-IV? He signed off on the cheaper option in 2012 as well after the CDWP rationalised the cost down from Rs29b. “As regards the role of officers of KW&SB and local government department who checked, approved and signed the PC-I in 2011, they also failed to observe due diligence,” he wrote.

Mahesar says that Osmani was repeatedly hired despite a conflict of interest (as laid down the Sindh Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules). “This needs to be further investigated,” he concluded. 

And what can we make of the fact that Karachi has not even won the extra 1,200 cusecs it needs for K-IV from IRSA. 

Who is going to say anything to the FWO? The FWO was sent 22 specific questions by email. They first said they would give me a proper briefing and answer all the questions, and then said that the ISPR would handle it because of their rules and regulations. I waited two months for an answer from the contact. I reproduce in this story the questions worth asking and if and when the FWO answers them, I will update this story.

In one scenario, what is likely to happen is that the current KWSB MD Asadullah Khan will say he will get the job done. He will go with the tried and tested K-III route and Nespak will be asked to take over and complete the job. Osmani will be booted out and an inquiry will be started. The FWO will not be faulted on any aspect of their work. In another scenario, Dr Bashir Lakhani will be asked to step in and the FWO and Sindh government will hungrily snatch at the solution he is providing. If I were running the show, I probably would too. He seems to be the only one with some credentials here.

As it happens, from at least February 2019, fifth project manager Assad Zamin started writing letters to Osmani asking, incredibly enough, for its 2007 feasibility report, its review of that report in 2015, the PC-I revision and third-party design check for K-IV. “[Due] to poor record-keeping in K-IV project, the said Feasibility Report along with other important project documents are not available in project office,” he wrote. “[T]he ex-Project Director never formally handed over the record and despite several letters, the record was not handed over.”

Such was the state of affairs that K-IV’s maps, plans, reports, were not properly digitised to build institutional memory. In fact, one allegation was that when project director Saleem Siddiqui was fired on Jan 31, 2018 on orders of the Water Commission chairman Amir Hani Muslim, he took off with all the documents in his pick-up truck from the camp office. SAMAA Digital was unable to independently confirm this, however. In fact, during his own tenure Siddiqui had himself and on behalf of the FWO also begged Osmani to turn over plans and studies repeatedly himself. This was documented in letters he provided to the Mahesar inquiry.
UPDATE: After this story was published, on Oct 26, we are updating it to include the point of view of fourth project director Saleem Siddiqui to the allegation above. “When the new KIV project director Assad Zamin took a charge in February 2018 he locked the PD’s office overnight and did not allow me and my staff to take back our belongings,” he maintained. “I have already registered a written complaint of this non-professional attitude of KIV project director Assad Zamin with the Water Commission,” he added.  

After all this wrangling, by August 2019, the federal government had started an inquiry through the Inquiry Commission on Debt in Islamabad. “The K4 project which was to be completed by 2025 in various phases is in a serious default and failure situation,” it said. “There is no likelihood of this project completion by 2025, which will have serious repercussions for Karachi water supply.” 

A technical committee is now sitting to re-examine the original feasibility report.

“It is actually a mega project which has gone seriously wrong,” said PD Assad Zamin. “The 2007 things are being fixed now. When mistakes are made in a mega project. Anybody can make mistakes. You can make them, I can make them. You have to rectify the mistakes but when you sweep them under the rug, in such a mega project if you try to hide mistakes it becomes a huge mess.”

Perhaps the mistake all these senior ranking decision-makers, well-paid consultants, engineers made was that they thought that no one was watching. What did they think, that if K-IV isn’t built in even 17 years and billions of rupees are spent, no one would ask what in the blazes had been going on?

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