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LAHORE:
The Punjab Department of Communication and Works (C&W) is set to undergo considerable operational changes, in a bid to eliminate complaints of corruption and ensure effective technical and financial oversight of all phases of developmental works.

The decision comes after several reports of substandard quality materials being used in the repair of the province’s roads and government buildings, constructed annually at costs climbing up to billions of rupees.

In addition to that, the Department of Maintenance and Repair (M&R) Buildings and the Department of Maintenance and Repair (M&R) Highways are going to be abrogated and replaced by two departments of Monitoring and Evaluations and Special Initiatives, which are soon to be set up. Whereas, the manpower of the abolished departments will be deployed in the two new departments.

The road or building construction department will be responsible for its maintenance and repair. The proposed Special Initiatives Department is touted to introduce state-of-the-art engineering in development projects in line with international standards, as well as supervise public-private partnership and foreign-funded projects.

Until four years ago, the C&W department was also responsible for the maintenance and repair of roads in Punjab. This was until the formation of two new autonomous departments, including M&R Buildings and M&R Highways in 2017, following which the responsibilities were shifted.

Two officers of the rank of Chief Engineer were appointed as the heads of both the departments.

Under this system, maintenance and repair of more than 81,000 kilometres of roads in Punjab became the responsibility of M&R Highways. While M&R Buildings was made responsible for the maintenance and repair of all government buildings, with the exception of Judiciary Buildings and government officer’s residences (GORs).

According to a C&W source who wished to remain anonymous, the mega budget for construction of roads and buildings goes to the Department of Highways and Buildings each year, and officials there allegedly turn a blind eye to construction standards after receiving commissions.

“Maintenance and repair then becomes the responsibility of M&R, which only gets a fraction of the budget. Thus, there is tension between both departments, and M&R officials constantly complain of bearing the burden of alleged corruption and shortcomings of those responsible for the constructions,” the source revealed.

In view of such issues and on the direction of Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Bazdar, C&W Secretary Capt (retd) Asadullah Khan had prepared a plan for the restructuring of the C&W department and sent it to the government. The Law Department and Punjab I&C have both agreed to the proposal, following which it has now been forwarded to the Chief Minister’s office for final approvals. “There is strong possibility that the new administrative structure will come into effect from July 1,” the unnamed C&W source projected.

The official further revealed that the C&W Department has now sought details of ongoing projects, available resources and manpower from all concerned departments. Per information made available to The Express Tribune, the need for a new administrative structure arose out of the difficulties faced by M&R in properly maintaining and repairing the vast area under its responsibility, in addition to weak links between XEN at the district level and the local administrations. Most importantly however, it was the growing complaints of financial irregularities in government projects that pushed the government mull over a restructuring strategy.

According to the proposed restructuring plan, the new department of Monitoring and Evaluation will provide assistance to the government in development projects through technical inspection. The feasibility report of the development scheme will be scrutinized; design, construction material and quality will be closely monitored. Technical inspection and progress report of development projects will be prepared on a monthly basis while the department will also inform about any possible risk regarding the scheme.

The department will be headed by an officer on the post of Chief Engineer, followed by two directors, while the province will be divided into four regions with regional directors and separate deputy directors of highways and buildings at the district level.

The proposed Special Initiatives Department will also oversee public-private partnerships and ongoing foreign aid projects. While the department’s fundamental task will be to introduce the latest international engineering standards in projects, in addition to carrying out the work of research and development.

“The department will also be headed by an officer operating on the post of Chief Engineer, under whom there will be a SE level Director Admin on a Provincial Level. The Head of Six Wings (Contract, Projects, PPP, Foreign Funds and Legal, Finance) will be a director level officer, while deputy and assistant directors will operate on divisional and district levels,” the source shared with The Express Tribune.

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