Minister assures Senate no contract will be given to FWO, NLC without tenders

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ISLAMABAD: States and Frontier Regions Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch on Tuesday assured the Senate that no contract would be awarded to the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and National Logistics Cell (NLC) in FATA without an open tender.

Baloch was referring to Senator Farhatullah Babar’s claim that the government has instructed the FATA administration to blacklist civilian contractors from carrying out development work in the area.

FWO is run by the Pakistani military.

Speaking in the Senate during a discussion on FATA reforms, Babar said the tribal areas should not be further turned into a military zone.

Referring to a letter regarding development work in the tribal areas, he said it states that civilian contractors should be blacklisted. He said FATA has work opportunities worth billions of rupees.

In response, Baloch said that the appointment of a grade-20 chief operating officer (COO) to implement the reforms has been approved.

“The implementation of the reforms will start as soon as the COO is appointed,” he informed the Senate. The COO will work under the governor, he said, adding that the army chief had proposed a civilian officer for the COO post.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said no one has reservations about the army’s role against terrorism, adding that in the past civilian governments have been interrupted by the military.

“When it comes to governance, transparency, and constitution then the army’s job is to secure the borders,” said Rabbani.

“Is the government ready to amend rules regarding the COO that no army officer will hold the post?” he asked.

The Senate chairman said the committee proposes that instead of the Islamabad High Court, the Peshawar High Court’s jurisdiction should be extended to FATA.

Baloch informed the committee they are bringing a wholesome law to replace the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

“The government is taking back the Rewaj Act [proposed in FATA Reforms Bill] after reservations against it were aired by the Senate members,” the minister said.

Taking the floor of the House, PPP’s Sherry Rehman expressed her disbelief over the misallocation of the PSDP saying, “The Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) allocation for FATA was only utilized by 60% according to the minister. This is quite shocking to hear that one of the most underdeveloped areas in Pakistan saw a Rs 40 million lapse.”

According to a recent UNDP report, the highest rates of poverty in Pakistan are in FATA and Balochistan. The report revealed that over 73% of FATA residents live in multidimensional poverty.

The senator pointed out that, “From the report, it seems like the FATA Committee did not consult women. Women in FATA are victims of both entrenched social attitudes that restrict their public and political space but have no voice in this reform which will greatly impact their lives. There needs to be a separate consultation with FATA’s women to make this meaningful”.

During the meeting, it was also disclosed that the political agent still had the power of levying a “cess” or tax.

“This is entirely illegal and unconstitutional and must be stopped forthwith because it only amounts to a plunder of the area. We demand a forensic audit of what the Political Agent has been doing. This money must be returned to the people of FATA for their development,” said Rehman.

“Despite the extension of the law to allow the Auditor General PR to review the accounts and funds, this is not happening. Corruption is not just rampant, it is endemic and widespread. Cess and rehdari is not supposed to be collected but remains embedded in the culture of constant informal arrangements,” she said.