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Corruption in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a pilot project of China's giant 'One Belt One Road' (OBOR) concept which was envisaged by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, to build maritime and land routes across Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

CPEC is also a part of global connectivity, through infrastructure for economic development. The OBOR concept and CPEC plan was disclosed to the world first time by the then Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during his visit to Pakistan in May 2013 and a MoU was signed between Pakistan and China in July 2013 during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Beijing. The highlight of CPEC is linking of Gwadar Port located in Balochistan province of Pakistan with Kashgar in China's Xinjiang province through a 2,934 km long road.

Subsequently, President Xi, during his first ever visit to Pakistan in April 2015, had announced investing US $46 billion in over 60 projects of the CPEC in Pakistan and China-Pakistan had also signed 51 MoUs to felicitate the same. In the meanwhile, Chinese investment under CPEC has gone up to US$ 55 billion in four areas namely infrastructure, energy, Special Economic Zones and Gwadar Port. Pakistan government has also established a CPEC Unit in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office and the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Reforms has been assigned the task of executing CPEC projects in collaboration China's National Development and Reform Commission.

Although, the CPEC has been welcomed by entire Pakistan; ruling and opposition political parties; economists and planners, all describing it as a "game changer" for Pakistan, at the same time it has also been marred with several controversies including charges of corruptionon Nawaz Sharif, his family and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N). Nawaz Sharif has also been accused for monopolising CPEC as he had constituted (May 1, 2015) a special Prime Minister's Delivery Unit (PMDU) in his office to monitor CPEC projects, under the supervision of his daughter and apparent heir Maryam Nawaz. Furthermore, Nawaz Sharif has also been blamed for using CPEC for the development of Punjab (Pakistan) province while ignoring smaller provinces and also using it as a political tool for the next general elections, scheduled to be held in June 2018.

China realisesthe prevalence of corruption in CPEC projects, also knowing very well that Pakistan is one of top corrupt countries of the world. China is not only concerned about corruption in CPEC by Pakistanis, butby the Chinese as well. China, therefore, signed agreements with Pakistan to check corruption and maintain transparency in CPEC projects. Both countries signed (Beijing, May 9, 2017) a joint agreement called 'Transparency Agreement for Projects' to ensure transparency in the projects under CPEC. Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, Chairman of Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau (NAB), who signed the agreement on behalf of the Pakistani government accepted that the greatest evil which Pakistan faced was corruption, and NAB, with regard to CPEC, had formulated standard operating procedures to set timelines and reorganise workload. Qamar Zaman also revealed that a Combined Investigation Team (CIT) had been formed to ensure that the quality of work in CPEC projects was of high-end and short of any influences. Earlier, Qamar Zaman Chaudhry had revealed in March 2017, that NAB had signed an MoU with China to streamline and structure cooperation on anti-corruption.

Pakistan and China had also signed (Islamabad, May 1, 2017) an agreement for holding joint audit of "select" projects under CPEC in order to ensure transparency. This agreement was signed between Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP), Rana Assad Amin and Liu Jiyai, Auditor General of National Audit Office of People's Republic of China (CNAO) to improve transparency and accountability in executing of mega projects of CPEC.

Despite taking necessary measures by China and Pakistan to check corruption in CPEC projects, cases of corruption by the ruling PML (L) while executing CPEC projects have been occasionally reported by the Pakistani print media.

Significantly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had inaugurated two of the four highways, Package-I of N-50 and Package-I of N- 70, as part of CPEC in Balochistan in December 2015. It was alleged that construction of these two highways was awarded to the second lowest bidder viz Maqbool-Zarghon JV, causing loss of over Rs 650 million to the Pakistan government. Furthermore, no formal letter of acceptance (LoA) was issued for award of contracts for construction of these two highways before construction work started. Later on, it came into light that National Highway Authority (NHA) board comprising its Chairman Shahid Ashraf Tarar and senior officials of the Planning Commission and the Finance Division had rejected lowest bids for the construction of said highways without assigning any reasons. However, NHA official claimed that the it had awarded the contracts as per criteria set by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In another case of corruption in CPEC, it was alleged that the National Highway Authority (NHA) had awarded a Rs 148 billion contract to Pakistan-China joint venture firm China Railway 20 Bureau and ZKB of Pakistan for building a 230-kilometre section of the Karachi-Lahore Motorway under the CPEC and did not award this contract to the Pakistan army-run Frontier Works Organization (FWO) which was the lowest bidder. It was alleged that Rs 42 billion, which could have been saved by awarding contract to FWO, was pocketed by the elite of the ruling PML (N) party. Notably, FWO, despite being the lowest bidder and being an organization of the Pakistan Army was not given the contract as it was not expected to give commission and kickbacks to the ruling PML (N) party. This happened despite strict watch by Chinese authorities over finance-related activities of Chinese companies working in Pakistan under the CPEC project.

At times, Chinese companies engaged in CPEC projects in Pakistan are also accused of indulging in financial malpractices. However, Pakistan government, as a policy, ignores corrupt practices of Chinese companies and Pakistani media also avoids highlighting unlawful practices of Chinese companies.

In the first week of May 2017, officials of Pakistan's Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had attached bank accounts of The China International Water and Electric Corporation (CIWE). CIWE is executing a $1.5 billion electricity project, which on completion by 2020 would produce 720 megawatts of electricity. FBR's action against the said Chinese company was not taken well by the Pakistan government and Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reform, Ahsan Iqbal ordered (Islamabad, May 4, 2017) an inquiry over FBR's attaching bank accounts of the said Chinese company. He also barred the FBR and its field units from taking any action against any Chinese company working in any CPEC project without taking prior permission from the federal finance and revenue minister.

However, the then acting ambassador of China to Pakistan, Zhao Lijian had earlier vehemently denied (Islamabad, December 20, 2016) any corruption in CPEC and alleged that some people were maligning the project, whereas CPEC had support of most of people of Pakistan. While denying that Punjab (Pakistan) was the main beneficiary of the CPEC at the cost of smaller provinces, Lijian claimed that Balochistan had a larger share in the CPEC. He had also denied some reports published in the Pakistani media that China was using Chinese prisoners to work on the CPEC projects to save labour costs.

Earlier, Liu Jianchao, Vice Minister for the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention had claimed (Beijing, November 27, 2015) that his country would apply strict vigilance in execution of all the projects of CPEC and China was cooperating with Pakistan to fight corruption. While asserting that President Xi Jinping had adopted zero-tolerance policy against corruption, Liu Jianchao added that China wanted to ensure transparency and good governance in CPEC's execution.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's leading opposition parties and their leaders have been critical of corruption in CPEC projects and have accused Nawaz Sharif and his ruling PML (N) of the same. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of Pakistan People Party (PPP) described (Peshawar, May 16, 2017) the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan government as corrupt and incompetent and claimed that China was well aware of the level of corruption in CPEC projects in Pakistan.

Imran Khan, Chief of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) accused Nawaz Sharif for indulging in corrupt practices in CPEC and blamed his brother and Punjab (Pakistan) Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif for receiving kickbacks worth Rs 26 billion. Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, PTI's Punjab (Pakistan) Organizer had asserted (Lahore, October 10, 2016) that corruption was biggest threat in way of implementation of CPEC and alleged that the ruling PML-N was avoiding accountability in CPEC projects and warned that his party would not allow this to happen. While declaring that PTI was completely in support of CPEC, Muhammad Sarwar added that his party was not against anybody but corruption-based manifesto of PML(N).

Meanwhile, Dr Yasmin Rashid, Punjab (Pakistan) Secretary General of PTI had also criticised (Lahore, December 15, 2015) the ruling PML-N for corruption in CPEC. She had alleged that Nawaz Sharif and his brother and Punjab (Pakistan) Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif "cannot live without making money via corruption".

Despite the fact that Nawaz Sharif, his family and ruling PML (N) are accused of misdoings and impropriety in CPEC, the Chinese government is determined to support the Pakistan government and has dismissed all criticism in this regard.

In a direct support to Nawaz Sharif, the Chinese government declared that CPEC was working out "well". Since, the success of China's dream project OBOR is linked with the success of CPEC, China has also extended all unequivocal support to Nawaz Sharif and his government ignoring Pakistani opposition parties' criticism of financial irregularities in CPEC. Nawaz Sharif is also cautious of the fact that successful implementation of CPEC would definitely help him in successfully sailing through in Pakistan's next general elections in June 2018.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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