ISLAMABAD: Ministry of Water Resources has reportedly started consultation to remove three members of Indus River System Authority (Irsa), who allegedly resisted the World Bank's consultant's recommendation on installation of telemetry system project worth $ 4.5 million, well-informed sources told Business Recorder.

Water Division maintains that the installation of telemetry system on 7 different sites and flow measurement on 14 sites of Indus Irrigation System was conceived in 2017 to ascertain the actual flow of water which would help in determining its availability during different seasons so that its distribution is accordingly worked out. Funds to the tune of $ 4.5 million from the World Bank were placed at Irsa's disposal for design and installation. Irsa initiated the process of procurement to hire the consultant in 2018. However, Irsa realized that a top-ranked consulting firm evaluated by Irsa itself, was not capable of carrying out the project and refused to award the contract due to allegedly less satisfactory performance of the top-ranked consulting firm on an identical project under execution in the Punjab Irrigation Department.

Despite the World Bank's advice of October 26, 2019 and direction of the Ministry of Water Resources given in a meeting held on October 28, 2019 to Irsa to expedite the award of contract on merit and execute the project, Irsa, in its meeting held on November 4, 2019, insisted on cancellation of the procurement process and rebidding. The World Bank did not agree and rejected the proposal of re-bidding on November 14, 2019.

On January 9, 2020, Prime Minister, on a note to the Secretary to the Prime Minister directed the Ministry of Water Resources to look into the bidding process for procurement of consultancy services for installation of telemetry system by Irsa and identify as to whether there was any mismanagement involved in the process. The matter was probed by a committee with detailed terms and conditions.

The committee finalized the report on March 27, 2020. Some of the key findings of the committee are as follows: (i) the procurement process has been mismanaged by Irsa; (ii) Authority is collectively and individually responsible for mismanagement; (iii) there was no justification for scrapping the procurement process initiated for engagement of consultants; (iv) the committee has held members from Sindh, Punjab and Federal Government and team leader of the WCAP as primarily responsible for the cancellation of procurement process; (v) there is general sense of apathy among the Itsa members for the telemetry project. Any direction and intervention from the Federal Government/Ministry is perceived as encroachment on their autonomy; and (vi) mis-procurement has resulted in withdrawal of soft loan by the World Bank which has further delayed implementation of the project at a cost to be borne by Irsa from its own resources.

The findings of the Inquiry Committee were placed before the Prime Minister on April 20, 2020 who directed to share the findings of the report with Irsa Members for their views/comments and subsequently place the matter along with their responses before the Cabinet.

Water Sector Capacity Building and Advisory Project (WCAP), in a detailed response, strongly rebutted the assertions of Irsa and its members and submitted that a “contradiction" in the Irsa report of May 5, 2020 is very obvious as Irsa on the one hand claims that the “intervention made by the Team Leader WCAP was timely and correct in terms of saving public exchequer from being wasted" while on the other, blamed him for derailing the process.

Ministry of Water Resources recommended that there is a dire need to “weed out" the incumbent members of Irsa from Punjab, Sindh and Federal Government but also to strengthen the authority as a vibrant organisation so as to enable it to achieve its stated objections. And recommended that, the federal cabinet, in terms of stipulations under section 6(a) of Irsa Act, 1992, may consider and approve the following: (i) initiate the process of removal of incumbent Irsa members from Punjab, Sindh and Federal Government on account of their incompetence and failure to discharge their assigned functions; (ii) provincial government of Punjab and Sindh may be requested to recommend afresh their respective members; (iii) nomination of incumbent Member (Federal) may be withdrawn with immediate effect; and (iv) Section 4(4) of the Irsa Act, 1992 may be amended so that the reappointment of members/extension should be restricted to one time for one year only to obviate chances of retention of above 65-year retirees in the Authority which is, otherwise, violation of policy instructions of the Cabinet issued on October 9, 2007.

On May, 19, 2020 during a discussion, the members fully endorsed the critical importance of telemetric system in allaying the apprehensions of the provinces in respect to receiving their due share as per the Water Apportionment Accord-1991: It was, however, opined that due process for removal of members as enunciated in Section 6 of IRSA Act, 1992 must be followed which entails prior consultation with the provinces besides giving a hearing to the Members. It was further noted that some powerful vested interests did not want this telemetry system installed which could provide the scientific basis for water apportionment amongst federating units and therefore, all the members agreed that telemetry system should not be bartered at the altar of selfish interests. A resolve was expressed that installation of telemetry system should not be compromised at any cost.

The members also desired that an enquiry must be conducted as to who “sabotaged" the installed telemetric system.

After a detailed discussion, the Cabinet approved, in principle, the summary of Water Resources Division to initiate the process for removal of members strictly in accordance with Section 6 of IRSA Act 19.92.

The Cabinet directed Ministry of Water Resources to take immediate measures to implement the project of installation of the telemetry system without any loss of time and also explore the possibility to operationalize the telemetry system.

The Cabinet directed an enquiry into “sabotaging" of Telemetry System to be instituted for which a separate summary containing composition' of Inquiry Committee and TORs shall be submitted for approval of the Cabinet.

The sources said, Ministry of Water Resources has drafted inquiry committee's ToRs which have been sent to the Ministry of Law for vetting prior to submission to the Cabinet.

According to sources, the concerned Irsa members will also be given an opportunity for personal hearing so that due process is adopted for their removal.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020