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Monthly Archive March 2017

Fundamental rights, Mobility Impairment & Accessibility

During 1st three months of the 2017, Chief Justice Lahore High Court has issued three important orders. These orders have provided a protection to the rights of disabled persons against the abuse by state institutions. In an order on W.P. No. 7572/2016 court struck down rule 9(ii) of the CSS Rules, directed govt to allocate two seats to the petitioners (visually impaired – bilateral blindness) in Foreign Service of Pakistan, as applied & qualified by petitioners,  even if govt has to create two new such posts. Court also directed the govt to formulate rules to offer all or any occupational service to persons with disabilities in All Pakistan Service and provide any assistive technology, where possible, to protect & safeguard the fundamental right of the disabled persons rather than ousting them from the service. On another Writ Petition No. 37499/2016 court has directed and the Census Commissioner confirmed that he will order field staff for necessary recording of the Transgender during the census and likewise W.P. No. 7122/2017 persons with disabilities will be recorded as well. With these three matters where court has to step in and determine, I wonder what we as a society are doing on same matter. Were the people managing Census 2017 not able to determine such a need or they simply don’t value it?

Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah observed that adequate provisions and reasonable accommodation is to be provided by the state so as the persons with disability can benefit from such provisions and be integral part of the society. Can you recall your campus life for a while and see if you find adequate provision of the ramps at entrance of a building and inside the building to assist a wheel chair user free movement? I found my own campus – Civil Engineering Department, UET Taxila – don’t have such a provision even if a wheel chair user has to enter a lecture theater at ground floor, let alone going on the 1st story faculty offices and class rooms. How about your office building in Pakistan? Have you ever noticed a ramp in govt or business building clusters where a wheel chair user can freely move without any assistance? I asked a friend about a relatively new University campus – University of Gujarat –  there are 8 academic blocks and all are few steps high than ground level and none of them have a ramp for wheel chair users. I am glad to share that a person engaged with the department responsible for new developments in UOG assured me that they are making all their new building blocks – academic, Library and hostels, very disable-friendly. I appreciate this effort by the UOG administration.

I believe our designs reflect the level of our care and concern that we have for the people with special needs. Although its duty of govt to ensure provision of such thing through its regulatory institutions, but are not our universities supposed to be more connected with communities and be more accommodative? Who knows how many wheel chair users turnout in next semester in a university? Will campuses provide ramps only when they have users at their door steps or wait for the courts to order for this? Or maybe if a petitioner reach out to LHC. Considering the above three orders, it’s very likely that CJ Justice Mansoor Ali Shah will go an extra mile if he has to protect this right.

All Govts including local govts need to place adequate efforts to ensure that built environment meets the requirements of disabled person and any public or business place is in as easy access of a disabled person as is for the others. Lahore Development Authority (LDA) building regulations in place since 2008 require the provision of a ramp for disabled persons in all buildings.  Other local authorities shall make such provisions if currently not. Considering the matter uniform in its nature and applicable to the whole country, comprehensive bye-laws on accessibility –covering buildings and roads – shall be issued by either Pakistan Council of Architects & Town planners or by Pakistan Engineering Council. Being engaged in engineering profession, I do not find any big financial or technical issue in providing Wheelchair access to existing buildings. Any good architect/engineer can design even detachable steel ramps to provide for existing buildings. However I find a big issue in our mindsets and our care for those in such needs. That, mindset, is where we have to work and raise our empathy and compassion to the needs of such people so they can join us in our daily business with ease and comfort.

 

Construction Standards & Quality

Construction industry in Pakistan is now growing faster than ever largely due to the participation of private housing developments. It just takes only a Sunday newspaper to realize the status of real-estate development in the country against any other business sector just by measuring the centimeters of allocation to each sector by advertisers. Taking a look at the local dispatch/consumption of the cement, one can clearly see a continuous rise since 2001 to date with exception at two years.  9.93 Mn tonnes of cement consumed in FY 2001-2002 has reached to 33 Mn. Tonnes in FY 2015-2016. Dewan Cement CEO has been quoted saying that 70% of the cement is consumed by real-estate and builders while only 30% goes for infrastructure developments.  This raise in construction activity has attracted me to look at the construction standards and quality in the country and for this I turned to Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) to understand, as apex body in the field, what PEC has contributed to ensure and raise the construction standards and quality.

PEC is mandated to set and maintain the standards of professional (engineering) competence, regulate the quality and practice of the engineering profession.  Leaving the education part aside, for  engineering practice PEC has issued some bye-laws of three categories: Companies registration (consultant & contractor) , Building Design Codes including supplementary seismic & energy provisions and   Engineering practice exam & professional development.  In addition to these, a set of standard bidding documents has also been issued that mainly address the matters pertaining to selection process and procedures of procuring the engineering services under various forms of contract. There are certain areas where PEC bye-laws are either confusing or totally missing.

Irrespective of what has been covered or totally missing in existing PEC regulatory documents, there is a need that construction industry regulations committee (CRIC) come forward with an active set of bye-laws to put in place the clear standards for the Engineers (standard for companies separate) involved in Engineering Design, Supervision and execution of the engineering works. One such set can be called Minimum Standards for persons and design of engineering works.  The design team of an engineering work/system shall be led by a person having passed EPE exam, duly registered as Professional Engineer, authorized to design and Sign (take responsibility) of an engineering system in a respective domain of Civil, Structure, Mechanical, Electrical and all other specialties for which PEC conducts EPE. Such a team leader can be called Qualified Person (QP-as is in Singapore).  To put in place competitive and higher standards of engineering design, requirements of a Qualified Person’s experience may vary in terms of years & complexity of the projects he has been involved.  The committee with due consideration of the existing capabilities of the professional engineers in the country and standards it wants to achieve,  a framework for the requirements of a Qualified Person and his team can be developed for and based on  project profile codes & Project value – Project profile code is a list of project types already developed by PEC. The same set can cover the building codes to be used for the design and other statutory requirements to be place so as to achieve a higher quality in engineering design. Organizing  & regulating the individuals involved in design of engineering systems will help to raise the overall national competency in design of engineering system and will enable our local consultant companies to compete globally.  Further, such a dedicated regulatory framework will assist us to continuously raise our competency level against other countries and will help other countries to understand our competency levels in design of engineering systems in terms of the scale and complexity thus creating more collaborative and competition opportunities of our engineers.

Likewise for supervision of engineering works, the committee shall come up with Minimum Standards for persons and supervision of engineering works.  I was amazed to see LDA rule requiring 10 years’ experience of a Resident Engineer for supervision of a 3 story building whereas with same years of experience in Singapore one is allowed to supervise as Resident Engineer a project over $100 million with 6 buildings and each of 15+ stories also include supervision of substation and multistory car park. We need to have some minimum but rational standards that can be basis of our engineering supervision.  This set, like above, based on the project value, area and complexity may determine and set the minimum number of engineers or diploma holders require for the supervision. Further, instead of generality using some rational, it shall also place the years of experience required for each supervision team member. The team leader can be called Qualified Person (supervision) for whom, committee considering various attributes can determine the minimum requirements and also can provide the mechanism of his autonomy and coordination with other project stakeholders.

In addition to the Design & supervision teams, Execution team or the contractor is the one key stake holder. Competencies of the contractor team are paramount in for overall project cost and quality. So in addition to put framework of competencies for the contractor personnel’s and the work quality, it’s important if we regulate the non-engineering staff engaged in the engineering work. This may not fall under preview of the PEC however PEC may consider coordinating actively with other relevant departments and assisting to set the competency framework for various trades involved in engineering works. Regulating and improving the competencies of the non-Engineers supervisors or laborers involved in an engineering work can help us to improve the quality of our workforce  and such well-trained and high competency workforce can improve the overall work quality at home and is a ready asset for export to other countries.

In view of the above, I request the PEC Committees on Construction Industry Regulations and on Acts & Bye-Laws to review the existing bye-laws to make them more simple and clear for general understanding for the engineering community and also to consider having separate bye-laws as proposed above to raise the competency levels of the engineering community. Setting and enforcing such minimum standards on quality and number of engineers for an engineering project will certainly increase the employment opportunity as well.

 

Regulation or Business

Shall Govt be engaged in business? Is the question I been thinking about lately. I have reached to a conclusion that YES – yes Govt shall do business and as such that business profits can supplement its expenditures and in proportion reduce the tax collection from the lower income people currently in tax net. The more govt grow its business the more it can raise the bar of taxable income. I believe that Govt’s primary job is, and shall be, regulation/administration and not the business. Then how shall govt do the business?  – Singapore Model. Pakistan Govt shall follow the Singapore Model. PTI’s Asad Umar, in PTI’s Economic Policy – GE 2013, has highlighted a similar intention under “Institution Reform Emergency” for Govt businesses if PTI forms the Federal Govt.  In his TV talk he referred to Singapore’s Temasek & Malaysia’s Khazanah as an example.

Temasek Holdings is a Singapore Govt’s Holding & investment company managing companies & businesses of the govt with current net portfolio value of S$ 242 billion. Before Temasek Holdings, govt used to manage the govt owned companies just like our companies today. Temasek holding is a company registered just like any other private holding company in Singapore and pays taxes like any other company and is governed under the same rules as other companies in Singapore. This arrangement provides a level playing field to all be it government affiliated company or else. Temasek is protected to the extent of appointment of its 14 board members,  its CEO and its past reserves under the constitution of Singapore. The executive authority of the country, and the sole shareholder of the company, Ministry of finance, has absolutely zero involvement in Temasek’s investment, divestment or other business decisions.  Just like any other company, Temasek’s sole shareholder, ministry of finance, has right to appoint or remove a board member but with concurrence of the President of Singapore. Board also needs concurrence of the President to appoint or remove the CEO.  A very strong constraint is placed by constitution on right of the govt to company’s money even though govt is the sole shareholder.  The day new cabinet swear-in , all reserves of Temasek on that day become “Past Reserves” and new govt or current govt cannot draw any amount from the past reserves of the company thus protecting the national assets even if there is a change in govt.

In Pakistan, our state-owned companies and enterprises are managed by the state to a variety of degree from one company to the other. I have Listed 108 companies – and there are even more – and they all have officers from Civil Services of Pakistan at various roles – From Board Member to the Managing Director of the company. Where it attracts the conflict of interest, it also overlaps the state role simultaneously as regulator and the business operator. Separation of the commercial interests of the state from its regulatory responsibilities is not something new to Pakistan or either to the Govt itself. Government Holdings (private) ltd company was established in 2000 under Ministry of  Petroleum and Natural Resources with intent to separate “regulatory & commercial interests”.

Our Govt shall also establish, as sole shareholder, independent holding company (ies) so as to manage the affairs of Govt’s commercial interests separately from its regulatory responsibilities. Considering our political culture, the best way possible is to create such holding company through an act of parliament, say a State Owned Enterprise Holding & Management Company (Establishment) Act, and place it under all regulatory requirements in force for the time being. Appointment of the board members can follow the procedure as adopted in KP Ehtesaab commission. A joint search & scrutiny committee of the parliament can be mandated to find and appoint the board members for the holding company and the board subsequently can appoint CEO of the company. The company so created shall be given complete freedom to any investment, divestment and any other business decision completely independent from any state institution/office and subject to the regulatory requirements in place.  Taking the “Past reserve protection”  philosophy as in Singapore’s constitution, such a protection be placed on assets of the company so created and on its subsidiaries to prevent any direct or indirect encroachment from the current govt in office.  In this act shall also empower the company so created to have power to appoint board members to its subsidiaries and any such power essential to ensure efficient and transparent corporate governance in all subsidiary companies. The same act shall clearly define and place the limits to the relationship of Govt as sole shareholder and the holding company as some second layer of security exclusively being the Public money at risk.

Another act of parliament, say State Owned Enterprise Holding & Management Company (Taking over enterprises/companies) Act can be introduced to transfer existing companies under various ministries/divisions under the management control of the newly established holding company. This act may facilitate the transfer of commercial entities along with their assets & liabilities in stage wise manner so as to have reasonable time for holding company to prepare for the new administration. Although current Companies Act have provisions on relationship of holding company & its subsidiary, however here being a public companies the act can be more elaborative and rigorous to set out the limits to which holding company can exercise its powers in terms of assets and liabilities of the subsidiary company.

I suggest that our provincial govts can also shift to the concept of service provision or management companies to corporatize and to improve the service delivery by creating and playing in a competitive environment. Separating corporate interests of the govts can significantly reduce the chance of abuse of merit and corrupt practice thus improving overall transparent working environment and generating efficient revenue streams for the govts. I believe such an arrangement can also reasonably attract the private and foreign investments in state-owned but privately held companies and contribute to the growth of the company and economy.

#TransPeshawar – The Difference

Finally, when approaching to the end of her 1st term, KP govt is going to start her own shiny & visible project – TransPeshawar. Peshawar Sustainable Bus Rapid Transit System is supposed to be operational near the election time. Very significantly KP Govt has spent so for its all efforts mainly towards institutional development. FAFEEN legislative tracker has reported that KP Assembly has passed the highest number of bills, 33, on Institutional reforms theme followed by Local Government & Good Governance theme with 17 bills. With regard to investing public monies, KP Govt is spending initially a good amount on Health & Education sector where public satisfaction is visible through their direct feedback in various TV shows conducted on ground among residents.

CM KP, Pervaiz Khattak recently has chaired a meeting and directed to complete the construction tendering process by end of April 2017. Construction is supposed to go in 3 packages simultaneously. FWO has already started working on utilities & service roads realignment to adjust with new TransPeshawar corridor. TransPeshawar is unique with other 3 BRT Metros in Pakistan in terms they way its to operate. Lahore/Multan & Rwalpindi Metros have a fixed corridor length and “air-conditioned” buses operate within that particular length. In contrast to that, TransPeshawar is designed for 8 different routes with an accumulated route length of 175Km and serving 131 bus stops along these 8 routes. TransPeshawar will serve 31 bus stops on-corridor and 100 new bus stops off-corridor. Other metros in Pakistan pick & drop the passengers from bus stops on the specialized corridor only whereas TransPeshawar is designed to pick & drop the passengers both on & off-corridor. 7 routes will operate as off-on-off-corridor sequence which will increase the utility of specialized corridor. Only 1 route will operate purely on-corridor just like other Metros in Pakistan. On Average all 57% route length of these routes will be on-corridor and 47% off-corridor. This arrangement significantly improves the utilization of the specialized corridor.

Multan Metro bus has started its operations with 35 buses  , with 68 for RWP/Islamabad and Lahore metro started with 45 buses. TransPeshawar is aiming to operate 383  buses of nearly same configuration as of Multan/Lahore on 8 routes throughout the city. The specialized corridor will have controlled entry and exit points for its 7 routes that will operate as off-on-off corridor. All 31 bus stops on-corridor are designed to provide park & ride facility. Bikers can park their bicycles on the station and take the bus to their destination. Similarly park & ride facility is provided for car drivers as well. There are 3 park & ride facilities each with a car parking capacity of 72, 90 & 100 cars and these facilities are located Hayatabad, Chmkani and Dabgari Garden. While its worth appreciating to provide park & ride facility to encourage the public transportation over private cars, more important is our attitudes. Can we prefer public transport over private? Will this affect our reputation in society? Other measures like increasing parking fee in areas near to on-corridor bus stops may help to some extent. However preference of TransPeshawar usage is directly proportional to the riding quality & efficiency & reliability of same. The graph below can give you an idea about how much of a route length will be served by the specialized corridor and how much of it will be off the corridor.

TransPeshawar ,

TransPeshawar, in addition to the infrastructure directly assisting for operations, will also be developing commercial chops to stream in a parallel revenue stream. Scattered to various location along the corridor, it will be developing 1100 shops for rental purposes. The affected vendors, shop owners affected by this project were consulted and they are keen in getting formal business spaces developed under this project as a settlement for their loss.  A key stake holder in development of this project is private public transport operator. PDA is presently in negotiations with private operators to chalk out the plan to accommodate their workforce and assets. TransPeshawar plan to employee the workforce currently engaged in transport business on priority to minimize their risk. Old buses may continue to operate in other areas of the city or to other cities. Other stake holders especially the households affected by this project have been consulted already and a livelihood resettlement plan has been prepared to compensate them.

Both Punjab & KP govts have different allocations and I also couldn’t find the cost estimates of various components of the Punjab MRTs. Further also TransPeshawar is different in its infrastructure, so in my opinion an eye-to-eye comparison based on cost for this will neither be a logical nor fair. The table below however can give you a good idea on why both Govts have different allocations. As u go down to compare, take note that Islamabad metro cost is reported to be Rs. 44.8 billion and KP has estimated of Rs 57 billion.

The key source of all this information is EIA Report’s Chapter 3: Description of the Project

A presentation before PDWP shows some deviation from the above report. This presentation reduces the BRT corridor length from 27.5 Km to 26Km and increase the off-corridor bus stops totaling 180. It also increased the initial bus fleet from 380 buses to 450 buses.

This post has been updated on 31-3-2017 and will continue to update this blog once new information is available.