Rented accommodation for ministries costs Rs1b

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SOURCEThe Express Tribune
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ISLAMABAD: The national exchequer continues to bear the burden for Rs1 billion for government offices in rented space as the formal inauguration of the new federal government secretariat faces delays because of red tape and incomplete construction.

The project that started in 2008 to accommodate government offices, which are functioning in rented buildings, is still incomplete and may take a year to get finished.

Ministry of Housing and Works officials shared that over 10 government ministries and their attached departments are working in rented buildings.

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The construction of the new secretariat is still in jeopardy, nonetheless it has started to lessen the burden of paying the rent, which crosses Rs1 billion annually, according to the ministry’s document.

“It will take just about four months and it will be ready,” the ministry’s Secretary Imran Zeb told The Express Tribune but could not comment further when asked about the hurdles it faced.

The government in 2007 hired a construction company on contract to build a single block comprising two basements, ground floors along with nine floors covering an area of 769,200-square feet on Constitution Avenue.

Another senior official commented that former finance minister Ishaq Dar was the head of the committee which was to finalise the allotment of the new blocks and floors to ministries. “He actually opposed handing over of several floors to some ministries for some unknown reasons and kept delaying it,” he said.

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The construction of the new secretariat was approved at a cost of Rs4.8 billion and was to be completed in 36 months that is 2009. According to the documents of the ministry, 95 per cent work has been completed so far while the ministry has secretly extended the completion date to June 2019. This has been done apparently to avert the ire of the parliamentarians in the standing committees.

The auditor general of Pakistan in its report of 2016-17 raised serious observations over the tenders and award of contract of installation of elevators and other works.

However, the ministry and senior officials glossed over it and it has yet to sort out the audit objections in departmental accounts committee with audit officials.

A senior official of the ministry commented that the proper functioning of the secretariat will take more than six months as installation of elevators and air conditioning system is yet to be done. “I don’t see it will be functional this year as not only the construction work but the bureaucratic hurdles are the major impediments in its way,” he maintained.

According to the Ministry of Housing and Works data, there are currently over 13 ministries, divisions and their attached departments are renting properties occupying a total of 24,859-square metres of office space in the capital.

The divisions ranging from aviation, textile, privatisation, strategic export control, narcotics, information and broadcasting to the national food security and research are among the units being housed in rented buildings, stated the documents.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has rented a 5,200 square-metre office in Melody Market, which is the largest rented government office in the capital, they further revealed.

(This news/article originally appeared in The Express Tribune on July 9th, 2018)

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