As many as 18 water quality testing laboratories working under the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) – an autonomous body of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) – have become virtually dormant as its 158 scientists and technical staff have not been paid their salaries since January 2016.
About six years ago, the PCRWR had established water quality testing laboratories across the country with a cost of over Rs2 billion. However, the Finance Division did not release the Rs75 million meant for the salaries of the scientists and technical staff due to which the laboratories became dysfunctional and the Pakistan National Accreditation Council (PNAC) also suspended the PCRWR’s accreditation as well.
With the suspension of accreditation, PCRWR cannot claim authenticity and credibility of its reports on water quality and research and this is the reason the PCRWR is unable to examine the quality of water in the filtration plants installed by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) in the four provinces.
158 scientists, technical staff have not been paid in a year
However, a senior official in the council said that as soon as the matter related to staff salaries is resolved, PNAC will be approached for the restoration of accreditation.
The officials who have not been paid their salaries were employed against the project titled ‘Provision of Safe Drinking Water’ (PSDW) which was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council.
The project worth Rs1413.35 million was initiated in 2006 for a period of five years. The development phase was completed on December 31, 2015 after having many extensions in the implementation period.
A MoST letter dated February 25, 2016 conveyed the approval of 158 posts of the PSDW project to non-development (regular) side.
The Establishment Division on May 16 consented for regularisation subject to the fulfillment of formalities. The relevant PCRWR committee then interviewed the employees for regular appointments and forwarded the summary to the prime minister.
Meanwhile, some PCRWR officials filed a petition before the Islamabad and Lahore high courts, seeking direction to the government for the release of salaries. Some officials also filed an application before the Federal Ombudsman, which on Dec 15 ordered MoST to release the salaries. The ombudsman also asked the government to consider regularising the employees as well. PCRWR officials said the incumbent chairman Dr Mohammad Ashraf deliberately delayed the regularisation of PSDW employees as they were working in a project initiated by the former chairman.
PCRWR has spent millions of rupees on training its employees who have not been paid since January 2016.
When asked, the PCRWR chairman claimed the laboratories have not been closed as skeleton staff was available to run affairs. He did admit that due to non-participation of the employees, who are not paid, the laboratories could not produce desired results.
Dr Ashraf said the matter regarding the regularisation of employees was pending with the prime minister when the employees had gone into litigation which is why it had lingered on.
The council has closed the project to examine water quality in CDA and Wasa filtration plants as it requires a lot of money.
In 2010, PCRWR had reported that of CDA’s 33 filtration plants, 28 were providing unfit and unsafe water, which CDA had contested and had restrained the council from testing water in its filtration plants in the future.
Byline: Malik Asad
December 18th, 2016