ISLAMABAD, Dec 16: Polo Lounge is a plush restaurant at the Saidpur Model Village, and rather expensive.
But it does not serve well the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to which it owes its presence in the scenic village.
Dawn has learnt that the restaurant owes the CDA Rs1.4 million in unpaid rent for the first two years of four it has been in business.
If the CDA sources are to be believed the poor, cash-starved civic body hesitates pressing hard the Polo Lounge management to recover its dues because Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar part owns the restaurant.
And she has much weightier issues of national interests on her plate to deal with than look after her business interests.
“It’s a 24-hour job running a restaurant, and my poor partner has been running the show. I will make up for it when I get the time,” she had told Newsweek Pakistan in an interview published in August last year, when the Polo Lounge and the CDA were battling over the dues.
Until she has the time, it looks the Polo Lounge business will run as usual – paying the current rent.
CDA spokesman Ramzan Sajid declined to comment on the matter but a senior officer confirmed to Dawn that while Rs1.4 million remain outstanding against the Polo Lounge it had been regularly paying the monthly rent of Rs119,160 for the last two years.
In the meantime, the nit-pickers in the CDA continue moaning about what a loss their generous deal with Polo Lounge has roved.
A CDA official grieved that ideally the sites for restaurants in the remodeled Saidpur Village should have been auctioned instead of being given on lease. Polo Lounge’s monthly lease payment came to Rs119,160 – “a modest amount considering the market value of the place”, according to the official.
“What the restaurant is charged is just Rs60 per sq yd for its enclosed area and Rs10 per sq yd for the open area,” he noted.
Even more hurting was the disdain the restaurant showed to the notices sent by CDA demanding its dues, he added.
His ire however sounded hollow, when records showed that the “final notice to M/S Polo Lounge, licensee of Shop Nos C&D in Market No. 3, Saidpur Model Village” for the payment of outstanding dues was dispatched on July 15, 2010. On that date the dues stood at Rs1.07 million.
Another notice was fired three months later to remind “the licensee” that it had not paid up the due which had risen to Rs1.4 million.
Internal memos of CDA reveal that underlings suggested to the CDA hierarchy to cancel the licence of the Polo Lounge or the special magistrate of the CDA pursue the matter as he has the authority to seal the restaurant after putting it on notice.
None of these recommendations have been acted upon. And the whining of the underlings continues.
“Ms Khar was Minister for Economic Affairs at that time and had actively pursued the case of her restaurant with our bosses.
Her intervention came when the restaurant was pressing the CDA to get some repair and maintenance work done,” claimed one official who would not agree to be quoted by name.
But documents available with Dawn about the matter include one that has the official visiting card of Ms Khar pinned to it as well as an official envelope of the Economic Affairs Division as part of the communication which took place between the Polo Lounge management and CDA.
Polo Lounge was one of the many businesses which responded to an advertisement put out by CDA in May 2008, when Kamran ashari was its chairman, inviting investors to set up businesses at his remodeled Saidpur Village.
The advertisement looked for investors with potential to manage a business site related to arts and craft, antiques, boutiques and any other business.
Those interested were required to apply by June 9, 2008.
“But Polo Lounge’s application landed in the office of Mr Lashari on August 13, 2008. It was faxed from the Polo Club Lahore, where the first branch of the Polo Lounge was opened,” claimed one CDA official.
A month later CDA’s offer letter was on its way to the management of Polo Lounge in Lahore.