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Official faces action for receiving kickbacks

Updated July 14, 2013

ISLAMABAD, July 13: While it is unclear if the new government will order any action based on the findings of the Abbottabad Commission report, Dawn has learnt that the prime minister recently initiated proceedings against an official who for three years used the ‘cover’ of the ISI to receive kickbacks from private contractors.

Talha Mohammad, a grade 20 additional director general of the Department of Communication Security (DCS), was facing multiple allegations since 2008 when he was made the head of the department.

The DCS is an attached department of the cabinet division but it works under the technical control of the ISI.

The department provides production, evolution, printing, and distribution of cipher systems (secret messages/codes) to cipher users, including the armed forces and intelligence agencies.

How the scandal came to light

On November 27, 2012, the Auditor General of Pakistan pointed out some irregularities in the affairs of the DCS and recommended action against its head “for not providing facility and inspection of record of the Staff Welfare Fund.”

His recommendations came because during DCS’ audit, Talha allegedly did not provide any details of the Rs2.9 million Staff Welfare Fund.

As a result of the AGP’s findings, the cabinet secretary constituted a fact-finding inquiry which comprised additional secretary cabinet division Arshad Ali and Brigadier Mohammad Farooq Murawat of the military wing of the cabinet division.

During the inquiry, a number of irregularities were highlighted. For instance, it was discovered that the main source of the welfare fund was kickbacks that the DCS received from the private contractors and venders by insisting them for paying some amount in cash at the time of awarding tenders for different purchases.

It found that “Mr Talha… received kickbacks from the vendors but neither deposited them in the bank nor entered [them] in the Staff Welfare Account register,” according to the inquiry report (available with Dawn).

The fact-finding committee also pointed out that “maintenance of such type of Staff Welfare Fund is a clear violation of rules”. The report maintained that under rule 9 of Government Servants (conduct) Rules 1964, raising of such fund was not allowed.

According to the fact-finding report, the DCS management also received kickbacks from a private firm, M/s Sigmen, for procuring a security system that malfunctioned soon after installation. It cost Rs2.2 million.

An unhealthy nexus

The report did not just highlight the wrongdoings but also pointed out that Talha had a reputation for being involved in financial improprieties even before he was appointed as the head of the DCS and that his appointment was not made on merit.

The report added: “There were a nexus between Brigadier Riaz Arshad (former head DCS), Talha and Lt-Col (retired) Farooqi of the ISI,” adding that “Brig Riaz was the mentor of Mr Talha and while retiring got Talha promoted and placed him as additional director general so that his substitute could cover his back for any wrongdoings.”

The report alleged that Col Farooqi continued advising Talha besides providing him a cover to his wrongdoings, adding: “Finally, this nexus was broken when Col Farooqi was asked not to continue working for the ISI and was sent on retirement.”

However, the report did not explain how this nexus was broken and who took the decision to retire Col Farooqi. The official used the ISI name to escape accountability.

The report did note that Talha used the ‘fear’ of the ISI to escape accountability.

According to the report, Talha was an employee of the DCS but “he has been using the name of the ISI in order to hide his wrongdoings like … so that the cabinet division could not take any appropriate action against him because of the fear of receiving any ripple/reaction from ISI/GHQ.”

It said that “a number of reports against him in the last three years went unnoticed by the cabinet division because he was wrongly perceived to have the support of the DG (technical) of the ISI.”

It described Talha as a dubious man who was not suitable for heading a department that dealt with an aspect of national communication security. “Such a person can fall prey to any enemy intelligence agency very easily.”

The report also delved into the history of the DCS to conclude that these irregularities had become routine in the department.

The fact-finding report stated that “there have been a number of incidents of administrative and financial mismanagement conflicts and infighting in the DCS in the last three years.

A number of inquiries were initiated which remained inconclusive till date for reason not found in the record. The inquiry files were dumped and remained untraceable with no explanation.”

The PM finally takes notice

The departmental committee submitted the fact-finding report to the ministerial wing of the cabinet division in April this year but it took three months to reach the prime minister’s secretariat.

Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi on June 11, 2013, recommended that Talha be sent on forced leave for three months and also recommended initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him. She forwarded the case to the establishment division so that the latter could send the file to the prime minister.

On June 26, Nasir Mehmood Khosa, the secretary to the prime minister, finally conveyed to the establishment division that “the prime minister … has …designate[d] Mr Kamran Ali Qureshi as an authorised officer….to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Mr Talha Mohammad.”

Despite repeated attempts, Talha could not be contacted for comments. When contacted, Irfan Bashir, a liaison officer for the DCS, also refrained from commenting on the matter.