ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to decide the fate of the Chancery Building, which houses the Pakistan High Commission in London, soon because a proposal to sell the high-value property in the heart of London has been on his table for some time now.
In June this year, the PM was given a presentation by the foreign ministry where it was suggested that the property be sold off because it could fetch the government a good price, given its prime locations.
Following the presentation, the PM constituted a four-member committee to explore the possibility of selling the building and using proceeds from the sale to purchase a new chancery building in a less-costly neighbourhood.
The committee was also asked to look into the possibility of engaging a commercial company that could convert this building into apartment blocks or use it for other commercial purposes.
Privatisation Commission head advises against selling prime property
However, the committee headed by Privatisation Commission Chairman Mohammad Zubair was of the view that there was no need to dispose of the building, located at 34-36 Lowndes Square, as it would only cause the government to lose a strategic property within London.
“I visited London and after in-depth discussions with other members of the committee, we are of the view that the Chancery building is located at an important location within London and hence shouldn’t be sold,” Mr Zubair told Dawn.
The committee has submitted its report to the PM and it is now up to him whether to accept or reject the committee’s submissions, Mr Zubair said, adding that if the building was sold, the Pakistani mission would have to relocate outside London. “I think that will not be a good move,” he said.
The committee has also proposed that an empty plot adjacent to the Chancery building be utilised for construction, if additional space was required.
Other members of the committee included Pakistan’s current High Commissioner Syed Ibne Abbas and, two known businessmen, Sir Anwar Pervaiz of Bestway Group and Sultan Allana of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.
When asked who came up with the idea of selling the Chancery building, a foreign ministry official said, on condition of anonymity, that it was “a mystery which involves Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi”.
Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah told Dawn that whatever the recommendations were the committee had already submitted them to the prime minister.
When asked who had made the suggestion, the FO spokesman said, “Who and how the suggestion was made to sell the property is purely an administrative decision,” adding that he did not have access to the minutes of the meeting where the proposal was floated.
Despite repeated attempts, neither Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid nor PM’s spokesperson Dr Mussadik Malik was available for comment.
The sale of Pakistani government property abroad last caused a controversy in the year 2000, when Pakistan’s ambassador to Indonesia made a mess of precious properties owned by the government of Pakistan in Jakarta.
Former ambassador retired Maj Gen Syed Mustafa Anwer Hussain, who was appointed by General Pervez Musharraf, went ahead with the controversial sale deal of the chancery building in Jakarta despite the fact that the head of the mission, Dr S.M.H. Razvi, had voiced objections to the transaction.
The matter was brought to the attention of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), and was taken up by Sardar Ayaz Sadiq when he was the convener of a special PAC committee, which investigated the sale of the country’s properties in Jakarta.
In the first week of August this year, Mr Sadiq had asked current PAC Chairman Khurshid Ahmed Shah to forward this case to NAB and FIA for further inquiries.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2015