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Computerisation of land records in Punjab has done away with the corruption associated with the land deals done in the province. But, unfortunately, the reprehensible “patwari culture” continues to rule the rest of the country. Its corrupt tentacles are so deep that last week the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the supreme anti-corruption body in the country, took its three former officers to an accountability court of Islamabad on the charge of misusing their authority in a land dispute case involving billions of rupees.

That happened after the Supreme Court ordered the NAB in May last year to investigate the complaint of a citizen that the senior NAB officials had illegally taken over the inquiry into the land dispute from the Anti-Corruption Establishment.

There is another case where the NAB is alleged to have delayed action on a specific request, made to it in August 2015, to inquire into its officers conniving with the corrupt elements in the Ministry of Commerce Employees Cooperative Housing Society (MCECHS) in Sector E-19 of Islamabad. Members of the society complain that NAB did not go after those officials of the accused officials of the society’s management although evidence was submitted proving their allegations.

Instead, they claim the NAB investigators have interrogated those members of the society whose names and documents were used by the accused, without their knowledge, in their corrupt practices.

Launched in 1987, the MCECHS is yet to be developed fully for its 7,000 members. Some of the 1,800 members who have been allotted plots in the meantime died before the stage of actual possession of plots arrived.

In their complaint to the NAB, disgruntled members of the MCECHS allege that those running the society’s present managing committee got elected by manipulating the October 11, 2011 election in connivance with the then officials of the federal capital administration, including the circle registrar and assistant registrar of the cooperative society department Islamabad. In return, the complainants allege, the conniving officials got plots in the name of their family members.

According to the complaint, the president of the managing committee was a driver before joining the society and embezzled some Rs700million in the office, and caused loss of billions to the MCECHS.

In 2014, it alleged, the committee and its president allotted 900 plots of the society to non-members by changing the details of genuine members. Majority of the fake members were relatives of the managing committee’s members and officials of the capital administration. Their names were not on the voters’ list for the society’s 2011 election but they appeared on the list of voters issue for the 2014 election, a fact that can be verified from the bank statements relating to the MCECHS members.

Indeed, many of the 900 allotted plots were not even born in 1987 when the membership of the MCECHS was opened. It was all done to enable the president and his brother sell the plots allotted to the bogus members in the market.

That way the brothers made Rs550million because the society’s price of Rs18,290 fixed for a one kanal plot in 1987 for the members went for many times more in today’s market. The fraudulent deals lost the society more than Rs450 million as it had paid Rs500,000 per kanal to acquire that land, said the complaint to NAB.

It alleged that the president of the society also transferred 94 plots on his personal guarantee without informing the original allottees, pocketing Rs55million illegally.

Similarly, the president and his collaborators forged documents of 225 plots, owned by members living in far off places or deceased, and sold them in market for Rs90million, the complaint stated.

In a deal they cut for 36 kanals of land for the society in 2012, the president and his henchmen allegedly embezzled Rs6.74million. They bought the land form a woman for Rs8.31million and, after 18 days, repurchased the same for Rs15million.

In another dodgy deal, the president and collaborators exchanged 140 kanals of precious land of the society located at Fatehjhang Road with worthless lands, causing a loss of Rs140million to the MCECHS for a profit of Rs42million to themselves, the complaint stated. That led to an inquiry by an assistant commissioner Islamabad, culminating in the registration of a case in February 2012, the complaint stated.

On December 9, 2015, Deputy Director (Coordination) Investigation Wing 2 Shehzad Phaphra, issued notices to the members of the managing committee society, asking them to appear before the investigation officer to record statements.

Investigation Officer Samina Rehman, an assistant director of Wing 2, was not available for comments. Director NAB Investigation Wing 2 Masood Alam, however, said, “I cannot reply your question about the current status of the investigation. I (will) have to check the record.”

Director General NAB Rawalpindi Zahir Shah would just say that the inquiry was on and advertisements have been put in newspapers inviting the affected people to help establish the facts.

When told NAB’s rules require such inquiries to be completed within 120 days of receiving a complaint, he said that period was yet to expire. The then circle registrar cooperative society department Islamabad denied to Dawn that he assisted in any way the MCECHS president to manipulate the election that he won in 2011.

Asked if he assisted the NAB inquiry, he said that as circle registrar he had appeared before the NAB in a number of inquires conducted over housing societies in the federal capital area.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2016