EARLY one morning in May, several cars bearing green number plates screeched to a halt outside Zehri’s Sweets and Bakers on Samungli Road in Satellite Town. All eyes immediately turned towards the solemn-faced gentlemen exiting the cars. Standing briefly by the road, they looked around before marching briskly into the bakery.
None appeared to be prospective customers. Rather, they were representatives of the National Accountability Bureau, in search of a government contractor, Asad Shah, who’s said to frequent the bakery. Before Shah — who NAB suspected of having helped former Balochistan finance secretary Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani siphon off an estimated Rs1.5 billion from local government funds — could grasp the situation, the sleuths had already whisked him away.
“It all happened very quickly; they entered the bakery, grabbed him and took him away in no time,” one salesman recalled, almost one-and-a-half months after the famous ‘bakery raid’.
“More than a week later we found different channels’ TV crews gathering outside our shop and running stories of NAB having recovered millions of rupees Raisani and Shah had hidden somewhere in the bakery. They ran the story as if it was happening at that moment. It was a big lie but our employer chose not to mess with the media, despite bad publicity for his business,” he told Dawn.
The powerful anti-corruption agency conducted the raid only a couple of days after it had launched a massive investigation into the embezzlement of public money by Raisani, recovering Rs650 million in cash and in prize bonds from his residence — stuffed in luggage bags, cartons, a water tank and his car. The raiding team had also recovered jewellery worth millions of rupees.
It took investigators almost seven hours to count the cash found in various currencies — rupees, dollars and pounds sterling. Subsequent questioning of Raisani and Shah led the investigators to several properties in Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority that were owned by them and others involved in the scandal.
Shah has since become an approver and been released on ‘pardon bail’. Other suspects, including Shah’s brother Suhail Majeed Shah, also a contractor, and several government employees remain in NAB’s custody.
Mir Khalid Humayun Langove — the provincial finance adviser who resigned after Raisani’s arrest to clear the way for the probe — was also taken into custody on suspicions of involvement in the mega corruption scam.
Although the Balochistan NAB claims it had been investigating Raisani for almost a year, others say the anti-corruption outfit just got lucky.
“NAB has hit a jackpot like never before in history,” a bureaucrat working for the Balochistan government laughed. “Investigators raided the secretary’s residence in the hope of finding a much smaller stash than what they had actually chanced upon. Now they can claim whatever they like. Who will challenge them?”
Balochistan is considered to have the most corrupt governance of all four provinces: politicians and bureaucrats, at the expense of its people, steal billions of rupees meant for development every year. Three quarters of its population is estimated to be poor, living without access to health, education, drinking water, sewerage and employment — despite a whopping increase in its share of the country’s taxes.
According to a PILDAT poll on governance quality, the approval rating for the provincial government’s anti-corruption efforts fell to 19pc in FY15 — from 36pc a year earlier — indicating a decline in public perception of such efforts.
Corruption in Balochistan isn’t just a civilian problem. The NAB inquiry came on the heels of the much-publicised dismissal by COAS Gen Raheel Sharif of six officers, including two generals, on charges of corruption committed during their tenure with the Balochistan Frontier Corps.
Balochistan NAB director general Tariq Mehmood Malik said in May that they were investigating corruption charges against 400 politicians, bureaucrats and others in the province.
“Almost one quarter of funds meant for development are stashed away by politicians, bureaucrats and government contractors,” said a now retired provincial finance secretary. “Another 15pc to 20pc of funds are wasted because of cost and time overruns, owing to lack of capacity to implement development projects,” he added. “These losses affect development in the province and increase poverty and deprivation.”
There’s debate in the province that who is more corrupt: politicians or bureaucrats. “We’d have far fewer corrupt politicians if it were not for our dishonest bureaucracy,” the ex-finance secretary of the province chuckled.
However, he argued that governance in other provinces was just as corrupt. “If you think you have better and more honest politicians and bureaucrats in Punjab and Sindh, you are mistaken. Corruption in Balochistan stands out because the size of our kitty is very small compared to that of the other provinces,” he said, adding that the system of public funds disbursement must be strengthened and appropriate checks and balances put in place.
The new provincial finance secretary, Akbar Hussain Durrani, dismissed suggestions that corruption was ‘institutionalised’ in the province. “That’s an exaggeration; Raisani’s was an individual act. It was a case of a person who used his discretionary powers to arrogate to himself authority vested in other officials for stealing money.”
Durrani insisted that perceptions of Balochistan differed from its reality. “Corruption is everywhere [in the country]; it is just that the issue is blown out of proportion in the case of Balochistan.”
A minister of the previous PPP-led coalition in Quetta, who refused to give his name owing to possible political fallout, said there was either something wrong with the way government systems worked in Balochistan or that top leadership was involved in the scam. “You can get away with a crime once or twice. How is it that some bureaucrats have been siphoning off public money for years and no one else in the government noticed it?”
Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2016