LAHORE: A day after opposition lawmakers in the Punjab Assembly raised que­stions regarding the Nat­ional Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman’s remarks that the Punjab government was not providing the “required information” about some development pro­jects, a provincial government minister held a press conference on Satur­day to clarify its position.

“If the NAB chairman had any complaint with the Punjab government he could have written to it. Press conferences or spee­ches should not be a tool of communication between government departments. We regret that his [NAB chairman] words were used by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) opponents for political point-scoring,” said Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, while adding that the NAB chairman had not been “misled” by his subordinates.

Mr Sanaullah said the PML-N’s opponents had used the NAB chairman’s statement for political point-scoring against the Punjab government. “Such a conversation of the NAB chief, which was used by our political opponents against us, is not acceptable,” he said.

On Thursday, the NAB chairman had announced at a ceremony for those affected in fraudulent housing schemes that the Punjab government had not been cooperating with NAB.

He had also asked the heads of various government departments, especially the Lahore Development Authority and the Anti-Corruption Establishment, to be loyal to the people, not to their boss (Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif). The NAB chief had expressed concerns about the provincial government’s apparent lack of cooperation in providing the NAB records of 56 public companies accused of massive corruption.

NAB has been awaiting the complete records of Metro Bus Multan and Ashiana-i-Iqbal Lahore projects in which Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is accused of mismanaging finances.

Presenting a clarification, Mr Sanuallah said: “There are 53 public companies —15 of them are not functional and two others are closed. We have so far provided records of 48 companies to NAB and are cooperating with it. The Punjab government’s focal persons are available to entertain any request of the NAB officials.” He said the chief minister had appeared before NAB in the Punjab Land Development Company instead of submitting a reply in this regard.

Directing a jibe at NAB, the minister said there were “some people” working within the bureau who were, themselves, wanted by NAB. He termed the NAB officials’ behaviour with suspects humiliating and said, “The officials make (political) suspects sit throughout the day and then ask them to go back home.”

Citing various cases in which the Punjab Anti-Corruption had taken action, the law minister said the Punjab government had unearthed corruption in several departments and initiated strict action the culprits. “NAB did not have to ask us to take action in these cases as we did it by ourselves,” he said.

Mr Sanaullah added: “Here is a Khadim (Shahbaz Sharif) who is serving the people,” he said, adding that all officers had been appointed here “on merit”.

A NAB source told Dawn that the anti-graft watchdog might summon the Punjab chief minister in the Multan Metro Bus case to record his statement. “In Lahore’s Ashiana-i-Iqbal scam CM Sharif will also have to clarify his position,” he said.

NAB has accused Mr Sharif of cancelling the award of the project’s contract to successful bidders M/S Ch Latif and Sons and instead obliged M/S Lahore Casa Developers (JV) — a proxy group of M/S Paragon City (Pvt) Limited (which was developed by Railways Minister Saad Rafique) — thus causing a loss of millions of rupees to the exchequer.

He also allegedly directed the Punjab Land Development Company to assign the project to the LDA, resulting in award of contract to M/s Lahore Casa Developers (JV), thus causing a loss of Rs715 million and ultimately failure of the project.

The NAB source said that Mr Sharif had allegedly directed the PLDC to award consultancy services of this project to M/s Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab for Rs192 million, whereas the actual cost was Rs35 million as quoted by Nespak.

After being grilled in the case last month, Mr Sharif said the notice was based on mala fide intent. He vowed to introduce a new accountability mechanism in the country if his party (the PML-N) came to power in the next elections. Mr Sharif has been nominated a candidate for the prime minister’s slot by his elder brother Nawaz Sharif in the 2018 election, according to federal ministers Ahsan Iqbal and Saad Rafique.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2018