LAHORE: The Punjab government’s ‘prevarication’ about the record of the Punjab Saaf Pani Company in which Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif allegedly violated the PPRA rules in award of contracts appears to be the bone of contention between the provincial administration and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

“The Punjab government is not submitting the record of the Saaf Pani Company despite repeated requests. Even the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) is reluctant to surrender its record to it (NAB). It appears the government is doing so because its chief executive (Shahbaz Sharif) is accused of violating the PPRA rules in award of contracts,” a NAB official told Dawn on Sunday.

Similarly, he said, the provincial government was also unwilling to hand over the Punjab Power Development Company’s record to NAB because of such reasons.

“The ACE had lodged an FIR against former CEO Saaf Pani Company. Why it had not included the name of the chief minister who approved direct contracting of the project without providing a level playing field to other companies and violated the PPRA rules? With Wasa, FDA, MDA and other government organisations responsible to provide clean drinking water to citizens, question arises as why such a ‘non-workable project’ with huge staff was set up at the expense of taxpayers’ money,” the NAB official said.

“Initially, the Punjab chief secretary tried to refuse the provision of record telling NAB that it was a provincial subject under the constitution. The government further asked us to show its (NAB) authorisation letter. In response NAB told the chief secretary that it was not bound to provide it authorisation letter and mentioned penal clauses in this regard. Finally the Punjab government wrote clearly that it would provide record of all (56) companies except that of the Saaf Paani Company and the Punjab Power Development Company.

“The ACE also did not respond to NAB’s two letters in this regard. When it mentioned penal clauses, the ACE director general wrote a very inappropriate letter telling NAB it is a provincial subject therefore it should approach the Chief Secretary Office,” he said.

The Punjab law minister had earlier clarified: “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.”

ACE DG retired Brig Muzzafar Ali Ranjha told Dawn that it respected the institution of NAB but it did not expect its Lahore DG (Saleem Shahzad) to write to it in violation of rules. “The language of the letters written by NAB’s Lahore DG was not proper. I will write to the NAB chairman about his subordinates who are humiliating the government officials and interfering in the official business of other investigation agency.”

Mr Ranjah said ACE had completed investigation into the Saaf Pani Company affairs and taken to task those involved in corruption. “Is NAB Lahore keen to strike a plea bargain with the accused,” he asked, adding that NAB instead of directly seeking record from ACE or summoning its officials, should better contact the chief secretary.

When asked about NAB’s query as why ACE did not initiate action against CM Sharif in the Saaf Pani Company case, the ACE chief said: “It is rubbish. Can an action be taken against the chief executive of a province or country if an official of any department under him is found guilty of corruption?”

He said clash of institutions was not in the benefit of the country. He said NAB should also be aware of the fact that a case had been pending in court with regard to the Saaf Pani Company.

NAB three months ago had launched a thorough probe into affairs of the 56 public-sector companies formed by Shahbaz Sharif administration in Punjab for their alleged involvement in corruption. These companies are accused of certain irregularities, recruitment in violation of procurement rules and merit, nepotism, non-completion of various projects on time. There has been also lack of performance and regular audit and non-transparent procedure of tendering in these companies which come under direct supervision of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal had directed the inquiry officials that these companies should not be stopped from working till enough evidence was gathered against them. He also directed that legal course should be followed during the process of investigation.

A case against these companies is also pending with the Lahore High Court. According to petitioners, the Shahbaz administration had established 56 public-sector companies some nine years ago on the pretext of “good governance”. “Over Rs150bn were spent on these companies from exchequer. This model of governance is the brainchild of Shahbaz Sharif who is impressed by the Turkish model of governance and is following it here. It is the main reason Turkish people are hired as consultants in various companies and now they have been working in various mega projects,” a petitioner said, adding that all these companies had failed to perform.

“Just in 2016, the number of companies increased from six to 56. These companies had expenditure of Rs250bn but no audit of these companies was ever carried out except one for performance audit by the auditor general of Pakistan,” the petitioner said.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018

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