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LAHORE: Senior officials of the provincial government on Sunday failed to defend working of the Punjab Saaf Pani Company before the Supreme Court, and conceded its affairs had not been satisfactory.

“The story of Saaf Pani Company is not so good,” said the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), retired Capt Muhammad Usman, responding to hard-hitting queries by a two-judge special bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar. Punjab Chief Secretary retired Capt Zahid Saeed also admitted that citizens in different cities had not been provided a single drop of water despite Rs4 billion spent on the project.

Anti Corruption Establishment Director General Muzaffar Ali Ranjha, secretary housing Khurram Ali Agha and other officers were also present in the Courtroom No 1 at the Lahore registry when the bench resumed hearing of a suo motu case regarding functioning of the Saaf Pani Company and huge salaries being given to its employees.

Punjab Advocate General Shakilur Rehman Khan and Prosecutor General Eihtesham Qadir Shah also appeared before the court. The chief justice totally knocked out the company’s CEO by exposing blunders committed in the clean water projects and misuse of public exchequer, especially in hiring services of foreign consultants.

The CJP flatly rejected the presentation given by Mr Usman on the performance of the company.

Justice Nisar also snubbed the chief secretary when he tried to explain reasons behind the closure of the Saaf Pani project at Pattoki. “Let the CEO of the company explain his position as he is drawing a salary much higher than you (chief secretary),” the chief justice told the top officer of the province.

The chief justice further questioned the authority of the chief minister to scrap the Pattoki project despite an approval by the company’s Board of Governors (BoG).

He mentioned that the foreign companies hired by the government for consultancy were leaving the projects while some of them had already quit their job. “Spending huge money on foreign consultants with zero outcome is beyond any logic,” the chief justice regretted.

Addressing the CEO, he said the company’s chief technical officer also established a company namely “Water2000” parallel to the Saaf Pani Company.

Earlier, Mr Usman told the court that CTO Tahir Majeed was the senior most officer at the company after him (CEO) and drawing a monthly salary around Rs800,000. Expressing his ignorance about the private company being run by his subordinate, he vowed to investigate the matter.

The company’s former CEO Waseem Ajmal told the court that the Pattoki’s project was launched with the help of local consultants. However, he claimed, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was not happy with local experts and remained adamant about hiring the foreign consultants.

He said the chief minister, under the law, had no jurisdiction to interfere in the company’s affairs. Even then, he said, the chief minister had stopped the project of clean drinking water in Pattoki and linked it with his approval. To a court query, Mr Ajmal said the chief minister could only appoint board of directors of the company. He said a provincial minister’s brother, Asim Qadri and wife Uzma Qadri were also among directors of the company. He said the same minister had probably asked for the hiring of foreign consultants. However, he did not name the minister.

Guessing the name of the minister, Chief Justice Nisar asked all those present in the courtroom, “What is the full name of Mr Qadri who often represents Punjab government at press conferences?” At this, some lawyers said, “His name is Zaeem Qadri.”

The former CEO said the chief minister had no knowledge of the project but he only wanted to engage foreign consultants. Whereas, he added, foreign consultancy firms hired for the project appreciated the expertise of local experts on water resources.

Mr Ajmal said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) initiated an inquiry into the company’s projects and the minutes of a meeting held by the chief minister. Chief Justice Nisar observed that the present chief of the company had no experience in water related projects but he had been drawing Rs1.4m monthly salary.

When asked by the court, CEO Usman said a Toyota Fortuner (SUV) was under his official use. “Seems that you accommodated many people when you were DCO in Lahore,” the chief justice said addressing Mr Usman and asked why the chief secretary of the province had not been appointed as CEO of any public company, which carried a huge salary.

The CJP observed that there would be an across the board accountability and huge salaries being drawn by the government servants as heads of these companies would be recovered and returned to the national exchequer.

The chief justice adjourned further hearing till April 14 and summoned prosecutor general of the NAB.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2018