ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has turned its gaze towards Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal for his alleged involvement in irregularities committed in a multi-billion sports city project in his hometown, Narowal.

Mr Iqbal is one of the most senior leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and in addition to being the interior minister, is also minister for planning and development.

The official press release of the bureau said that the chairman, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, had ordered the bureau to verify the complaint against the alleged misappropriation of government funds — a staggering 6 billion rupees — in the construction of the Narowal Sports City Project (NSCP).

The bureau elaborated that the chairman had taken notice of the matter as rules were violated in the construction of the project, and there was also the additional issue of security concerns. The 44-acre sports city is being built just 800 metres from the Indian border.

Minister faces questions over alleged involvement in irregularities committed in a multi-billion sports city project in his hometown

The case is intriguing because a special allocation was made in the Public-Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the project. The funds allocated were then spent through the Sports Board of Pakistan (PSB), even though after the 18th constitutional amendment the ministry of sports has devolved — it is now a provincial subject.

According to the PSDP 2018-19 report, the cost of the project was Rs2.9 billion. Just over Rs2.5 billion has already been spent, with the remaining Rs467 million has been apportioned for the upcoming fiscal year. One of the objections against the project is if it was really necessary to build such a huge sports city in a small town like Narowal, when the same funds could have been used to build a similar facility in a bigger city like Karachi or Lahore.

Another allegation was that the mega project was being executed without any project director. The PSB does not have any project director for any of its projects.

The NAB chairman also instructed the NAB director general to verify the complaint that questioned the appointment of the former director general of PSB Akhtar Ganjera as the project director for the NSCP. There are concerns that rules were violated in the appointment, as Akhtar Ganjera already holds the office of PSB director general.

The important question here is that was the minister for planning & development — Ahsan Iqbal — not aware of the fact that the NSCP did not have a project director?

The new management of the PSB first took notice of the fact that there was no project director, and a qualified engineer to oversee the construction of the sports city, subsequently writing to the ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) on April 16, questioning why this issue was not being addressed. The Sports Board operates under the ministry of IPC.

The NAB chairman instructed Rawalpindi NAB Director General Irfan Mangi to also verify the complaint concerning an ‘official’ foreign tour of the former PSB DG after he had retired.

NAB is already investigating PSB affairs over the last 10 years, and has initiated an inquiry against Federal Minister for Inter-Prov­incial Coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada as well.

Ahsan Iqbal on the other hand, has had a war of words with the accountability bureau in the recent past. Speaking in Narowal just a month ago, he questioned the motives of NAB and wondered why the bureau recently sprang into action after hibernating for the past four and a half years.

“We request all institutions concerned to let the country make progress without destabilising its system through interference in the political process,” Mr Iqbal said as he claimed that the accountability bureau had been acting against the elected government, which people might realise was a form of “pre-poll rigging.”

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2018

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