ISLAMABAD: Confirming irregularities in the award of Rs148 billion Karachi-Lahore Motorway (KLM) project, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has completed an inquiry and decided to send the case to the next stage of investigation.
A source in NAB told Dawn on Sunday that the investigators had ascertained some gross violations of rules and irregularities in the award of the contract by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in 2015.
In March this year, NAB had decided to conduct a formal inquiry into alleged Rs14bn losses to the national exchequer caused by illegal award of the contract for Abdul Hakeem section (230km) of KLM.
Inquiry negates Nawaz Sharif’s claim of zero corruption during his government
The contract was awarded to a joint venture of a local firm ZKB and the China Railway-20 Bureau Group Corporation in Aug 2015.
By deciding to convert the inquiry into advance stage of investigation, NAB negated a claim of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that not a single corruption case has surfaced during his government’s tenure.
The NAB usually orders an inquiry into a case when it finds some credible evidence of corruption during the complaint verification process and if something is found wrong in the inquiry it allows investigation into the matter. After the investigation, it prepares a reference and file it in an accountability court for trial.
At present, the NAB Rawalpindi is investigating the case and the source said it will soon be presented before the regional board meeting and then to the executive board meeting for its formal conversion into an investigation.
It has been learnt that NAB has decided to summon former chairman of the National High Authority (NHA) Shahid Ashraf Tarar and contractors of the project.
According to NAB, the inquiry against the NHA officers and contractors was started on the basis of a complaint of Transparency International (TI) and some evidence collected during the complaint verification process.
“We decided to convert the inquiry into investigation after we found solid evidences of corruption,” a NAB official said.
He said the inquiry was ordered against the NHA management for awarding the contract on exorbitant rates in violations laws/rules.
TI had lodged a complaint two years ago, but former NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, who was reportedly quite close to Nawaz Sharif, did not take any action. But current NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal ordered an inquiry into the case.
The NHA awarded the contract in Aug 2015 ignoring serious shortcomings in the successful bid.
It is believed that NHA could have saved Rs24bn if the project, which is being funded through Public Sector Development Project, would have been awarded on merit and according to the instruction of bidders or clauses of the contract.
NAB has also merged cases of Rs148bn KLM Abdul Hakeem section and Rs259bn Multan-Sukkur Motorway projects.
It received information that the Chinese company, which got the contract, was allowed to import duty-free machinery and cement. Similarly, the price of iron in Pakistan was Rs90,000 per tonne, but it was imported from China at Rs150,000 per tonne.
When contacted, Haji Zahir Khan, owner of ZKB, said he was not aware that NAB was converting the inquiry into investigation, claiming that his firm had not committed any irregularity.
He said he was confident that NAB will get nothing against his firm during the investigation. “We have saved over Rs200bn of the country by executing a number of important projects on low rates and the quality of our work speaks for tself,” he added.
Asked why most of the road contracts under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor were awarded to ZKB during the PML-N government, Mr Khan said his firm had won contracts because of its lowest bid and credibility.
Asked if he was accused of having close relations or even partnership with Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza, Mr Khan claimed that he had never met him.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018