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NAB accused of harassing Metro bus project contractors

Updated January 14, 2019

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Contractors say they had nothing to do with preparation of estimates of Multan Metro Bus Project contract being probed by NAB. — File photo
Contractors say they had nothing to do with preparation of estimates of Multan Metro Bus Project contract being probed by NAB. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been accused of setting an example of “harassment” in the case of the Multan Metro Bus Project (MMBP) as the country’s top of the line contractors involved in the project are on bail to avoid their arrest.

According to the Contractors Association of Pakistan (CAP), NAB has challenged engineering estimates made by the Multan Development Authority (MDA) much before the award of the Rs28 billion MMBP contract. Thus the contractors had nothing to do with preparation of these estimates. The only charge is that the engineering estimates were high and led to a loss of Rs1.7bn to the national exchequer. Meanwhile, over Rs3.2bn dues of the contractors are yet to be paid by the MDA.

NAB claims that it has to recover Rs1.7bn from the contractors and, therefore, the anti-graft watchdog is running after the contractors to arrest them, the CAP says. However, the MDA owes twice this amount to the contractors, it adds.

The opposition believes that NAB’s case is weak and the bureau is just using tactics for arm-twisting of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders by implicating them in the MMBP case.

The contractors’ association has written a letter to NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal, complaining that audit objections are being treated as criminal cases.

In the letter, the CAP has asked the NAB chief to ensure a fair and transparent probe into mega development projects and expressed the fear that “harassment will drive away investors”.

The CAP has alleged that despite meeting legal requirements and procedures, a group of contractors engaged in the project is being harassed and victimised.

The MMBP was launched in June 2015 and the bus service was inaugurated by the then chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, in Jan 2017.

Six top-ranking national and international firms had taken part in the execution of the MMBP. They completed the project two years ago and almost all of them are presently engaged in other national projects.

A source told Dawn that the heads of six firms, who worked on different segments of the MMBP, had obtained pre-arrest bail from court, but the head of another company, who could not get bail, had been arrested by NAB.

The CAP has assured NAB of its support in the probe into the Metro bus project or any other construction project, but said: “We feel that complex construction issues and disputes between construction companies and the government are being dragged into criminal jurisdiction.

“This appears to be due to lack of understanding and expertise of NAB’s investigation officers with International Federation of Consulting Engineers [FIDIC] conditions, besides other complex technical and contractual matters.”

The letter says that contractual disputes and audit objections need to be segregated from criminal proceedings.

It has said that the construction sector of Pakistan is running businesses worth trillions of rupees, giving employment to millions of people and making huge investments.

“It may also be considered that we are the engines of growth and contribute towards national economy in various ways by paying direct and indirect taxes, generating direct and indirect employment, driving the steel, cement, glass and tiles industries as being major consumers of such products,” the CAP letter says.

The contractors’ association has said: “We are the ones building dams, roads, motorways, houses, schools, universities and hospitals for the nation of international standards and at most economical prices.”

A spokesman for NAB said that four firms involved in the project were ready to return some amount under voluntary return (VR) deals. “There must be something wrong. That is why the contractors are ready to return the money to the government exchequer,” he added.

He said that a reference had been prepared against officials of the Multan Development Authority for “illegal” acquisition of state land for the project.

The NAB spokesman said that the inquiry into the MMBP covered four main dimensions — evaluation of feasibility study and approval of the project; evaluation of bidding process, award of the contract, execution of works, international procurements, payments made to contractors, sub-contractors and vendors; evaluation of land acquisition process; and tracking/trailing of financial transactions into accounts of M/s Yabaite China.

He said that NAB Multan was conducting investigations as per laws and it would send its report to the bureau’s headquarters for scrutiny and review. The report will be presented before the executive board of NAB to decide further course of action.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2019