LAHORE: The metropolis’ top public sector civic organisations -- the Metropolitan Corporation Lahore (MCL) and the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) -- have joined hands against the Anti Corruption Establishment (ACE) for what they called intervening into their functions, declaring such actions beyond the anti-graft body’s jurisdiction.

Both the civic organisations have also complained to the country’s top court in this regard during a recent hearing of a case in which the Lahore’s Mayor and LDA director general appeared on behalf of their respective institutions, it is learnt.

Official sources say the situation worsened after the ACE started conducting inquiries against LDA and MCL over the allegations related to construction of commercial buildings, including marriage halls, on various city roads and registration of an FIR against many officials based on the alleged ‘Source Report’.

“They (ACE officials) first picked up some LDA officers -- chief town planner and town planing director, surprisingly from the premises of the Lahore High Court on the pretext of non-provision of record despite the fact the court didn’t seek to do so. Later, they released the director, but kept the CTP in detention. However, the CTP after a couple of days was released on bail,” an official explained to Dawn.

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The ACE management, according to the officials, who preferred anonymity, pressed the authorities to also include its officials in the committee formed recently to carry out joint demolition operations against the illegal constructions.

“During meetings, the ACE officials were of the view that they should be part of the teams carrying out demolition operation and sealing of marriage halls for various violations. So they were officially included in a committee constituted and notified by the LDA on Feb 9. Similarly, they (ACE officials) allegedly also directed the MCL to keep them informed regarding various sealing operations in the metropolis,” claimed the official.

According to an interim order issued by the apex court in a constitutional petition (No 71 / 2018) and a civil miscellaneous application (No 167 /2019), both the Lahore mayor (MCL chief) and LDA DG have been quoted as complaining against the ACE. “Both the LDA director general and the Lahore mayor, present in the court, complained that the ACE authorities are acting beyond their jurisdiction and disturbing the functions of the LDA as well as the MCL by purporting to exercise their functions. Let this matter be relisted for hearing during the next week on which date the ACE director general shall also be present in the court to assist us in the matter,” reads the order issued on Feb 18. The court also reportedly questioned the ACE role in regulating the marriage halls.

Talking to Dawn, another official said the ACE management, after realising that tables were being turned on it, suddenly disassociated itself some days ago from the committee constituted on Feb 9 for carrying out joint operations against illegal constructions and private housing schemes.

“The committee, which was constituted through a notification (No LDA/TP/239) dated Feb 9, 2019, comprised directors (TP-III and Metropolitan-II), deputy directors (TP-IV and MP-III), assistant, deputy and directors of the respective areas, deputy director (Technical, ACE, Lahore Region) and assistant director (Technical, ACE) and a co-opted member,” the official said.

He said that in various joint operations, the LDA and ACE officials demolished various structures, including marriage halls (marquees), falling within the building control areas of the LDA. Similarly, they also remained in touch with the officials carrying out similar operations in the areas falling within the building control limits of the MCL, he added.

“Such joint operations continued till Feb 16, the day the team demolished a marquee near Thokar. But meanwhile, the Lahore ACE region disassociated itself from such operations after it felt it was not its job.

“It is intimated that the ACE is an investigation agency and this office regrets becoming part of any action taken by the concerned department. Moreover, this office is currently dealing with a lot of high profile inquiries and cases. So due to workload, no officer of this agency can be part of the committee constituted in the said order. Foregoing in view, it is requested that ACE be exempted in the formation of (any) committee of your department. Moreover, you are requested to forward the cases of illegal acts committed by the officers/officials of your department,” reads an ACE letter (No ACE-LR-2019/2815) received by the LDA’s metropolitan wing on Feb 16 (Saturday).

Lahore ACE Director Muhammad Asghar Joya dispelled the impression, stating the ACE officers never joined the LDA, nor any other team in carrying out joint operations against illegal constructions, marriage halls. “It is not our mandate since we are supposed to point out and investigate into the wrongdoings (if committed) in any provincial department. So when this committee was constituted on Feb 9, I wrote a letter to the LDA, regretting that our officers cannot be part of this body,” he told this reporter.

When asked whether the ACE officers continued conducting joint operations with the LDA officers till Feb 16, as claimed through various press releases regarding demolition operations, he rejected such reports.

The ACE director was of the view that it was the ACE’s responsibility to monitor such issues within its jurisdiction.

“If a marriage hall is constructed on the state land and a building is built without approval (of the competent authority) or on a road declared frozen for such activities, the ACE can take action under the law,” he added.

He said since many irregularities were committed by the officials while dealing with such issues, the ACE would continue taking action against them under the law.

Meanwhile, in the latest development the ACE reportedly registered a case against LDA DG Ms Amna Imran Khan for allegedly according unlawful approval to a housing scheme falling in the LDA-controlled area.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2019