SINDH Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah along with PPP leaders Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Nasir Hussain Shah and Murtaza Wahab leaving the NAB office after hearing.—Online
SINDH Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah along with PPP leaders Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Nasir Hussain Shah and Murtaza Wahab leaving the NAB office after hearing.—Online

ISLAMABAD: Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on Thursday blamed the federal government for rapid spread of Covid-19 across the country.

He was talking to the media after appearing before a combined investigation team (CIT) of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with the Rs4.8 billion Sindh Roshan solar lights case, which was clubbed with the fake bank accounts case involving the top leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and explained his role in the award of the project.

Hitting out at the federal government, the Sindh chief minister said coronavirus spread in the country because there was no check on borders. “I advised the federal government in March to seal all borders and send people coming from different countries to proper quarantine centres, but it was not accepted which resulted in trajectory of the virus in April,” he added.

He urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to think for the whole country keeping in view the lives of people. “Sindh is not an island but a part of the country. We have to think for the entire country.”

Mr Shah blamed the federal government for violation of standard operating procedures and claimed that people were not following the SOPs because of mixed and confusing messages coming from the Centre. He said the entire world and Pakistan were going through a difficult time at the moment.

Sindh CM appears before NAB in Islamabad in Rs4.8bn Roshan solar lights case

“I will not blame people for violating SOPs as this is because of the mixed signals being sent to the people. One person says coronavirus is a dangerous disease while another says it is just a flu and you will be fine after suffering from cold and fever,” he said, adding that there should be a unified message [from the federal government] that this was a life-threatening disease.

“People are in trouble due to the spread of illogical opinions regarding the deadly disease,” he added.

Responding to a question, he said positive cases of Covid-19 in Islamabad had outnumbered the same in Karachi which was a much bigger city than the federal capital. He said the virus was spreading rapidly and people had to follow precautionary measures.

Mr Shah said the National Coordination Committee (NCC) had decided not to reopen several businesses, but some provinces acted in an opposite manner and Sindh also reopened them (businesses) on the directives of the Supreme Court.

In reply to a question about verbal attacks and counter attacks by the opposition and the government against each other, the chief minister said he only came in the media when something against the NCC decisions was projected.

He said the Centre was concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on the financial conditions of the poor, but wondered who would take care of their kids when the poor began dying.

The Sindh chief minister, who arrived early morning in the federal capital, remained in the NAB office for almost two hours and justified the award of contract for the solar lights project in 2014 when he was provincial finance minister. According to media reports, the project was to be completed in 2017, but got delayed due to several reasons and alleged irregularities.

CM Shah said he tried to convince the investigators that there was nothing wrong in the award of the project as all legal and constitutional requirements had been fulfilled. “One of the allegations against me was that I approved the project despite [the fact that] it was not approved in the budget. Yes, it was not covered in the budget, but Article 124 of the Constitution permits the provincial government to approve it even after the budget anytime during the current financial year,” he said, adding that the Sindh government had approved the project and later the provincial cabinet gave its nod.

Responding to a question, he said NAB had prepared a questionnaire for him but did not hand it over to him due to some changes. He said NAB officials told him that he would receive the questionnaire later through mail. He said he had appeared before NAB Rawalpindi in connection with the Roshan Sindh programme corruption probe “not under any pressure”.

The chief minister said he had answered NAB’s questions relating to the Roshan Sindh scheme.

However, NAB sources told Dawn that CM Shah failed to give any reason for the release of additional funds for the scheme as a committee formed by the High Court Sindh had visited the project’s site and termed it “average and unsatisfactory”.

They alleged that the chief minister had released the funds for the project at the behest of Sharjeel Memon, the then minister for local government, who was said to be a mastermind of the scam. According to NAB, the project was awarded to favorite contractors of Mr Memon, who received kickbacks in return.

NAB officers had earlier shared that they had recovered Rs298 million in the case. The anti-graft watchdog revealed that some other accused in the scam, including Abdul Sattar Qureshi, Abdul Rashid Chana, Aslam Pervaiz Memon and Baldev, had agreed to sign a plea bargain deal.

The scam relates to the multi-billion-rupee fake bank accounts case being tried against top PPP leaders, including former president Asif Ali Zardari, chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Murad Ali Shah and Faryal Talpur, and senior bankers and bureaucrats.

CM Shah had already visited NAB Rawalpindi in the same case. He is accused of illegally awarding contracts for purchase and distribution of solar lights in Sindh. Mr Shah is also facing some other NAB cases, including sugar mills subsidy and Nooriabad power project.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2020