NAB to begin probe against SAPM Zafar Mirza, ex-minister Kiani

Updated 10 Jun 2020

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Decision made in anti-graft watchdog’s executive board meeting.
 — APP/File
Decision made in anti-graft watchdog’s executive board meeting. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Facing criticism from the opposition over its alleged partisan role and political victimisation, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has now decided to launch inquiries against Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and former health minister Aamer Mehmood Kiani on various charges, including a massive increase in the prices of medicines within one year of coming into power by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.

The decision to initiate inquiries into the allegations against Dr Mirza and Mr Kiani, now the general secretary of the ruling PTI, was made during NAB’s Executive Board Meeting (EBM), which was presided over by NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal here on Tuesday.

“The EBM authorised conducting three inquiries against some personalities, including Aamer Mehmood Kiani, former minister for national health services and coordination and others, officers/officials of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and others, officers/officials of Capital Development Authority (CDA) and others,” said an official handout without providing details of the charges against them.

“The EBM authorised conducting complaint verification against Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza,” it said.

Decision made in anti-graft watchdog’s executive board meeting

“All the inquiries and investigations are initiated on the basis of alleged allegations which are not final. The decision to proceed ahead with the cases is taken after listening to both sides of the picture,” it says, adding that “it is years long set policy of the Bureau that the details of the EBM-NAB meeting is shared with the people, which did not tend to hurt anyone.”

The meeting was attended by senior NAB officials, including the deputy chairman, the prosecutor general accountability, the director general (operations) and the director general of NAB, Rawalpindi.

The NAB chairman directed all the directors general to conclude complaint verification, inquiries and investigations within a stipulated timeframe. He also directed the prosecutors, and investigation officers to pursue cases after preparation by ensuring concrete evidence in accordance with law so that the corrupt could be punished.

The meeting was told that some 1,229 references having accumulated value of over Rs900 billion were under trial in different accountability courts.

Mr Kiani, who had been nominated as the health minister in the first cabinet under Prime Minister Imran Khan, was replaced by Dr Mirza in April 2019 after a controversy over an inappropriate increase in medicine prices.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Kiani welcomed NAB’s decision to launch an inquiry against him, stating that he had been silent over the issue, but the inquiry would provide him with an opportunity to prove his innocence. He said he was ready to reply all types of queries at any forum.

Asking his opponents to wait for the inquiry, he said that NAB was only holding an inquiry, and not investigation, against him. He said he believed in NAB and hoped that it would conduct a transparent inquiry.

“My hands are clean and I hope that NAB will conduct a transparent inquiry,” he said.

Responding to charges against him, Mr Kiani said that the pharmaceutical companies were allowed to increase prices of medicines as per directive of the Supreme Court. Secondly, he said, the approval for the increase in medicines prices was also given by the federal cabinet.

In response to another question, Mr Kiani claimed he was not removed from the federal cabinet because of the price issue, but actually PM Khan wanted him to become the ruling party’s general secretary. He said that the office of PTI’s general secretary was bigger than the minister’s, claiming that there was only one general secretary of the party while there were dozens of ministers.

There was no immediate response available from Dr Mirza on the development, but an official of the Ministry of National Health Services said that everyone had the right to register complaint against anyone, saying that the SAPM was ready to appear before any forum for questioning.

Dr Mirza, who earlier received the wrath of the Supreme Court over the handling of the Covid-19 in the country, is being accused of his involvement in the smuggling of 20 million face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in the wake of coronavirus spread and import of vitamins, drugs and salts from India in the garb of life saving drugs.

A representative of the Pakistan Young Pharmacists Association (PYPA) formally wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of the smuggling of face masks and PPEs from the country.

In the same letter, the PYPA representative alleged that the SAPM had been directed by PM Khan to get the medicine prices reduced within 72 hours, but that direction could not be implemented even after one year.

In March, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had launched an investigation into the complaint against Dr Mirza and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) for allegedly giving permission for export of face masks and PPE for monetary benefits at a time when both were needed in the country the most.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) later claimed that the masks were allowed to be exported on the request of the Chinese embassy in Pakistan.

Last month, the PM had directed his aide on accountability Shahzad Akbar to probe the import of over 450 medicines from India on the basis of a ministry document showing the import of a number of vitamins, drugs and salts from India despite the ban imposed by the government after India illegally annexed held Kashmir on August 5, 2019.

Initially, the pharmaceutical industry had appealed to relax the government’s decision for clearance of those goods already imported from India before the government decision and reached the country’s airport/seaport. In the wake of the appeal, it was decided by the government to relax the rules and goods were cleared.

However, as a large number of medicines and its raw material used to be imported from India, the pharmaceutical industry started demanding that the ban on Indian medicines and raw material be lifted, or else Pakistan might face a severe shortage of medicines, especially life-saving drugs, within a few weeks. In order to avoid the shortage of life-saving drugs, the federal government lifted the ban on import of medicines and raw material from India.

Later, a hue and cry started that all kinds of medicines were being imported in the name of life-saving drugs.

After the executive board meeting, NAB in a self-praising handout said that under the leadership of the incumbent chairman, the bureau directly or indirectly recovered Rs178 billion during the last 28 months and deposited it in the national exchequer.

“Prestigious national and international institutions, especially World Economic Forum, Transparency International Pakistan, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, in their recent reports have lauded the performance of NAB, which is an honour for NAB,” the handout added.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2020