LAHORE: After Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, the National Account­abi­lity Bureau (NAB) on Friday summoned three more lawmakers of the ruling Pak­is­tan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), including a provincial minister, this month in different corruption investigations against them.

The back-to-back NAB call-up notices to the PTI lawmakers, including CM Buzdar, in corruption cases have again sparked speculations about the change of command in Punjab.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who spent Friday in the provincial metropolis, did not pat on the back of his ‘Wasim Akram-plus’ like he did openly during his last month’s visit here.

Punjab Minister for Labour and Human Resource Ansar Majeed Niazi, MNA Malik Karamat Khokhar and MPA Ghazanfar Abbas Cheena have been summoned by the NAB Lahore for Aug 19, Aug 13 and Aug 17, respectively.

Speculation about change of provincial leadership revived

Minister Niazi is facing charges relating to corruption and corrupt practices in appointments and transfers/postings in the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution.

Mr Cheena, MPA from Bhakkar, is accused of acquiring assets beyond his known sources of income. Mr Khokhar, MNA from Lahore, is asked to appear in person to explain the record he had earlier submitted to NAB regarding moveable/immoveable assets in his and Malik Tauqeer Abbas’ names.

Mr Cheena, who is considered very close to CM Buzdar, had raised voice against Imran Khan’s move to empower then Punjab chief secretary Azam Suleman and IGP Shoaib Dastgir to take decisions without political influence. He had demanded that the chief executive of the province and lawmakers be empowered to run the affairs of the province.

NAB has summoned Usman Buzdar on Aug 12 for allegedly receiving Rs50 million in bribe to force the Excise and Taxa­tion Department to issue a liquor licence to a hotel in violation of the law.

Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan said the chief minister would appear before NAB to defend ‘wrong charges’ against him.

A PTI insider told Dawn on Friday that NAB’s notice to CM Buzdar had reaffirmed reports that he did not have the capacity and ability to comprehend official files put up before him. “If Mr Buzdar’s relative had not received Rs50m from the owner of the hotel in question for getting it issued liquor licence then it must have been a case of failing to understand the official business of the government,” he said, adding that this corruption allegation against Mr Buzdar would further cause governance problems in Punjab, forcing PM Khan to give a second thought to his choice.

In the PTI Punjab parliamentary party, Aleem Khan, Mohsin Leghari, Aslam Iqbal, Hashim Jawan Bakht and Yawar Abbas Bukhari are said to be contenders for the top slot if Imran Khan makes up his mind to replace Mr Buzdar for being ‘NAB-tainted’. “However, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) holds the key in this respect. The PML-Q with 10 MPAs has been fully backing Mr Buzdar and in case PM Khan decides to replace him he will either have to take it onboard or may consider Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi for the top slot,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has demanded resignation of CM Buzdar till compeletion of the NAB probe against him.

“If Usman Buzdar sticks to his office, he may influence NAB’s probe in the liquor licence investigation against him. He is also a prime suspect in the sugar and wheat scams and, therefore, he must step down till completion of investigation against him,” PML-N Punjab information secretary Azma Bokhari demanded in a statement.

The PML-N lawmaker said that under CM Buzdar, Punjab had become number one province in corruption in the country. She said a Transparency International report was saying that this PTI government was the “most corrupt” in the history of the country.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2020