• Punjab govt decides to send case to either FIA or NAB
• PML-N seeks removal of Zulfi, Sarwar, Buzdar, Imran
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday ordered a full-fledged inquiry into the Rawalpindi Ring Road (RRR) project scam after which the Punjab government decided to send the case to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for thorough investigation.
The decisions were taken as two fact-finding reports — one by the Rawalpindi commissioner and the other by the deputy commissioner — landed at the prime minister office, with the second report hinting that the project had been realigned with the approval of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and his finance adviser Dr Salman Shah.
However, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) demanded action against the relevant authorities for approving ring road’s realignment, asserting that neither CM Buzdar and PM Khan nor ‘direct beneficiaries’ such as cabinet members Ghulam Sarwar Khan and PM’s aide Zulfi Bokhari could be exempted.
The fact-finding process has raised several questions such as why the commissioner alone signed the report when two other members of the commission — Rawalpindi DC retired captain Anwarul Haq and an additional commissioner of Rawalpindi — had refused to sign it and prepared a separate fact-finding report.
The commissioner’s report named some private housing societies, which were far from the original ring road plan but benefitted through the realignment. It alleged that ex-commissioner Capt (retired) Mehmood and suspended Land Acquisition Commissioner Waseem Tabish wrongly paid Rs2.3 billion in compensation of land acquired for the road and benefitted a renowned family of Sangjani while acquiring its land. However, it emerged that the owners were reluctant to give their land for the project as the ex-commissioner had offered a rate far less than the market price of land.
It also came into notice that initially NESPAK had made alignment of the road from T-Chowk Rewat to Murat in 2017, but next year another consultant, Zeerak, proposed realignment of the road from T-Chowk to Islamabad-Lahore Motorway (M-I), which was again endorsed by NESPAK in 2021 with the observation that the current alignment is: “The best alignment in accordance with the technical standard was proposed which reduces multiple curves ensuring design speed of 120kph with control access.”
However, questions were being raised as to how only two officials could commit any wrongdoings in the project when all the approvals and consents had been given by relevant authorities.
Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said Prime Minister Imran Khan had once again proved that no one could commit corruption in his government. He said the premier had set a great example by ordering inquiry into the ring road project.
While criticising the opposition, Mr Habib said that during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz era, the scandal of 36 companies emerged while billions of rupees were spent on Raiwind Road, Jati Umrah Palace and camp offices but neither any inquiry had been held nor any action taken against any minister. Instead, he added, the documents of such projects were destroyed in fire incidents, recalling the LDA plaza blaze that destroyed Metro bus record.
He said the fact-finding committee prepared a report after making an inquiry into the allegations and the matter related to Rs2.5bn worth land acquisition was sent to the NAB whereas bureaucrats found responsible had been removed from their positions. The officers concerned would be dealt at departmental level and NAB would investigate the matter, he explained.
However, the PML-N demanded resignations of Prime Minister Khan and Chief Minister Buzdar in the light of fact-finding commission’s report on the Rawalpindi ring road scam.
“Imran Khan and Usman Buzdar should resign immediately and their names be placed on Exit Control List after the revelations of the Ring Road scandal fact-finding commission,” PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said in a statement here on Saturday.
She said Mr Buzdar and Mr Khan would not get any relief in this matter, because what the report exposed was not some minor irregularities but a ‘dacoity of over Rs25 billion’. She said the real culprits were Mr Buzdar and Mr Khan, as all this could not be done without them being in the picture.
She was of the opinion that as long as they were in power, an independent inquiry was impossible and reports nothing more than eyewash would be generated to exonerate the real culprits of the charges.
The former minister said PM Khan victimised opposition leaders with fake cases but the PTI government could not prove corruption of a single penny against the PML-N leadership despite three years of rigorous scrutiny. She said there were ‘countless’ number of ‘proven graft cases’ against the [PTI] government such as kickbacks, theft of wheat flour, sugar, medicines and fuel crisis.
“Close aide to the prime minister Zulfi Bokhari and federal minister Ghulam Sarwar are direct beneficiaries of the Rawalpindi Ring Road project scam,” PML-N deputy secretary general Attaullah Tarar earlier told a press conference.
Mr Tarar said both Mr Bokhari and Mr Sarwar had got huge financial benefits through the ring road project, because their lands were near the project. He said Mr Khan was known for benefiting his “ATMs” (financiers) through different means.
PML-N information secretary Azma Bokhari on Saturday rejected the fact-finding report as mere eyewash, saying that it attempted to save the ‘real culprits’. She said a case should be registered against Mr Buzdar for approval of the road in the areas near the land of cabinet members Zulfi Bokhari and Ghulam Sarwar.
Zulqernain Tahir in Lahore also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2021