THE Rawalpindi Ring Road scandal is ballooning with each passing day. On Monday, it got its first scalp in the form of the resignation of SAPM Zulfi Bukhari. As Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trusted aide and confidant, Mr Bukhari’s departure signifies the gravity of the issue and the realisation within the top echelons of the PTI government that the scandal can burn through its credibility.

The Ring Road project was conceived during the tenure of the previous government but the plans for the road were revised under the PTI government. Allegations recently arose that the revisions were done to benefit private entities and individuals. The names of some cabinet ministers were also mentioned as possible beneficiaries. One of those named, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, held a presser on Monday to claim he was being wrongly accused. Two separate reports were written by a three-member committee formed by the government and both reports apparently contradict each other. NAB has also ordered an inquiry into the matter while Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has claimed that the resignation of Mr Bukhari is evidence that Mr Khan will not spare even his close aides if they are accused of any wrongdoing.

Read: PM Imran expresses displeasure over aviation minister’s presser about ring road scam

There is much that remains shrouded in mystery about this mega project. If there were indeed doubts over the transparency of the redesign, why did Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar approve the summary? It is also unclear why a meeting chaired by the prime minister himself approved funds for the project. These and other aspects of the scandal will need to be probed regardless of how high the blame might go. The prime minister has done well to relieve Mr Bukhari of his official duties pending the investigation.

However, he needs to take the same approach towards other people whose actions remain suspect, including the chief minister of Punjab. While NAB will conduct its own investigations, Prime Minister Khan should leave no stone unturned to unearth the facts behind the scandal. As he himself has always advocated across-the-board accountability for people in power, he should spare no one, including those who made him approve the funding for a project that was surrounded by allegations of wrongdoing and corrupt practices. The Ring Road scandal is refusing to pass the smell test and the odour is reaching up to high places. The PTI government must now lay itself open for ruthless accountability.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2021

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