ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday virtually gave a clean chit to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Principal Secretary Azam Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mehmood Khan and Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak in the 275-acre Malam Jabba skiing-chairlift resort case in the light of recommendations of a special committee formed on the directive of the Peshawar High Court in March this year.
On the other hand, the anti-graft watchdog approved a new inquiry against former finance minister Miftah Ismail of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
The decisions were taken at the bureau’s Executive Board Meeting (EBM) presided over by NAB chairman Javed Iqbal.
“The EBM was informed that in Malam Jabba case on the writ petition of Samon Group, the Peshawar High Court ordered constitution of a committee which was headed by additional chief secretary of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The EBM committee pointed out some irregularities in tendering process. The EBM decided to refer irregularities to the KP chief secretary to have departmental action as per law after affording hearing opportunity to the officials concerned with the condition that in case any restraining order by the court, the case can be taken up after approval of the competent authority,” said a press release issued by the NAB headquarters after the meeting.
However, a senior NAB official told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the bureau had closed the case in the light of the recommendations of the special committee which had found “no irregularity” in the case. He said that one of the allegations against the accused was that the lease period of the precious land was extended from 15 to 30 years, but the committee’s recommendations stated that the extension had been approved by the KP cabinet.
The official said the committee had found some irregularities in the tendering process, but this matter did not fall within the purview of NAB and, therefore, it had been referred to the provincial government.
He said another allegation was that Samon Group — the firm which won the lease — had no capacity to run the resort, but the committee observed that the firm had not timely completed the construction of a hotel and development of the resort but was also running it successfully and paying rent to the KP government regularity. “So, NAB finds that there was no loss of national exchequer in the case and has, therefore, closed it,” he added. NAB, he said, would again take up the matter if there was any restraining order from the court.
In 2018, when the KP chief minister had claimed that NAB had given him a “clean chit”, the anti-graft watchdog had reacted promptly and said the claim was not true.
It has been reported that the Malam Jabba land was gifted by the Wali-e-Swat and the move to lease out the land was made in 2014. However, after smelling rat in the deal, the forest department had later cancelled the lease.
PM’s Principal Secretary Azam Khan had claimed in a letter that the lease period of 33 years and its extendable for another 20 years had been mentioned in the advertisement as well as terms of reference (ToR) of the project.
The ToR was approved by then chief minister Pervez Khattak on Feb 27, 2014. On the basis of this, private parties submitted their bids/proposals for obtaining the project to a committee notified by the chief secretary.
The letter said it must be presumed that the committee and the chief minister decided the present lease period as a special case despite general government policy on leasing as mentioned by the law department due to special circumstances of militancy-hit Malakand division and quantum of investment involved. “It is also worth mentioning that the highest bidder has offered Rs12 million per annum with enhancement of 10 per cent yearly during the initial lease period of 33 years with maximum 25 per cent increase for further extension,” the letter said.
Taking up other important matters, the NAB meeting authorised the filing of a corruption reference against Syed Tajammul Hussain, who is accused of giving advertisements of fake recruitments through an illegal testing company despite having no posts in the departments concerned on ground. “He looted the people at large and also received huge money from candidates on the pretext of fake advertisements for fake jobs just for the sake of minting money illegally,” the NAB press release said.
The EBM also approved four inquiries against various personalities, including former finance minister Miftah Ismail and others, and two inquiries against officers and officials of the National Highway Authority (NHA) and others, officers and officials of the Irrigation and Revenue Department, Peshawar, and others.
Speaking on the occasion, NAB chief Javed Iqbal said the bureau’s priority was to take mega corruption cases, especially sugar, flour, money laundering, fake accounts case, abuse of authority, assets beyond means, illegal housing societies and Modarba scams.
He said NAB recovered directly or indirectly Rs533 billion from corrupt elements during his tenure and gave due respects to business community’s contribution to progress and prosperity of the country. The NAB chairman said he had taken immediate measures to refer the cases of income tax, sales tax and under-invoicing to the Federal Board of Revenue, besides establishing a special desk at the NAB headquarters under the supervision of a director for resolving issues being faced by the business community.
About bureaucracy, he said it was the backbone of the country and NAB not only respected bureaucrats but also honoured their services. He said some 1,273 references involving Rs1,300bn were under trial in different accountability courts.
Since its inception, Mr Iqbal said, NAB has directly and indirectly recovered Rs814bn from corrupt elements which was a record. “NAB is making serious efforts to recover looted amount from illegal housing/cooperative societies and Modarba scams,” he added.
Published in Dawn, July 29th , 2021