HYDERABAD: For almost a month, a bureaucrat posted in Sindh’s Mat­iari district inconspicuously managed to withdraw over Rs2.1 billion — earmarked for the construction of a mot­o­r­way — before the scandal was unearthed, it has emerged.

At the centre of the scandal are two bureaucrats — Matiari Deputy Commi­ss­i­o­ner Mohammad Adnan and Saeedabad Assistant Com­m­i­ss­ioner Mansoor Abbasi — and the Saeedabad branch of Sindh Bank.

Hyderabad’s Anti-Corru­p­tion Establishment (ACE) on Thursday arrested the Mati­ari DC and obtained his three-day remand, while a case has also been registe­red. However, the Saeedabad AC is still at large.

Details indicate that over Rs2.14bn was withdrawn from the Sindh Bank branch in Saeedabad through open bearer cheques, under the pretext of land acquisition for the Hyderabad-Sukkur M6 motorway.

However, no procedural requirements were met before the withdrawals were made.

As per rules, a Land Acq­u­i­sition Award has to be pas­sed under Section 11 of Land Acquisition Act, 1894 to initiate the process. Such an award is passed for acquiring land for any purpose, in lieu of compensation, is to be paid to the concerned individual or party after meeting due requirements.

The National Highway Authority (NHA) had deposited Rs2.70bn in a Sindh Bank account titled ‘DC Matiari Land Acquisition’. However, between Oct 17 and Nov 11, AC Abbasi – who was also the land acquisition officer – withdrew Rs2.14bn in cash through various cheques, according to documents seen by Dawn.

However, no trace of the withdrawn money has yet been found.

The DC Matiari and AC Saeedabad could only provide partial records for land acquisition proceedings, including records of correspondence and payments from National Highway Authority (NHA), and the land acquisition record for payments of compensation supposedly made by the AC was not available.

The scandal has also called into question the performance of the concerned bank, as officials said that cash transactions were never carried out for payments of compensation in lieu of land acquisition.

According to a government official, legal instruments like pay orders, demand drafts or crossed cheques were used for such payments.

The Sindh government had formed a two-member fact finding committee on Nov 13 to look into the matter. When the two-member team arrived at the branch for probe, the manager was on leave.

The bank’s area manager in Hyderabad, Tabish Shah, told the team that AC Abbasi had sent several letters requesting the bank to arrange payments, which were to be collected by his staff, through open bearer cheques issued by him.

However, the bank was unable to explain why they opened an account without the permission of the provincial finance department, which is a mandatory requirement in such cases, under State Bank regulations.

Meanwhile, the matter has been taken up at the highest level by the Sindh government, sources said, adding the Establishment Division was also being informed about the graft.

The federal government has also been asked to take necessary action against the officers, as they belong to the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) cadre.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2022

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