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SAHIWAL, Aug 27: The Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) has started investigation against the sports officer of the Sahiwal Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA) for his alleged involvement in corruption and bribery.

Dawn learnt from official sources on Wednesday that a group of citizens had lodged a complaint against Sports Officer Ghulam Qadir with the Punjab chief secretary alleging charges of misuse of power and concealing actual income generated through awarding contracts of installing advertisement billboards, signboards and other publicity material.

The complainants accused Qadir of giving advertisement contracts to his favourites without merit, receiving monthly kickbacks from corporate and private sector to keep their publicity material, banners and steamers displayed at conspicuous places in the city for more than stipulated time, receiving rents of many billboards whose records had not been registered with the TMA and receiving bribe from parties interested to launch any campaigning in the city.

Qadir has been working here for the past ten years and, in the meantime, has established a strong nexus with advertisers, painters, printers and publishers.

Any banner/steamer or other advertisement material, prepared by any painter or printer, immediately comes into the knowledge of Qadir and he or his men contact the party concerned to receive bribe.

According to the complaint, if any party refused to pay bribe to Qadir, TMA employees would come into action at once and remove those banners or publicity material from throughout the city.

In 2007, Punjab Lok Boli Mela organisers paid Qadir a Rs10,000 bribe through a painter to keep their advertisement banners displayed for one week, Mela’s media in-charge, Mustafa, told Dawn on Wednesday.

The chief secretary sent the complaint under cover letter No.349/08 dated Aug 7, 2008, to the Sahiwal district coordination officer (DCO).

The DCO later forwarded the complaint to ACE deputy-director for further processing and appropriate action.

“Qadir is so powerful and politically well-connected that no one can challenge his authority in Sahiwal. So, we got the investigation against him initiated from Lahore,” a complainant told Dawn.

Dawn learnt that there were several signboards installed in all major crossings of the city whose records were not available with the TMA and monthly rent of all these illegal billboards went to the pocket of a few headed by Qadir.

“Qadir has been given additional charge of awarding advertisement contracts by the competent authority,” a source at the accounts branch of the TMA told Dawn.

In 2007, TMA’s total income under the billboards advertisement head was Rs1.72 million, the accounts branch official added.

“There are only 120 total billboards of different size registered with the TMA,” Qadir told Dawn.

“But, there is a huge difference between the number of billboards installed in the city and the number mentioned in the TMA record. This difference indeed suggests Qadir’s corruption,” a complainant said.

Dawn also learned that all records pertaining to the TMA advertisement and budget has been sought by the ACE and a physical verification with pictures of publicity material was going on.

ACE Assistant Director Ashfaqur Rahman told Dawn that they would first investigate the complaint and then lodge an FIR if the accused official was found guilty.“We cannot suspend any officer under investigation until he is found guilty. Currently, we are investigating all records of advertisement billboards displayed throughout the city.”

Talking to Dawn, Qadir, however, denied all these allegations. “Advertisement contracts are awarded annually by the TMA on merit. I can prove my innocence with the help of records during investigations,” he added.