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Corruption allegations against AJK Council

July 22, 2012

MUZAFFARABAD, July 22: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Council, which is at the centre of allegations of embezzlement of Kashmiri taxpayers’ money, has involved the office of prime minister of Pakistan to get itself out of the purview of the AJK Accountability Bureau, Dawn has learnt.

However, AJK President Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan had declined to promulgate an ordinance to this effect in accordance with an ‘advice’ by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in his capacity as chairman AJK Council, maintaining that he (the president) could not take any decision without consulting the AJK government, highly placed official sources told Dawn here on Sunday.

In the meanwhile, the council’s move to save its skin had not only triggered fiery reaction from the opposition parties in AJK but had also sent shock waves in the rank and file of government, compelling Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed to summon his parliamentary party here on Monday to deliberate the contentious issue.

The AJK Council, it may be recalled, was established under the AJK’s interim Constitution Act 1974 apparently ‘to serve as a bridge between the governments in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad’.

However, owing to its allegedly controversial policies, a campaign has lately picked up in AJK for its abolition under constitutional reforms.

The main source of Council’s income is 20 per cent of the taxes generated from the AJK territory which it claims it spends on the administrative expenditure of its secretariat in Islamabad, development activities (in Pakistan and AJK) and other miscellaneous heads.

Apart from the 20 per cent of taxes, it also collects licence fees from the cellular phone companies operating in AJK.

The Council, which wields all three powers — legislative, executive and financial — by itself, has largely evaded scrutiny of its spending by investigating and accounting bodies of Pakistan or AJK.

It was the AJK Accountability Bureau’s incumbent chairman Justice Hussain Mazhar Kaleem, who sought for the first time clarifications and documents from the Council in the wake of private complaints and two references filed by AJK’s former accountant general Tahir Mahmud regarding huge corruption in developmental activities and other expenditures by it.

However, the Council officials, some posted there for as long as eight years, were alleged to be making every attempt to frustrate Accountability Bureau’s efforts to hold it accountable, sources said.

In a conversation with Dawn last month, Council’s joint secretary since 2007, Qaiser Majeed Malik, had maintained that the Council was ‘a parallel government’ and would raise its own body for accountability.

His remarks had embarrassed the AJK government and Prime Minister Abdul Majeed had to issue a clarification that there was no parallel government.

In the meanwhile, the Council also started a publicity campaign to highlight its ‘achievements’ through full-page adverts in the vernacular press.

Sources told Dawn that on Friday Mr Malik sent a summary to the AJK president along with the ‘advice’ of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf seeking repeal of the AJK Ehtesab Bureau Act 2008 to the extent of the AJK Council.

However, the president made it clear to the Council that since the accountability law was approved by the AJK cabinet and enacted by the Legislative Assembly, he could not unilaterally amend it through an ordinance without consulting the AJK government, sources added.

Sources said a meeting of the president and prime minister was most likely to be held here on Monday whereas separately Prime Minster AJK Abdul Majeed had also invited his parliamentary party to debate this issue on Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, leader of the opposition and PML-N AJK chapter president Raja Farooq Haider, Muslim Conference president Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP) president Sardar Khalid Ibrahim Khan, JIAJK amir Abdul Rashid Turabi and some other AJK leaders had strongly condemned the AJK Council moves to avoid accountability and had asked the AJK government to play a role in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

In their separate reactions, these leaders had also called for devolution of powers from the AJK Council to the AJK government on the pattern of recent amendments in the Constitution of Pakistan.