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Ashraf will be the most senior Pakistani to visit India since last April when President Asif Ali Zardari embarked on a similar pilgrimage and then had lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. - File photo
File photo

ISLAMABAD, March 25: On Monday, the Islamabad High Court issued show-cause notices to several senior officials from the Public Works Department (PWD), with Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui asking the PWD's Director-General, “Why should you not be handcuffed and sent to jail for flouting court orders?”

The department has been charged with contempt of court by Gondal Construction, a private company, for releasing Rs3.6billion development funds for former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf's Gujjar Khan constituency.

The funds were released despite a restraining order from the IHC and in a manner that allegedly violated established procedures.

PWD Director-General Shah Din Sheikh, superintendent Sohail Akhtar and executive engineer Atique-ur-Rehman are named as respondents in the case, along with Federal Treasury Officer Tasawar Hussain and acting treasury officer Zahid Mughal.

The Director-General cited pressure from the Prime Minister's Secretariat and Mohammad Ayub Qazi, the PM's principal secretary, as reasons for the release of funds. Qazi, he said, ‘insisted’ that the money be released.

The projects in question are the Mandra-Chakwal and Sohawa-Chakwal roads.

Syed Nawab Hassan Gardezi, the counsel for Gondal Constructions, told the court that last October, the PWD had approved the projects and awarded the construction contracts to the NLC on October 10, 2012.

He said his client had also applied for the contract. After fulfilling initial requirements, Gondal did “some feasibility work”, but was then surprised by the PWD's sudden decision.

According to Gardezi, “Awarding the contract to the NLC was a violation of PPRA rules.

Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) stipulates that the bidding process ensure the widest possible competition and not favour any contractor over another.”

Soon after the contract was awarded, Gondal Constructions, filed a petition in the court; Gardezi reminded the bench that on November 5, 2012, the IHC had ‘restrained’ the PWD from releasing the funds to the NLC. On March 16 — the last day of the PPP government's tenure in Islamabad — the PWD issued a cheque for the funds to the NLC.

Another client of Gardezi's, PWD executive engineer Rafaqat Iqbal, was dismissed from his position after refusing to release the payment, and was replaced by the more persuadable Atiqueur Rehman, formerly of the PWD's Anti-Corruption Cell. The IHC restored Iqbal to his position on March 21. Gondal’s contempt of court petition against the PWD officials was filed on the same day.

“These contracts were awarded in a clandestine manner,” Gardezi told the court.

“Not only did the PWD violate a court restraining order on the last day of the government's tenure, he said, “government functionaries had been pressurized to give the contracts to chosen candidates, and to release the money despite a court order.”

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 28.