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Pakistan’s cleanest government?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has claimed his government is corruptionfree and has not been tainted by even a single financial scandal. The claim is also repeated daily by his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. However, the public perception and ground realities about corruption beg to differ. The government has silenced the media to a large extent through an advertisement campaign of billions of rupees. From the payment of Rs480b circular debt few months after coming to power to the Nandipur, Neelum-Jhelum power projects, Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur, Metro train and buses, laptop scheme and almost Rs1b expenditure from the national exchequer on the Raiwind Palace are glaring examples of corruption. The record of the Lahore and Multan metro bus projects was burnt even before they were launched to avoid audit. According to a recent report of the US State Department, Pakistan loses more than $10b a year to trade-based money laundering. According to the Swiss National Bank, Pakistanis have stashed more money in Swiss banks and bought properties worth billions of rupees abroad in recent years even after the onset of the Panama Leaks. According to another report, Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats have purchased properties worth Rs700 billion in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the last few years.

Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer survey for Asia Pacific countries for 2016, shows that around 70pc of Pakistanis who came into contact with either the police or the courts had to pay a bribe. Over $9 billion are illegally remitted outside Pakistan, according to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). Finance Minister Ishaq Dar says tax evaders have stashed up to $200bn in Switzerland. The 969 megawatt Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project was launched in haste that caused immense losses, including loss of human lives. Initially estimated in 1989, to cost Rs15.2 billion, the project cost ballooned to Rs414 billion in 2015, according to Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) documents submitted to the Planning Commission. Almost Rs990 billion graft was suspected in the project. The project management had deployed expensive tunnel-boring machines, which were bought at an exorbitant cost of Rs19.5 billion, on the claim that the project would start generation by November 2016.

The Nandipur power project is another model of incompetence, corruption and mismanagement. The PML-N government criticized the PPP for corruption in the project but made the most of it after coming to power. The government tried to knit a web of deceit and lies to hoodwink the nation about its operational and financial viability. The project, which was to cost Rs22-23b, reached a whooping Rs65b billion in three years of the PML-N government. The Orange Line Metro Train, which Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif calls a great gift of China, is another project rife with corruption. Many contractors have been arrested for corruption in the project. The biggest flaw in the project is that its details were kept secret from the public by the ruling party. However, calling it a gift of China is a cruel joke on the people.

It is loan, at about 3pc mark-up, which is very costly, considering recession in the world and loans offered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) at much lower rates. In 2006, interest rate on the original loan for an underground train project, negotiated with the WB, was 0.3pc. But the PML-N government scrapped the underground project, planned by the then Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi, and took a new loan at a hefty interest rate. Then, Rs16 billion subsidy on the Rs200b project every year will overburden the national exchequer further. The Punjab government is already providing Rs1.8b billion annual subsidy on the Lahore metro bus service. Launched at a cost of Rs30 billion (critics say it cost Rs70b) on a 27-kilometre-long route, the bus service is causing a daily loss of approximately Rs5 million to the government while the Turkish company operating the buses has almost recovered its cost within a year, according to figures by the Metro Bus Authority. It has caused almost Rs2 billion loss to the government since its inauguration in February 2013, in terms of subsidy, which the government has paid to the Turkish company. A passenger pays Rs20 for one-way travel while the government has to pay a subsidy of Rs40. Besides, the government is providing Rs2b subsidy annually on the Islamabad metro bus. According to the subsidy sharing formula, — calculated on the basis of ridership and length of track by the Punjab Metro Bus Authority (PMBA) — the Centre pays Rs1.2 billion and the Punjab Rs0.8 billion annually to keep the bus service running. Of the total length of the metro corridor, 8.5km falls in Rawalpindi and 13.9km in Islamabad. It cost the nation Rs44.2 billion. The total annual subsidy on the three metro projects is about Rs20b.

The Punjab government has spent almost Rs1b for the security of the Sharif family’s private residence at Jati Umra. The allocation of a hefty amount for personal safety from taxpayers’ money is unprecedented even in Pakistan’s history. Taxpayers’ money was used to build a wall around the private residence of the prime minister. Over 2,751 police officials have been deployed for the security of the family. They perform duties as chief coordinator of security, chief minister’s squad in Islamabad; Rawalpindi; CM’s Office GOR-1; Banquet Hall, 90 Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, Lahore; CM’s residence, 96-H, Model Town, Lahore; CM’s residence, DHA, Lahore; PM’s residence, Jati Umra, Raiwind, Lahore; a squad for CM’s son Hamza Shahbaz; a squad for Mrs. Nusrat Shahbaz, wife of the CM; a squad for Salman Shahbaz, son of the CM and his family; a squad for Mian Imran Ali Yousaf, son-in-law of the CM, a squad for Begum Tehmina Shahbaz, wife of the CM, 51-A, Judicial Colony, Lahore; and Punjab House, CM Secretariat GOR-1; 108-H, Model Town and Jati Umrah. According to media reports, security for the Sharif family costs taxpayers over Rs20m a month.

This is too much for a country, where over 60pc of the population lives below the poverty line. The huge spending on the Raiwind Palace from the public exchequer is the worst form of corruption. It could have led to the ouster of any prime minister in the world. It would have been intolerable even if a PPP prime minister or chief minister had done it. The Senate recently found “criminal negligence” and “blatant irregularities” in the payment of Rs480b circular debt, the first task the PML-N government performed after coming to power in 2013. The Senate has decided to refer the case to investigation agencies for a detailed probe. Over Rs60.7 billion was paid to some favourite Independent Power Producers (IPPs), which had not even run their plants. Every project of the government is tainted with huge corruption. However, it has attained special skills to hush it up through its experience of decades. The Panama case shows its past skills, when it built motorways. New cases of corruption will emerge after its ouster from power

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