Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for the alleged misuse of authority in the construction of a low-cost housing scheme. It was his first summons, which unnerved him. He faces a number of serious inquiries in the coming days, which will decide the future of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz are adding to his problems by bashing the establishment and the judiciary. PML-N legislators are already uncertain of the future of the party after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif. Their concern will grow and they could leave the party after his conviction, expected in the current month. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is the only hope of concerned legislators and voters of the ruling party. They could disperse after seeing the younger Sharif in a deep web of inquiries by the NAB before elections.
Shahbaz Sharif’s frustration was evident from his press conference after appearing before NAB. He said he had appeared before it only to uphold the rule of law, and accused it of being biased against him. He had been summoned over his alleged involvement in the cancellation of Aashiana-i-Iqbal scheme’s contract to successful bidders M/S Ch. Latif and Sons and the award of contract to M/S Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of M/S Paragon City (Pvt) Limited, linked to Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, which caused a loss of millions of rupees to the national exchequer. “If saving the nation’s money and halting corruption is a crime and I have crossed the line to do so, then I will repeat it tens of millions of times,” he said furiously.
In contrast, he had few answers to NAB’s 22 questions. The questions were interesting for his critics and disturbing for him. He was asked: “What is the reason behind the failure of Ashiana Iqbal project? Why its foundation has not been laid even after seven years? The project was not only delayed but its cost has also increased. You revoked the contract of M/s Chaudhry Latif and Sons on petty violations but you have not taken any action against M/s Lahore Casa Developers despite its failure to complete the project in the stipulated time (2015). Do you know Lahore Casa Developers is a fake company? Do you know Paragon City is owned by Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique? Did any Lahore Development Authority (LDA) board member or another person inform you about the link between Lahore Casa Developers and Paragon City? Do you know Khawaja Saad Rafique used his influence on the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) and the LDA to award the contract to Casa Developers and then asked them to remain soft on the Casa Developers despite its illegal works? Did Saad Rafique ask you any legal favour or concession for Casa Developers? Did you ask Saad Rafique to use his influence on Casa Developers to initiate and complete the Asiana Iqbal project? Do you know if the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) or the LDA has received any gift or money from Paragon City? What is the reason and idea behind setting up public sector companies in the Punjab while similar institutions are already working in the province? What are their rules and regulations? On March 20, 2013, you ordered the PLDC to cancel the contract of Ashiana Iqbal. You know it was the prerogative of its board and CEO. You forced the board to accept your decision, which caused a loss of Rs193m to the national exchequer and the PLDC had to pay Rs5m penalty to Latif and Sons. Explain your position. The PLDC handed over the project to the LDA on your orders after the contract with Latif and Sons was cancelled. Can a contract of one company be awarded to another on the orders of the chief minister? Why was the project handed over to the LDA illegally?”
NAB reminded him that Ashiana Quaid Lahore, Sahiwal and Faisalabad had been completed by the Punjab government. “Ashiana Iqbal was also launched by the Punjab government. Later, it was decided to launch the project under public-private partnership, under which the government decided to transfer 2,000 kanal land to private developers. What was the reason behind it? The LDA awarded the contract to Casa Developers, which consists of Bismillah Engineering, Sparco Company and Anhui Construction Company, which are known companies of Paragon City. There was no standard set for them after which Bismillah Engineering was awarded a project of Rs14b while it was entitled to maximum of Rs100m. The LDA, after fudging figures, awarded 33.3pc score to each company while the fact was that Bismillah Engineering had 90pc, Sparco Engineering 9pc and Anhui Construction 1pc shares. The name of Anhui Construction was wrongly used to provide maximum benefits to Bismillah Engineering. It caused a huge loss to LDA. Explain your position. Casa Developers could not provide required documents or bank guarantee. Despite its inability, under a plan to benefit Paragon City, 3,000 kanal land was transferred to Casa Developers, which was against the plan of the project. The project, launched in 2011, could not be started until now. Its land is still in the possession of Casa Developers. Can you assess the rise of the cost since 2011? The project caused a loss of Rs715m. You ordered the PLDC CEO to award consultancy of Ahiana Iqbal to ECSP Consultancy Company, which demanded Rs240m but when the company objected, the consultancy company reduced the fee to Rs192m. When the PLDC informed the constancy company that NESPAK had demanded Rs34.4m, it agreed to the amount. Had you interfered in the affairs, so that ECSP could embezzle money?” The questions indicate Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Railway Minister Saad Rafique are in deep trouble.
NAB has also sent notices to Shahbaz Sharif, seeking details of his assets and asked him to submit details of the funds spent in the construction of Raiwind Road, leading to the Sharifs’ Jati Umra residence. It has already ordered an inquiry against Zaeem Qadri, a close aide to the chief minister, for allegedly taking favours from the Punjab Small Industrial Cooperative Employees Housing Society. He is also accused of illegally occupying land of the society with the connivance of its management. The Multan Metro Bus Project is also being investigated for corruption.
Some say speedy investigations against Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz for corruption are the fallout of his elder brother’s criticism of the establishment and the judiciary. They say Nawaz Sharif wants to sink his party along with him, rather than leaving it to his younger brother and Shahbaz Sharif is piling up problems for himself by siding with him.