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Bureaucratic corruption: Ahad Cheema arrested by NAB

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National Accountability of Bureau (NAB) arrested the former Director General (DG) of Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Ahad Cheema from his office on Wednesday. He was arrested over allegations of corruption in the Ashiana Housing society. Cheema has been accused by NAB for misusing his authority and awarding the contract of Ashiana housing society to Lahore Casa Developers and receiving a bribe in the form of 32 kanals of land in return. 

Ahad Cheema is a senior grade-19 officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), formerly known as DMG group. He has served on many senior level positions including secretary higher education department (2009-10), DCO Lahore (2011-12), DG LDA (2012-16, in two terms) and currently the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Quaid-e-Azam Thermal Power (Private) Limited.

Even though Cheema has not been proven guilty, the irregularities and corruption in the Ashiana Housing Society has been proven which shows that someone in the higher ups was a part of it. Failure to stop corruption also shows incompetence and negligence of the bureaucracy.

NAB has been investigating the irregularities in the award of the contract of Ashiana Housing Society. The Chief Minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif was also summoned during the investigations and so was the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Fawad Hassan Fawad, in connection with the irregularities in the LDA and the Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC). Fawad was serving as secretary to the project director of PLDC at that time and is alleged to have used his authority unlawfully to award the contract to another company.

Two notices were issued to Cheema to appear before NAB for the investigation. NAB had made it clear in the second notice issued on 12th February that he would face consequences if he failed to appear. After the deadline was over, NAB arrested Cheema under Section 2 of the Schedule of NAO, 1999. Cheema is also expected to face further charges of having more assets than his income. An accountability court on Thursday sent Cheema on a 14 day physical remand.

Read more:NAB starts corruption inquiry against four former senior military officers

Punjab government spokesperson Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said that NAB was trespassing on its institutional jurisdiction in its decision to arrest Cheema. He alleged that there were a number of cases where the accused were not arrested for failing to appear. “This rather exceptional step taken by NAB against a senior official has led to unrest in the administrative machinery that runs the province, the consequent turmoil of this decision can adversely affect the performance of the provincial administration and governance,” he warned.  

Some media reports suggest that the bureaucracy of Punjab is worried over Cheema’s apprehension as they fear that Cheema will become a witness for NAB and give statements against other bureaucrats. Another media report said that over 100 civil servants in Punjab protested over the arrest of Cheema, claiming that he was innocent and was arrested illegally for political goals.

The arrest of Ahad Cheema and inquiry into the Ashiana Housing Society case revealed the age old problem of corruption within the bureaucracy that has plagued Pakistan for decades. Bureaucracy is the machinery of the state and corrupt bureaucrats are a big hurdle in the progress of the country.

Political expert professor Tahir Malik told GVS that arrests are not made before investigations and if the investigations find weak evidence then the suspect is not arrested. He said that since Cheema was arrested so there must have been strong evidence against him. Malik lamented that the bureaucracy was becoming unaccountable except to the secretaries and that they enjoyed absolute power.

Speaking about the protesting civil servants, Malik demanded that action should have been taken against them. Depending on the level of protest, FIRs should be registered against them since such a protest would be a violation of the ESTA code, even if the protest was weak, the concerning secretaries should write letters to the protesting civil servants. He lamented that bureaucrats had become a political tool even though Quaid-e-Azam strictly forbade them to become part of politics.

Read more: Islamabad High Court sets precedence asks to investigate Musharraf for corruption

Legal expert Barrister Shahzad Akhbar told GVS that Cheema was merely arrested for non-compliance with the NAB order despite multiple notices and the arrest doesn’t suggest that Cheema was actually guilty. He said that if civil servants protest over the arrest then it was their democratic right and it did not violate the ESTA code for civil servants.

The arrest of Ahad Cheema and inquiry into the Ashiana Housing Society case revealed the age old problem of corruption within the bureaucracy that has plagued Pakistan for decades. Bureaucracy is the machinery of the state and corrupt bureaucrats are a big hurdle in the progress of the country. Even though Cheema has not been proven guilty, the irregularities and corruption in the Ashiana Housing Society has been proven which shows that someone in the higher ups was a part of it. Failure to stop corruption also shows incompetence and negligence of the bureaucracy.

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