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Imran Khan weighs in on bureaucrat protests

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Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan has threatened that if the protesting bureaucrats do not reopen their offices on Monday, he will break the locks of the Secretariat. A meeting of central leaders of PTI was held on Sunday and the issue of Ahad Cheema’s arrest by NAB in the Ashiana Housing Society case and subsequent protest of bureaucrats was discussed. Imran Khan declared that the Ashiana society case was Shehbaz Sharif’s Panama Papers case.

It was also decided during the meeting that PTI will start an anti-corruption campaign from Karachi on 4th March which will conclude in Lahore. The leaders at the meeting decided to start a formal campaign to search for Faisal Subhan. He was the CEO of Capital Construction Company that had informed Chinese investigation authorities about corruption in Multan Metro project and has since been missing. PTI Central Punjab President Aleem Khan and Opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed will organize protests outside the assembly at 2 pm today.

Who is Ahad Cheema?

National Accountability of Bureau (NAB) arrested the former DG of Lahore Development Authority (LHA) Ahad Cheema from his office on 21st February. Ahad Cheema is a senior Grade-20 officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS). 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.

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Why are the Bureaucrats Protesting?

Bureaucrats of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) created a deadlock by observing a pen-down strike on Friday against the arrest of Ahad Cheema. The protest is over the treatment given to Cheema. He was taken to court in an armoured vehicle and his picture behind bars was released by the NAB. A meeting was called immediately after the arrest of Cheema by the chief secretary of Punjab in the Darbar Hall of Punjab Civil Secretariat. A resolution was also sent to the Punjab chief minister expressing concerns over Cheema’s arrest.

Corruption Allegations against Ahad Cheema

An accountability court hearing Cheema’s case had also ordered the arrest Shahid Shafiq Alam, the CEO of Bismillah Engineering, and sent him on a one day remand. Shafiq was arrested on the testimony of former DG LDA Ahad Cheema. NAB has also released the charge sheet against Cheema to the media according to which, he misused his authority and with criminal intent prepared, processed, recommended and got approval of a fraudulent request of awarding a 14 billion rupee contract of the Ashiana Housing Scheme.

The contract was awarded to M/s Casa Developers, a joint venture of three firms M/s Bismillah Engineering Services Co., M/s SPARCO Construction Company and M/s China First Metallurgical Group Co. Ltd. Under the joint venture, Sparco Construction had 9% shares, but the accused showed it as a front company for Casa Developers, which is illegal, when 90% shares of the JV belonged to Bismillah Engineering.

Some analysts believe that external forces are at work to weaken PML-N by attacking its leadership while others attribute the fresh NAB investigations to the change of NAB leadership.

Bismillah Engineering belongs to the C4 category of Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) and cannot accept projects worth more than 150 million according to the rules of PEC. Ahad Cheema awarded the contract without obtaining the details of shareholding in order to maliciously conceal the technical and financial capability of the firm having maximum shareholding. He also did not follow the directions of the steering committee.

“Almost 61,000 poor applicants submitted around Rs. 60 million as processing fees in recent years for allotment of houses. The government incurred an amount of Rs. 190 million and the contractor M/s Lahore Casa Developers also caused loss in form of liquidation damages of Rs. 455 million approximately. In addition, the project cost also increased by hundreds of millions of rupees,” NAB said. Cheema is also accused of obtaining 32 kanal agricultural lands in for the fraudulent contract.

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What will Happen Next?              

The Punjab government and bureaucracy are expending all their energies to put pressure on NAB to release Ahad Cheema. As pointed out by the PTI chief Imran Khan, the government and the bureaucracy fear that Cheema will become an approver in the graft case and name other high ups for his release. The arrest of Shahid Shafiq is proof that Cheema is not hesitant to sacrifice his accomplices.

It was also decided during the meeting that PTI will start an anti-corruption campaign from Karachi on 4th March which will conclude in Lahore. The leaders at the meeting decided to start a formal campaign to search for Faisal Subhan.

The principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Fawad Hassan Fawad, who was the adviser to Punjab Land Development Company (PLDC) at that time, was also summoned by NAB to record his statement. NAB is expected to probe other projects conducted under Cheema and further names are expected to emerge. Imran Khan’s warning to the bureaucrats might result in a political clash and things could become violent.

Political experts believe that as Imran Khan has stated, Ashiana Housing society case might turn out to be the Panama Papers case for the younger Sharif who is all set to become the next chief of PML-N. Some analysts believe that external forces are at work to weaken PML-N by attacking its leadership while others attribute the fresh NAB investigations to the change of NAB leadership.


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