News Analysis |
Mian Saqib Nisar, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, ordered the bureaucrats heading the private companies in Punjab to pay back the extra ‘toppings’ on their salaries, which they were receiving after being appointed the top 56 companies of Punjab, established by the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Not only did the two-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar with Justice Umar Ata Bandial, pass the directives, but also set a one-month deadline for the recovery of extra salaries, on Saturday.
The directives were issued on a suo moto notice, due to the alleged corruption in 56 private companies of Punjab. The top judge categorically remarked that the companies were formed for rewarding relatives, but hastened to add that no one would be allowed to plunder or misuse taxpayers’ money with impunity. Not only did the top judge expose the undue favor extended to blue-eyed boys but also blew the lid off Punjab government’s connivance as Saleem Shahzad, Director General of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), informed the court that the Punjab government did not cooperate with the bureau.
This was proved when17 out of 56 companies did not submit their records. Upon this, the Chief Justice directed the NAB official to inform the court about the required record and ordered the said companies to furnish the data within three days. One of the Chief Executive Officers of the said companies, Capt (retd) Muhammad Usman, who heads the Punjab Saaf Pani Company (PSPC), was also grilled by the top judge as the officer sought more time to file a report about the company’s performance.
The shocking revelations about the perks and privileges extended to the bigwigs of the companies, with some claiming that the salaries of officials were in millions, the whole vision seems to be entangled in favoritism, the cost of which is being paid by the taxpayers.
The Chief Justice directly asked Usman about his experience relevant to the water projects and inquired whether he was the DCO (district coordination officer) Lahore at the time of Model Town massacre. To this, the officer replied that he had taken charge one day before the incident, adding that his appointment was in line with merit and lawful procedures. However, Mian Saqib Nisar did not seem impressed by the justification and remarked that the government has exploited the system.
The 56 companies of Punjab, formed by Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, have been facing investigations from October 2017, when the Auditor General Punjab took strict notice of alleged corruption, worth Rs. 80 billion, by the said companies. With this in mind, even when the investigation had started,, the companies refused to hand over the records. Therefore, a month later, National Accountability Bureau announced to launch inquiry against the companies for alleged violation of Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules.
Moreover, the Lahore High Court also enlisted the support of the Advocate General of Punjab, on a slew of petitions challenging the formation of 56 companies, including PSPC. Three petitioners; Azhar Siddique, Sheraz Zaka and Sania Kanwal moved court against the establishment of the said companies. Although Azhar Siddique is a habitual petitioner, his most remarkable achievement, in recent times, is the ouster of Absar Alam, Chairman of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
One of the Chief Executive Officers of the said companies, Capt (retd) Muhammad Usman, who heads the Punjab Saaf Pani Company (PSPC), was also grilled by the top judge as the officer sought more time to file a report about the company’s performance.
Interestingly, besides bribing the bureaucrats by offering them hefty salaries, the Punjab Government also appointed 12 members of the Punjab Assembly as the directors and senior officials of the private companies. Therefore a petition against such ‘shady’ appointments was filed in the Lahore High Court, last year. Among these, a Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA), Ramzan Siddique Bhatti, is working as one of the directors of the Lahore Transport Company. Ramzan Siddique Bhatti is also working as member of Lahore Parking Company along with other provincial legislators; Nasreen Nawaz and Kiran Dar.
Interestingly four officials of the Lahore Parking Company are facing trial in an accountability court as well. Majid Zahoor, the Member Provincial Assembly, also served as one of the directors of the Lahore Waste Management Company while Hussain Jahania Gardezi, another lawmaker, worked as one of the directors of Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company. Besides the petition filed by Azhar Siddiqui, Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, the leader of Pakistan Tehrek-e-Insaf, has also filed a petition in the Lahore High Court in 2016, however, nothing substantial was done in this regard.
The formation of public companies apparently seemed to be in line with the vision of Punjab’s Chief Minister. However, with the shocking revelations about the perks and privileges extended to the bigwigs of the companies, with some claiming that the salaries of officials were in millions, the whole vision seems to be entangled in favoritism, the cost of which is being paid by the taxpayers.