- Bureau unable to take corruption cases against politicians from ruling party to logical conclusion
- NAB focuses on smaller provinces after being reprimanded by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
With increasing calls for transparency and accountability of public office-holders, it seems that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has lost its steam and commitment under its ‘controversial’ chairman Chaudhry Qamar Zaman.
Despite the tall claims of its anti-corruption drive, the Bureau seems to have compromised due to its inability to take corruption cases against politicians from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to its logical conclusion.
Well placed sources in the NAB confided to Pakistan Today that corruption cases against top government officials have yet to be initiated, while the Bureau has already given a clean chit to two former lawmakers – Hanif Abbasi and Shakil Awan – of the ruling party involved in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus scam.
Similarly, the sources added, clearance of Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashhood is also on the cards due to what NAB sources call the failure of the complainant to record his statement.
It may be mentioned here that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had publicly criticised the NAB chairman and warned of consequences after the Bureau widened the scope of investigation into alleged irregularities by government employees in PML-N-dominated Punjab province. Later, the NAB chairman issued a clarification and the Bureau’s focus shifted from Punjab to smaller provinces.
Under its Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, the NAB has been criticised for its action against key leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or politicians and bureaucrats from smaller provinces. Also critics have accused the NAB of inaction in Punjab.
About NAB’s action against some senior leaders of the ruling PML-N, NAB Rawalpindi’s spokesman Bilal Punnu said that all high profile cases with the NAB Rawalpindi have been cleared. “We don’t have any high profile case left now. Either we have filed references or the matter has been cleared,” he said.
Asked about the graft cases against PML-N’s former lawmakers Hanif Abbasi and Shakil Awan and Punjab Minister Rana Mashhood, Bilal said that all cases relating to serving or former lawmakers were handled by the NAB headquarters.
Probe against Rana Mashhood losing steam:
In August 2014, a video of Rana Mashhood surfaced in which the Punjab education minister was allegedly involved in corrupt practices. The minister was also accused of financial irregularities in the Punjab Youth Festival programme.
On December 4 last year, the NAB Executive Board Meeting (EBM) authorised an inquiry against the Punjab minister and others in a case where the suspects were accused of corruption, corrupt practices and misuse of authority in holding a sports festival.
Nevertheless, a formal inquiry by Pakistan Today reveals that the probe against Mashhood is still in inquiry stage despite the fact that sufficient evidence is available with the investigators.
According to a senior official, the NAB has been unable to carry forward the probe against Mashhood due to lukewarm response from the complainant, Asim Malik. “Now the investigators have decided to write a third letter to Malik to ask him to record his statement about his allegations against the Punjab minister,” said the official.
The official told this scribe that Asim Malik, the owner of a visa consultancy firm, had shared a video featuring Rana Mashhood receiving money from Malik at his house a few years ago in the name of party funds for the ruling PML-N. “The case is still in inquiry stage because of the fact that Asim Malik and others have not been cooperative. We are, however, making all-out efforts to make headway,” the official said.
“Mashood appeared before a NAB team a month ago and we recorded his statement. However, despite two requests to Asim Malik, the complainant has not showed up for recording his statement. We will issue him another reminder,” the official went on to say.
Asked if Mashhood was being investigated for the video scandal or the NAB was investigating allegations of corruption in the Punjab Youth Festival, the official said that the NAB was only investigating the video scandal involving the minister. “NAB is not probing the youth festival thing,” the official added.
Asked about the statement made by Mashhood, the official refused to share any details, saying he only knew that the minister had pleaded innocence while maintaining that the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) had also investigated the matter and given him a clean chit.
It may be mentioned here that Asim Malik and his wife, who also served as MPA under the PML-Q government, had fled the country years ago. Malik had released the video featuring him and Mashhood where the latter was seen negotiating money with the former in the name of ‘party funds’.
A local court had issued arrest warrants for Asim Malik then, while the minister had also hurled threats on Malik for framing him.
Another source in the NAB said that the investigation team had informed Rana Mashhood about the allegations against him during an interview that lasted three hours. “Rana Mashood was informed by the investigators that there were several allegations of corruption against him including the video scandal. Mashhood however claimed that the allegations levelled against him were politically-motivated,” added the source.
The source further said that the NAB had collected evidence in the video scandal and decided to launch a formal inquiry after proof pertaining to the case was found.
Hanif Abbasi, Shakil Awan cleared:
While the NAB had launched a probe into the alleged anomalies in the Metro Bus project of Islamabad in December last year, the matter has quietly been settled after an initial probe.
When Pakistan Today contacted a senior official at the NAB headquarters, it learnt that no matter involving Hanif Abbasi or Shakil Awan was investigated by the NAB.
“Only a complaint verification process was initiated into alleged installation of low quality escalators at the Metro Bus stations in Islamabad. The matter was duly investigated, but after an initial probe, it turned out that the compliant had been filed even before the execution of the project. When the investigation team examined the escalators, they found them to be good and satisfactory,” the NAB official said.
When asked how come the matter had been resolved at an initial stage, the NAB official said that perhaps, the contractors had got hint of the complaint and they had rectified their faults well in time to hush up the matter.
On the contrary, an official handout released by the NAB in December last year had made a categorical reference towards probe against Hanif Abbasi, Shakil Awan and others in the Metro Bus project.
According to the statement, the NAB chief had taken cognisance of a complaint lodged six months ago regarding procurement of elevators for the project and directed to carry out a thorough inquiry into the tendering process in the light of set rules and procurement procedure.
The handout had said that the NAB has written a letter to commercial banks and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to provide the bank accounts of the members of the Metro Bus Project Committee including PML-N leaders Hanif Abbasi and Shakil Awan besides two officials, Rawalpindi former commissioner and Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) chairman, regarding procurement of elevators for the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project.
“It has been alleged in the complaint that inferior quality elevators had been procured at an exorbitant price and against Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) criteria for pre-qualification of firms,” the statement had added.