Image-building through corruption: PIA’s ‘fake bills’ scandal surrounds journalists


—PIA admin denies allegations of wrongdoing, saying journalists were transparently accommodated through dinners and gifts for ‘image-building’

— FIA sources claim investigation has been initiated against venal officials


ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has cleared fake bills worth millions of rupees on the pretext of arranging dinners for journalists and giving them gifts to improve the image of the national carrier.

The officers and staff of PIA have once again hoodwinked the national exchequer by getting fake bills worth millions of rupees cleared. Interestingly, the expenditures were incurred under the head of ‘Image-Building of PIA’ and were, at least on paper, spent on giving dinners, takeaways, Iftar parties, and business lunches to beat reporters from the print and the electronic media.

According to documents, copies of which are available with Pakistan Today, the bogus bills and invoices from various posh restaurants, cafes, and shops have been approved by the higher officials of PIA, thus incurring losses of millions of rupees on the national exchequer.

When this scribe visited some of the restaurants and cafes mentioned in the PIA papers for verification of these bills, all turned out to be fake.

The bills and invoices submitted to PIA high-ups included a bill from Muhammad Traders for an order of 35 leather bags, each costing Rs5,400. The total worth of these bags was Rs189,000.

Another bill showed that the national carrier had arranged a lunch for 40 journalists at a Chinese eatery Heng Chang and the get-together cost the national exchequer a total of Rs50,750.

At, Qismisch, another posh restaurant located at Bhittai Road, F-7, lunch for 40 journalists cost around Rs60,800. Yet another lunch was given by PIA to 40 beat reporters at Tiramisu which cost a total of Rs62,400 at Rs1,560 per head.

Furthermore, two ‘fancy carpets’ were purchased from Unique Furnishers at a cost of Rs36, 000 under the same publicity head.

According to the documents, other expenditures included Iftar dinners at Heng Chang for 74 journalists at Rs1,800 per head, thus costing Rs154,512 in total. Moreover, invoices from Tuscany Courtyard showed that the carrier spent Rs154, 300 on July 18, 2017, which was followed by a dinner invoice amounting to Rs118,600, dated September 10, 2017.

Moreover, an Ecostar LED television worth Rs27, 600 was purchased from Sharjah Electronics under the same head. Around 100 coffee table books, titled ‘Journey to Pakistan’, costing Rs300,000 rupees were ordered from Global Books. Another bill from Monal Restaurant showed a total expenditure of Rs36,283 in a single trip.

It is pertinent to mention here that in PIA, the revenue and expenditure could be approved by a competent authority, including the chairman, deputy general manager and area station heads at domestic/foreign stations.

The carrier’s chairman had the authority to approve cases that exceeded one million Pakistani rupees or US$30,000 in a single case, while the station heads and deputy general managers had the authority to approve cases up to Rs50,000 and $2,000 in any single case.

Sources inside the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Pakistan Today that the agency had started investigating the case and the venal officials would be taken to task.

It also merits mention here that PIA Manager Coordination Muhammad Javed Jameel had cleared all bills worth Rs1.4 million on December 6, 2017, without first cross-checking the documents. He signed all the bills and stamped them with the comment, “certified for payment”.

Not only this, the official documents showed that PIA required Rs2,75,000 rupees (as an advance) per month for the purpose of arranging lunches/dinners for journalists, while also giving beat reporters expensive gifts.

The deputy general manager, in his letter dated December 11, 2017, stated, “With reference to the email, received from finance manager of Islamabad, dated December 10, 2017, please find attached original approval of the settlement of advance amounting to Rs13,02,997 by the competent authority along with the original bills.” The letter also stated that the same amount should be given to the carrier in advance.

The PIA chairman supported the expenditures and said, “Public image-building is the need of the hour and regular expenditure in this regard would be needed.”

When contacted, PIA Public Affairs General Manager and Spokesperson Mashood Tajwar said that he had no knowledge about the matter. “Since, according to you (this scribe), FIA has started an investigation into the matter. I cannot comment on it,” he said.

Responding to a question, he clarified that even though interacting with beat reporters of the print and the electronic media is his job, but he was not involved in producing fake bills to conceal PIA’s expenditures.