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NAB Summons Shehbaz Sharif in Saaf Pani Project Scandal, Does it Matter?

Jun 3, 2018 (DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — The country’s anti-corruption watchdog has summoned Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President –the former CM of Punjab Mian Shehbaz Sharif, in the Saaf Pani Project scam Monday with all relevant records of the public company he had formed for the said purpose.

According to earlier reports, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore had asked the former chief minister to appear in person at 2pm on Monday June 4 along with all relevant records of the water company, and salaries and perks paid to the officers.

Shehbaz was served notice in May in the capacity of chief executive of the company. His son Hamza Shahbaz was also summoned last month as he was said to be in possession of crucial information and evidences about the company matters in question, and had attended various meetings related to issues pertaining to the affairs of the dysfunctional project.

Earlier, NAB had summoned former Punjab finance minister Aisha Ghaus Pasha, Wajeeha Gul, Shehbaz’s son-in-law, Imran Ali Yousuf and several party members of the provincial assembly in the said case.

Despite Rs4 billion (approx US$40m) being spent on the Punjab government’s Saaf Pani project, not a single drop of clean water has been made available to the citizens, the Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Saeed had informed the Supreme Court in April.

A two-member bench of the SC, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, has taken up suo motu case regarding alleged irregularities in appointments in the safe drinking project which envisages providing clean drinking water to entire Punjab.

The top court was informed that Rs300 million has so far been spent on the services of foreign consultants, while an estimated amount of Rs150 billion had been allocated for the whole project. 116 plants of clean water have been installed at a cost of Rs4 billion covering only 10 to 12 per cent of Punjab’s population. Most of these plants are reported to be dysfunctional.

Justice Nisar has rejected a report on the project submitted by the company’s CEO.

“Everyone will be held accountable; I will ensure that every penny of the nation is returned,” he remarked. He also said that those who appointed people in the project would also be held accountable and be asked to return the spent money.

“So much money was spent on advertising but the project was not completed,” Justice Nisar observed.

He also vowed that undue favors or bribe would not work until the current judiciary is in place.

A report appearing in local daily Dawn in April had said that most of these plants, if not all of these plants started becoming dysfunctional due to lack of an efficient mechanism to maintain them regularly and keep them operational in a cost-effective way. “Many of them went out of service because the government could not pay for the import of replacement filter membranes as regularly as the plants needed. In other cases, the electricity bill to keep them running ran too high to be affordable by a provincial administration that badly needed money for other projects such as a metro bus service for Lahore. Bad engineering, faulty construction and low-quality construction material also contributed to reducing their lifespan.”

And being the CEO, Shehbaz has many questions to answer. He was sent a questionnaire last month regarding the affairs of the water company and the dysfunctional project.

Analysis

However, with the announcement of countrywide polls on July 25, Shehbaz as President of the strongest party in Punjab and as a candidate himself, would have his hands full and consider such matters as an avoidable distraction. Observers say the top court enabled summons and NAB’s probes against alleged corruption, misappropriation of public funds, misgovernance and mismanagement, etc. could also be painted by spin doctors, party workers and supporters as ill-timed and a well orchestrated witch-hunting politically motivated, and therefore lacking substance and credibility.

Notwithstanding the merit of such narratives, observers say the ongoing project democracy in the country must conform to the rule of law and include accountability across the board of those who have been governing and wishes to govern.

Still in incubation, project democracy remains rocky though perception-wise, although in reality it’s actually noisy and choppy. Many a lawbreakers, carpetbaggers and gold-diggers are reportedly in the fray but with fear-factor and therefore spending time, money and other resources to paint the ongoing judicial activism against massive corruption and mismanagement as ill-timed and ill-intended — they have been floating the buzzwords “judicial martial law” and judiciary-army nexus” to counter the not so uncommon push for rule of law where ever democracy is being practiced and delivering. Behind their pent-up feelings and mixed emotions specially abhorrence for rule of law and accountability is their mantra that these are inconvenient truths to be ignored for sake of democracy, and that an unnecessary divide-and-rule tactic is being used  to keep them out of the loop– they are confident the masses will sympathize and prevail once populist slogan is coined and driven home — “rule of vote” versus “rule of law”.

That may possibly become true not only in the Punjab — country’s largest province with swing vote, but also in Sindh where PPP rules and a similar set of investigations is ongoing.

Given the literacy, education and corruption indexes of the country, the defining moment therefore rests in the hands of those who want to climb up the power ladder at all cost and their vote banks, and not with the silent majority seeking rule of law and accountability. Ironically, the motley liberal left in the populace and some media outlets seek outcomes driven by end-must-justify-the-means. That polls must be held without delay even by bending or changing rules so anyone can get elected as a lawmaker, and putting accountability and rule of law on the backbuner, the party must go on, in their opinion. So does it matter if NAB summons anyone or the Election Commission approves nomination of a candidate without a background check?






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