In ancient times, armies stole the wealth of states including gold, jewels, silver and other valuables from buildings and monuments that were state-owned. Similarly, colonial rule caused grave losses to scores of countries which struggle to recover even today. But in our case, it appears that we don’t need an outside force to loot national institutions. Hearing a suo motu case regarding the alleged corruption of Rs22 billion in the Pakistan Steel Mills, the Chief Justice of Pakistan headed a three-member bench to take notice of the matter. He observed that institutions including Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), Pakistan Railways and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had all been ruined.
This is, of course, hardly surprising for any of us. Over the last few years, we have seen open plunder of these institutions. PIA, which once used to be a high-ranking international airline has plummeted to depths so low that recovery seems difficult and the Pakistan Railways barely moves in its own tracks. However, the story told before the Court regarding the PSM goes a long way to explain how all this came about. The counsel for PSM produced an audit report for the year 2008-09, which showed losses of Rs26.5 billion. Of this large amount, Rs9.98 billion have been lost to corruption and the rest to poor business mismanagement. The counsel also pointed out that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had failed to act despite five enquiries, while the chairman of the PSM at the time managed to evade jail by claiming sickness. Asked why it had failed to act, the secretary for the ministry of industries claimed that the state of operations at the FIA is known to all.
The observations made by the court, regarding the state of the FIA, the criticisms heard when courts intervene and the appointment of inept or dishonest officers in the PSM are familiar ones. What is sad is the detailed account of ruin we see before us and the fact that it could have been avoided, leaving our nation in a far better condition than the one it is in currently.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2012.