In a bid to revive proceedings in the multi-billion-rupee Royal Palm Club case, parliament’s top accountability body has decided to become a party in the case and sought a list of Supreme Court judges who are members of the club.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) directed on Wednesday its member, Khawaja Asif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, to become a petitioner in the case after audit officials said that billions of rupees worth of recoveries remain pending, since the apex court has reserved its judgment since March 2011.
An official of the Pakistan Railways said that instead of announcing the judgment in January 2012, the apex court fixed the case for rehearing but no date has been given so far.
“Check and inform us how many judges of the Supreme Court are members of Royal Palm Club … [then] we will see whether the beneficiaries can sit on the bench,” Chairman PAC Nadeem Afzal Chan said.
In the year 2000, when the Pakistan Railways was run by the military, a prime land measuring 141 acres was given to a private party on a 49-year lease for commercial use at throwaway prices. The initial understanding was for 103 acres, for 33 years and the lease of additional land cost the exchequer Rs9.7 billion in losses, according to the audit report.
The National Assembly speaker had formed a 22-member parliamentary special committee to probe this case, which cost an estimated Rs40 billion to the exchequer, and recommended initiating proceedings against former railways minister Lt-Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi, Gen (retd) Saeedul Zafar and Gen (retd) Hamid Butt. The parities, however, went to the court.
Railways Secretary Arif Azeem told the PAC that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was also negotiating with the parties for recovery of the losses but it has not shared its findings with Railways.
Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N said that NAB has worked out Rs6 billion worth of recoveries but the Railways secretary contested the figure, saying the amount was less than that. The PAC summoned NAB to update the body on the case.
Beaconhouse School case
The PAC also decided, in principle, to refer a case involving the family of former foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri to NAB.
Railways’ director-general audit told the PAC that Messrs Educational Services Limited (ESL), owned by Kasuri’s family, rented 19 Railways’ schools for a period of 33 years in 2001, at a monthly rent of Rs5,000 per school.
While the ESL was paying Rs5,000 monthly rent to Railways for each school, it rented out school canteens at Rs9,167 per month, the auditor said.
“The schools were handed over at a rate which was below the fee paid by a single student of the Beaconhouse,” said Pakistan Peoples Party member Yasmeen Rehman.
The deal not only became disputed but the ESL also illegally used the school fund and did not pay millions of rupees to the Railways, the auditor said. The ESL took possession of the schools in January 2002, but handed them back in September 2005.
When asked why Kasuri’s family was not arrested for this, the Railways’ secretary said that the entire record of inquiries carried out against ESL and railways officials, and the original agreement, were missing.
The PAC directed the Inspector General Railways Police to complete its inquiry in 15 days. The matter will, subsequently, be referred to NAB for recovery, the chairman said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2012.
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