Rampant corruption: Housing ministry struggles to put own house in order

Published: January 24, 2016
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Action taken against estate office officials, NA told. PHOTO: fgehf.gov.pk/

Action taken against estate office officials, NA told. PHOTO: fgehf.gov.pk/

ISLAMABAD: 

The federal housing and works ministry is struggling to tighten the noose around corrupt officials in its midst, especially in its estate office. In a reply submitted in the National Assembly, the ministry has vaguely admitted corruption is rampant in its own house.

The ministry’s detailed but cautious response has come against two questions asked last week about alleged corruption, bribery, embezzlement and irregularities prevalent in the department.

The estate office deals with allotment of government accommodation to federal employees as per their entitlements. Over the years, the office has gained notoriety due to serious allegations of corruption against its officials, ranging from financial irregularities to illegal allotment of housing units and plots, ties to land grabbers and wrongdoings in various housing schemes.

Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker Suraiya Jatoi had asked a question last week, seeking details of complaints against estate office officials filed in the past three years and action taken on them.

In its reply, the ministry has confirmed receiving 20 complaints against its corrupt employees on which action was taken. “Being a public department, outsiders try to influence the staff to process their case(s) as per their wishes regardless of rules and regulations,” it read.

More than six cases have been registered against estate officials for taking or asking for bribes from people seeking allotment of houses.

According to the ministry, an estate office official generated and signed fake allotments of government residences after getting bribes. A joint estate officer was suspended while a case was closed against another official by the FIA due to lack of evidence.

“Strict vigilance on working of estate office is being conducted by the ministry on a regular basis to make the department corruption-free,” the reply stated.

‘Deliberate’ fires

First in 2007 and then again in 2013, the data office inside the estate office had caught fire, gutting all records as well as damaging the building. But silence prevails after a few months of ‘ongoing investigations’.

In 2007, the fire had caused an estimated loss of Rs19.7 million to the ministry. Till date, no progress has been made on the case.

The case of the 2013 fire was forwarded to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in April 2014. The ministry provided names of five officers, including a joint estate officer who could have possibly been involved in the incident. But nothing has been heard about the probe since.

A senior officer told The Express Tribune the estate office staff was uncooperative with the parent ministry and also created hurdles against computerising the data of government houses across the country.

According to last year’s figures, the official said in Karachi alone there were over 4,000 illegal occupants of government residences. But there is no official data on the exact figure.

The second question by MNA Naeema Khan related to massive financial irregularities in the ministry’s audit of 2013-14.

The ministry stated objections to eight irregularities worth millions of rupees, were being addressed. The issues include an advance payment of Rs80 million and payment of Rs109.51 million in price adjustments in violation of standard procedures.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2016.

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