Failed privatisation bid: Senate panel defers voting on HEC sell-off report

Report accuses Privatisation Commission of committing criminal negligence

Shahbaz Rana April 27, 2016
The sub-committee recommended that the HEC deal be referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate whether or not the PC chairman, secretary and top management were involved in corruption and embezzlement. PHOTO: APP


Treasury members on Wednesday blocked approval of a parliamentary panel report that accused top management of the Privatisation Commission of criminal negligence while handling the privatisation of Heavy Electrical Complex (HEC).

After strong resistance from three senators belonging to the ruling PML-N, Senate Standing Committee on Finance Chairman Senator Saleem Mandviwalla deferred voting on the report pertaining to the HEC sell-off.

HEC sale probe: Buyer had weak credentials, admits PC

The government had sold HEC at a throwaway price of Rs250 million but the deal was cancelled after the cheque given by the ‘dubious buyer’ - Cargill Holdings Limited - was dishonoured.

After reports about the dubious deal, PPP Senator Saeed Ghani raised the issue in the Senate, which referred the matter to the standing committee for investigation.

The standing committee set up a three-member sub-committee to investigate the reasons leading to the failed HEC privatisation.

According to findings of the sub-committee, the Privatisation Commission had committed wilful and criminal negligence by displaying a lacklustre and sloppy approach towards the privatisation process.

It recommended that the HEC deal should be referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate whether or not the PC chairman, secretary and top management were involved in corruption and embezzlement.

However, it was the PML-N’s senator and member of the sub-committee Ayesha Raza Farooq that gave the dissenting note. She said there was no substantive evidence that could establish criminal negligence. “The words used in the report suggest political victimisation,” she added.

During the proceedings, several efforts were made to get the report adopted by the committee and each time the PML-N legislators did not let it happen. They objected to the language and questioned some of the findings.

Secretary Privatisation Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera also protested against what he said was ‘the unfair treatment’ meted out to him and Privatisation Commission Chairman Mohammad Zubair.

HEC privatisation: Treasury members complain of being kept in the dark

“The committee is condemning me, the chairman and the government’s policy in an unfair manner,” said Sukhera, adding there was no corruption in the deal.

The secretary also objected to the leaking of the report to media before the standing committee could formally adopt it. However, the chairman of the committee overruled the objection.

The standing committee chairman deferred the vote on the report till May 10 to address the PML-N legislators’ objections to the language of the report. However, Mandviwalla made it clear that there would be no change in the main findings of the report.

The opposition parties had a majority in the standing committee to get the report passed but the chairman deferred the matter to win consensus.

The deferment will provide a sigh of relief to the government, as the HEC privatisation deal could become a political scandal.

“HEC’s worth is far more than Rs250 million and today I can buy it by paying one and a half time more than the price at which it was sold to a dubious company,” said Senator Mohsin Aziz of the PTI, also a member of the sub-committee.

Aziz said HEC was sold to a buyer whose net worth was just $1,000.

Syed Sabur Rehman, the main shareholder of Cargill Holdings Limited, registered his company a day after the government decided to sell the entity.

“The biggest mistake committed by the PC was that it accepted the cheque instead of a pay order equivalent to the value of the deal,” remarked Senator Ilyas Bilour.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2016.

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