ISLAMABAD: Following up on doubts of a multibillion rupees fraud, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday asked authorities to freeze all bank accounts of a government-supported under-construction Thalian housing project while warning the public against investing in the scheme.
The parliament’s watchdog also constituted a subcommittee to further probe the matter and reprimanded Secretary Ministry of Housing and Works, Shahruk Arbab, after he showed complete ignorance about the existence of any such scheme. A committee member demanded the government to immediately remove Arbab from his post and termed him a “thoroughly corrupt officer”.
“The Thalian housing scheme Islamabad is a big fraud and people should not buy plots in the scheme,” warned the PAC.
It directed the finance ministry to make sure that all bank accounts opened for receiving funds from the public should be immediately blocked.
The PAC constituted a four-member subcommittee to further probe the matter comprising Senator Azam Swati of PTI, MNA Raja Javed Ikhlas of PML-N, MNA Arif Alvi of PTI and MNA Sardar Ashiq Gopang of the PML-N.
At this stage, the quantum of fraud is estimated at Rs24 billion but the exact size will be known only after the details are shared with the sub-committee, said Swati. He said that there were 80,000 members of the FGEHF and it is not yet clear how many of them have paid the first tranche of up to Rs550,000.
The Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF), a department working under the Ministry of Housing, had launched the housing scheme near the New Islamabad International Airport in collaboration with a private party. Federal bureaucrats, journalists and the general public have deposited money to acquire plots in the scheme.
A twist in the story came when Secretary Housing denied the existence of any scheme despite the fact the FGEHF and private party widely publicised the scheme and used the picture of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on these advertisements.
The Secretary Housing’s claim that he was not aware of any such housing scheme shows what an incompetent person he is, remarked Syed Khursheed Shah.
“Billions of rupees in investment is at stake and the Secretary Housing is fully involved in this corruption,” alleged Swati. “I say with full authority that Secretary Housing is a thoroughly corrupt officer and the government should immediately remove him from the post,” he added.
Swati raised the issue of Thalian Housing society in the PAC meeting, alleging that the Ministry for Housing and Works was undertaking work through its front company. PML-N’s Senator Chaudhry Tanveer Ahmad asked whether the contractor used prime minster’s picture in the advertisement with permission of the housing ministry. Secretary Housing did not have an answer.
Senator Tanveer also inquired under what authority the private party was collecting funds from the people. There is no access road to Thalian and the land has been acquired in dubious manner, said Swati.
Bhara Kahu project
The PAC also showed its annoyance over irregularities and corrupt practices surfaced in yet another project of FGEHF -the Bhara Kahu Housing project, Islamabad. The committee snubbed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Ministry of Housing and Works and FGEHF for protecting the culprits.
Against prevailing market rates of only Rs100,000 per kanal at that time, the contractor charged Rs950,000 from the government, minting Rs2.4 billion in the process, said Director General of the Department of Auditor General of Pakistan. Green Tree Private Limited is the contractor.
However, the NAB official claimed that there was no element of criminality in the deal, an assertion that the PAC unanimously rejected.
The sub-committee of the PAC that was investigating the deal has again recommended criminal investigation against the contractor. The PAC sought final reply from the NAB chairman in next 15 days.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2017.