The Punjab government has found itself on a collision course with the country’s main corruption watchdog over the records of the province’s Saaf Pani Company. The reason is clear according to the National Accountability Bureau: there has been wilful concealment of the facts on the part of the provincial administration. Such prevarication in withholding the record of the company is preventing NAB from conclusively determining whether Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif violated the PPRA rules in awarding contracts or not. Officials in the province are equally reticent about the Punjab Power Development Company’s record — one of only two companies out of 56 others whose records were withheld. These entities were supposedly created by the province’s chief executive with the aim of improving governance over a period of years.
NAB is fully justified in asking for the same because Punjab has at least three key agencies — the Water and Sanitation Agency, the Faisalabad Development Authority, the Multan Development Authority — as well as other government departments that are responsible for the supply of safe and clean drinking water to citizens. The provincial administration has so far failed to explain to NAB and others why it created the Saaf Pani Company — which has a fairly large workforce and is seen as a drain on taxpayers’ wallets.
The current standoff has enveloped the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) as well, sucking the provincial graft body into the wider conflict. For its part, ACE sees the actions of NAB as being overly intrusive and trespassing some of its own authority. It also claims that it has already punished Saaf Pani company representatives for graft and other indiscretions. Though more than Rs150 billion have been spent on these entities, the province has not yet carried out an audit on them. All this calls for stringent measures to stop irregularities, recruitment in violation of procurement rules and merit, nepotism, as well as failure to finish certain projects on time. We watch further developments with interest.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2018.
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