The Punjab government’s plans to develop an industrial estate in Faisalabad, with a world-class infrastructure, has been marred by allegations of embezzlement, in which the province was swindled out of more than Rs100 million through false claims.
Yet despite uncovering the scandal through three separate inquiry reports – including one by the Faisalabad district administration and one by the Punjab chief minister’s inspection team – the provincial government now appears to be uninterested in pursuing the investigation that has so far implicated senior officials in several key government departments.
In 2005, the Punjab government had decided to set up a 215-acre industrial estate near Chak Jhumra, on the outskirts of Faisalabad. The government created a company that was tasked with managing the estate called the Faisalabad Industrial Estate Development and Management Company (FIEDMC).
FIEMDC began purchasing land from private owners and paid an average of about Rs468,000 per acre for the land itself. However, the previous owners were allowed to submit claims of compensation for any immovable property that they lost as a result of the sale, such as trees or buildings.
According to investigators at the Anti Corruption Establishment, at least 85 of the claims that were submitted to the government were bogus and cost the provincial exchequer in excess of Rs105 million. A committee comprising officials from the district and provincial administrations submitted an investigative report to the chief minister’s secretariat in Lahore, following which the chief minister’s office sent its own investigators to the area to get to the bottom of the matter. The chief minister’s team corroborated the Anti Corruption Establishment’s findings down to the last rupee of allegedly misappropriated funds.
At that point, the investigative team recommended to the Punjab chief secretary that the government should begin pursuing a legal case against those accused of misappropriation, as well as those accused of aiding and abetting the embezzlement.
The district coordination officer in Faisalabad was then asked to move forward with the prosecution. He began by identifying the alleged culprits and then proceeded to begin recording statements of the suspects. Meanwhile, the Anti Corruption Establishment formally registered cases against the accused.
That, apparently, is the extent of how far the government is willing to go in the investigations. Most of the accused – many of whom are senior officials in the revenue, forest, and other departments of the Punjab government – have so far refused to cooperate with the investigation and have not appeared to record their statements despite repeated summons.
Government officials claim that the slow pace of the investigation is due to delays in the court system.
Four villagers from the area, meanwhile, have filed their own cases against the accused and have now appealed to the Supreme Court to expedite the hearings into their case.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2011.