Having ordered that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) draw up cases against rapacious corruption in Pakistan Railways, the Supreme Court said on Thursday that it was time to ‘test’ the bureau’s new chairman – appointed recently despite protest by the opposition.
During the hearing into the financial and infrastructural rot of Pakistan Railways by a division bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, it was also decided that the new NAB chairman would be summoned on the next date of hearing.
A report was submitted by Railways Chairman Javed Iqbal, which stated that while all pensions and salaries of pensioners and employees had been paid, Rs28 billion were required to save PR from total collapse.
The report also states that, in compliance with the court’s order, new accounts for pensioners have also been opened in banks near their homes, for their convenience.
The report however opened up more questions.
After reading the report, the CJ asked PR’s counsel how they expected to come up with the necessary Rs28 billion. “A new railway can be established with this much money. Where will this money come from?” he asked. The counsel’s somewhat insubstantial response was to say that PR would find the money.
The CJ, however, was not in a mood tolerant of lax planning. “What will you do, if God forbid, there is an emergency in the country?” he asked. “The Railways provided services in wartimes and today it has stopped.”
The CJ was also unimpressed with the contents of the report. “How can you identify your weaknesses without a forensic audit?” he said.
CJ to ‘test’ new NAB chairman on PR corruption
“We have seen the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) performance in the National Insurance Company Limited case. It is the time to test the new chairman of NAB,” the CJ said, asking Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq to send the case to NAB with the advice that no one is spared from scrutiny. “We will summon the NAB chairman on the next hearing” the CJ added.
Meanwhile, former Railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad argued that vested interests were involved in scandals – and that such ‘big fish’ would never let investigations in corruption in PR be transferred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
He claimed that due to the involvement of those in high political positions, rules for the purchase of new locomotives would not be changed. Sheikh Rasheed said that cheap locomotives were available from Spain, China and several other countries, but the government was inflexible, insisting on purchasing them from a particular Chinese company.
Javed Iqbal said that 14 officers from PR were initially suspended on charges of corruption; three of them have been fired. He added that a deal had been struck with China for the purchase of 70 new locomotives.
On this point, Sheikh Rasheed pointed out to the bench that PR is paying Rs125,000 every day in interest on the money it has borrowed for the purchase of new locomotives – though new locomotives are yet to materialise.
PR Chairman admits discrepancies
When the CJ grilled Iqbal, he admitted there were discrepancies in the new purchase of locomotives. He said that there was a slight breaking of the rules, but the matter had now been sent to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC). The CJ said that even minor deviations from the law cannot be ignored.
The CJ added that the Supreme Court would ensure transparency in the country. “We will not allow anyone to sell the country’s institutions,” he said. The CJ added: “For transparency in PR, corrupt officials could be sent to jail.”
The CJ also directed the chairman to ensure a forensic audit of PR was undertaken. The Lahore High Court was asked to expedite proceedings in a case related to irregularities in the sale of PR scrap.
The court adjourned the case till 23 November.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2011.
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