While dismissing identical petitions seeking to rescind Habib Bank Limited’s privatisation, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court observed that no illegality was committed in the bidding process for the bank.
After listening to arguments, the bench, comprising Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, announced a short order saying transparency in the bidding process of the bank was not in question. The transparency had been challenged by two petitions.
Counsel for the cabinet committee on privatisation (CCoP) and privatisation commission (PC) Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan said in his arguments that the HBL bidding process was carried out in a transparent way and all assets of the bank were declared in black and white prior to bidding. Responding to a question raised by Justice Saqib Nisar, the counsel submitted that based on details relating to bonds and amount of tax receivables as assets in the balance sheet of the bank, the reference price was fixed.
The privatisation of HBL was challenged by former planning secretary Dr Akhtar Hassan Khan, President Watan Party, Barrister Zafarullah Khan and one Amjad Ali who contended that facts were concealed by CCoP, PC, HBL and the Agha Khan Fund for Development (AKFD) during the bank’s auction.
The petitioners had contended that HBL’s value at the time of bidding in 2004 was Rs22.4 billion. Their contention was that this, being the highest bid, was lower than the existing value of the net assets of the bank, which they claim were Rs23.7 billion in 2003. After accepting the petitions the SC had issued notices to the CCoP, chairman PC, President HBL and to the AKFD on September 16, 2011.
Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, counsel for former planning secretary Dr Akhtar Hassan Khan, contended that AKFD as the successful bidder purchased HBL’s shares/transferee of management through the disputed privatisation process, adding that at the time of bidding in 2003-04 the bidder AKFD was availing a loan facility from HBL for development and construction of Serena Hotels.
Chaudhry pleaded that the bidding of HBL was conducted for ulterior gains where material facts were concealed and argued that this provided sufficient grounds for disqualification from bidding.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2011.
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