In yet another scandal in an attached department of the Ministry of Commerce, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is conducting investigations on complaints of corruption in land acquisition deals sealed by the Pakistan Tobacco Board (PTB).
PTB Chairman Zahoor Ahmad in a briefing on the affairs of the board to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Commerce revealed that all land deals signed in the last couple of years were being scrutinised by the anti-corruption watchdog.
The disclosure came amid hearing of a case in the Supreme Court pertaining to corruption worth billions of rupees in land deals of the National Insurance Company Limited – also an attached company of the commerce ministry. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has found traces of transactions in accounts of Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
Ahmad said the PTB purchased land in Pasheen, Buner, Jampur, Swabi and Mansehra for research purposes. In response, committee member Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi questioned whether the land was purchased from relatives or associates of parliamentarians and senior officials.
Standing committee Chairman Engineer Khurram Dastgir Khan sought complete record of the land acquisition deals.
The PTB chairman alleged Commerce Minister Fahim’s nominees on the board were creating problems in running the affairs in a professional manner. “The board was not properly working and I am facing difficulties in running the board due to hurdles created by these members,” said Ahmad.
To a question, he said the commerce minister has appointed Brigadier (Retired) Sadiq Jamal and Furqan Ahmad Sheikh, both hailing from Karachi, as board members, who do not have any experience of the tobacco business.
The standing committee directed the commerce ministry to present the summaries on the basis of which these people were appointed as members. The panel also recommended to the government to reconstitute the Tobacco Board while terming the 29-member board too large. The PTB chairman said out of 29 members, 13 had been appointed by the federal government.
Khawaja Sohail Mansoor of MQM alleged that cigarette manufacturing companies were bribing the board members who, in return, protected the interests of the companies. He said the manufacturing companies were fleecing the growers with the help of these board members.
The committee also expressed concern over weak financial management and unauthorised investments by the PTB. The PTB invested Rs800 million in various banks, some of which were below investment grade.
The PTB’s deputy director finance told the committee that the board allowed investment in Bank of Khyber at 12.6% mark-up. But the committee raised objection to investment in BOK which is an ‘A’ rated bank, below the specification of the government.
The parliamentary panel also issued a warning to the commerce minister for his continuous absence from the meeting. It decided to give a show-cause notice to the minister if he still does not attend the meeting.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2012.