LAHORE: The Auqaf and Religious Affairs Department stands to lose potential earnings of Rs17.75 million because the zonal administrator of Data Darbar failed to sign a written agreement with the contractor that looks after shrine visitors’ shoes, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The department conducted an auction and accepted a verbal bid of Rs17.75 million from Abid Hussain for the contract for 2010-11, said an official. The bidder was to deposit a certain amount and then pay the rest in monthly instalments.
But on July 1, suicide bombers attacked Data Darbar, killing dozens of people. The administration sealed nine of the 11 gates to the shrine for security reasons.
Though it opened two of these gates in October, visitor numbers to the shrine have plummeted, along with the revenue from taking care of visitors’ shoes.
Hussain, the contractor, has not paid a single instalment since the attack. When the Auqaf secretary summoned him in October to explain why he had missed four monthly instalments, he pointed out that he hadn’t signed a contract. He also demanded a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement for the remaining eight months of the year since revenue from the visitors to the shrine had fallen.
A department official said that it was the responsibility of the zonal administrator, Rao Fazlur Rehman, to sign an agreement with the contractor. He alleged that Rehman had made a deal with Hussain whereby he got a monthly commission from the contractor. He also said that the department hadn’t noticed the missing monthly instalments because Rehman had kept quiet for the last four months, during which time it was due to get total payments of Rs6 million. The Auqaf department estimates that the annual income from Data Darbar was Rs230 million before the attack.
Rehman is backed by an influential figure in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the sources said. They added that some religious groups had demanded his resignation after the recent suicide attacks at Sufi shrines including Data Darbar.
Rehman, speaking to The Express Tribune, denied that he had any deal with the contractor to receive monthly commissions. He said Hussain had won the contract for four years running.
He admitted that there was no written agreement with Hussain for the 2010-11 contract.
But he added that Hussain had deposited a security fee and this could be adjusted against the owed payments. He denied having the backing of any PML-N figure.
Contractor Hussain was not available for comment.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2010.