The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday declared the controversial Diplomatic Shuttle Service (DSS) contract null and void. The court directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to take action against Capital Development Authority (CDA) officials involved in the contract award.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui also barred the contractor from shifting movable assets from the site until NAB finalises inquiry against the CDA officials.
The court decision came on a writ petition filed by Chaudhry Attaur Rehman, who had accused the CDA of violating Public Procurement Regularity Authority (PPRA) rules while awarding and later extending the contract to a private firm, Diplomatic Shuttle and Transport Service Private Company.
According to the rules, the CDA had to invite fresh bids for the project when the original tender expired, but the authority extended the contract for seven years in 2008 without inviting any bids. Also, the contract details were never made public, the petitioner had said.
He added that the company was not registered with any regulatory body, which also violates the rules.
He had maintained that the company sets fares unilaterally, without prior approval from the Islamabad Transport Authority (ITA), which is a violation of the West Pakistan Motor Vehicle Ordinance.
He had asked the court to cancel the contract and direct the CDA to announce fresh bidding in accordance with PPRA rules. He had also requested that the court declare the shuttle service a public service.
DSS was launched in April 2002 to facilitate visa seekers while entering the highly fortified Diplomatic Enclave in Sector G-5.
Most visa seekers can only access foreign missions through the shuttle service, and a two-way trip from Third Avenue, where the depot is located, to any foreign mission within the enclave costs Rs500. The total distance to any embassy is only a few kilometres.
An IHC judicial commission headed by Justice (retd) Sardar Raza — currently the Chief Election Commissioner — also investigated the service in 2013.
In its finding on the DSS project, the judicial commission also found a number of discrepancies in the contract award and suggested that the authority recover the money the contractor firm had accumulated by overcharging passengers.
In the light of commission recommendations, an inquiry committee was formed to fix the responsibility, with additional secretary Naved Akhtar as its convener.
The inquiry committee report, also available with The Express Tribune, suggested action against four CDA officials including former planning assistant director Ghulam Sarwar Sandhu, who is currently the civic management director general, former municipal administration assistant director Faiz Muhammad, former deputy director Abdul Majeed, and CDA additional legal adviser Misbah Sharif.
The report recommends proceedings against Sandhu on four charges — submission of falsified information to the CDA board regarding the experience of the contractor, recommending the award of contract to a firm that was the sole bidder and had an unsatisfactory performance record, developing incomplete terms of reference for the contract, and signing an agreement contrary to the terms and conditions approved by the CDA board.
The committee also recommends issuance of charge sheets to Muhammad and Majeed for allowing the contractor to operate, while it asked for the initiation of action against Sharif for not properly vetting the draft contract.
The same month, the contract was awarded for Rs2.6 million. Two year later, instead of appreciating in line with inflation, the same contract was awarded for just Rs800,000.
The CDA also extended the contractor other facilities, including the allotment of land measuring 4.5 acres along Third Avenue at a throwaway price of Rs 2 per square yard for the establishment of a bus station.
The committee also suggested that the CDA proceed against the contracting for overcharging customers and for other violations of the contract.
In light of the recommendations, CDA Finance Member Sher Bahadar Arbab has been tasked with charge-sheeting the officials accused in the inquiry committee findings. But over a year later, Arbab has not finalised it. Arbab was approached for comment but he did not respond to multiple calls and text messages.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2015.
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