The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government and officials were caught under the web of accountability on Thursday – nets thrown by one federal as well as one provincial body.
Though the Ehtesab Commission picked up a minister and the National Accountability Bureau was the authority that arrested 10 other current and former officials, all those detained were said to be involved in corruption in the same department – mines and minerals.
Minister for Mines and Minerals Ziaullah Afridi was arrested by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Ehtesab Commission on Thursday. A statement from the provincial accountability body issued the same day confirmed he was arrested after “strong evidence suggested misappropriation of funds and misuse of authority”.
Afridi, who is from the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, was accused by the commission of misappropriation of funds which caused “losses worth billions of rupees” to the provincial exchequer.
On June 17, an official from the Ehtesab Commission had confirmed the arrest of Mines and Minerals Director General Dr Laiquat Ali. “He was involved in illegally awarding contracts in the province and caused a loss of Rs500 million to the provincial exchequer,” the official had said.
Arrested but not charged
According to Minster for Information Mushtaq Ghani, “[Afridi] has been arrested but not charged.” Commenting on the way forward regarding Afridi’s responsibilities, Ghani said, “The decision to remove him from the ministry will be taken by the chief minister.”
The information minister added, “When we came into power, we promised accountability will be for everyone and will be transparent. [Ehtisab Commission] is an independent body and nobody—minister or MPA—can interfere.”
Talking to The Express Tribune, Ehtesab Commission Assistant Deputy Prosecutor Qazi Babar Irshad also confirmed they had arrested the mines minister of the PTI-led government.
“He has been accused of abusing his authority and we are investigating the matter. He has been taken into custody,” said Irshad.
Another official told The Express Tribune there were dozens of mines located in various districts where illegal mining was taking place under the supervision of authorities. “That’s a loss of millions of rupees to the province.”
Requesting anonymity, the official added, “Soon after taking charge, the minister banned the issuing of new leases. This way, legal leases were denied and illegal mining was encouraged.” Afridi had used the argument that he would introduce a new mining and leasing policy but that never transpired, even after two years, added the official.
“They are making millions per day due to this mining practice and the charge against him is illegal mining in the government-owned mines and sites,” he said, adding that no corruption will be tolerated by any man and the arrest of a sitting minister was a clear-cut indication in this regard that the commission is working independently.
“The secretary mines is also under investigation,” he added, saying Afridi would soon be produced before the court.
PTI MPA Javed Nasim, one of the disgruntled party members, told The Express Tribune, “Ziaullah Afridi should be handed over to NAB. Only NAB or a military court can provide justice.”
NAB Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Thursday arrested the former minister for minerals, industries, and technical education, Nawabzada Mehmood Zeb. He was part of the Awami National Party-led government (2008-2013).
According to a handout issued by the accountability body, nine officials from the provincial administration and mineral department were also taken in. All those arrested were accused of their alleged involvement in the illegal allotment of phosphate reservoirs to a school teacher. NAB estimated the loss to the exchequer at Rs360 million.
The watchdog provided the following details of the accused: Shah Wali Khan, former secretary technical education, manpower, industries and mineral development; Asmatullah Gandapur, former additional secretary minerals currently Bannu commissioner; Farhad Ali, former section officer; Khan Badsha, former minerals deputy director; Nauroz Khan, senior geologist at the Directorate of Mines & Minerals; Ziarat Khan, mines commissioner; Shakirullah, former minerals director licensing; Perveiz Khan, minerals assistant director (litigation) and Ehtishamul Mulk, Technical College Hayatabad assistant director.
The missive stated the Sarhad Development Authority held 1,200 acres of phosphate under a mining lease (1985 to 2005). After 2005, the land could only be leased through an open auction. School teacher Rukhsana Javed applied for the prospecting licence (PL) but was rejected. She entered litigation against the minerals department over the rejection.
According to NAB, Zeb and the other co-accused illegally allotted 500 acres to Javed, giving her a PL in 2008. The minerals department offered a settlement to Javed, offering “500 acres from the above-stated 1,200 acres if she withdrew the court case.” However, the minister had signed a lease agreement even before it could be approved.
The accountability watchdog said Javed, and Ehtishamil Mulk, a cousin of Zeb, excavated phosphate illegally, causing a loss of Rs360 million.
The accused will be produced before the accountability court in Peshawar for physical remand.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2015.