NAB summons PS to PM: A case of ‘balancing act’ or ‘misuse of authority’?

The NAB’s officer was asked to share the evidence which makes the PS “corrupt” in the eyes of NAB’s and asked if the Bureau wants to do with Azam Khan what it has already done with Fawad Hasan Fawad, ex-principal secretary to former PM Nawaz Sharif. Against the general reputation of Azam Khan as a clean bureaucrat, the NAB official’s emphasis was that the officer’s true face was not known to the people. When told that NAB is in the habit of tainting people by using media and without the availability of concrete evidence, the reply was “Abbasi sb please don’t protect the corrupt”.

The NAB official’s view was that there is a serious effort to protect Azam Khan. The official promised to share the evidence of the alleged corruption against the officer, but he never returned. The same day, Shahbaz Sharif was arrested in the Ashiana case. While the NAB’s evidence in Malam Jabba case was still awaited, The News was told by a senior official source that the Prime Minister’s Office was confided by a NAB-Peshawar official that after Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest, the Bureau’s headquarter was pressing its Peshawar chapter to pursue fast track probe in Malam Jabba case. The official source alleged that after Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest, the NAB is trying for a “balancing act” for which the PTI government’s defence minister and PM’s top bureaucratic aide are on the target list.

This scribe talked to some credible officers as well as senior journalists from the KP about the reputation of Azam Khan and they all agreed that he is a clean and competent bureaucrat. On Saturday, The News reported that an investigation by KP NAB into alleged illegal leasing of 275 acres in Malam Jabba has entered its final stage. It added that the KP NAB has summoned Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Azam Khan and former chief secretary Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Amjad Ali Khan, for October 25 at NAB Peshawar office. The letters issued to the officials, according to the report, said the investigation into leasing of 275 acres in Malam Jabba against Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, former additional chief secretary Khalid Pervaiz, Tourism Corporation Managing Director Mushtaq Ahmad was continuing. Azam Khan and Amjad Ali have been directed to bring all relevant record and official documents with them.

According to the official record and sources, the report said, political personalities and the bureaucracy connived to lease out Forests Department’s protected land to a private company, Samson, for 33 years, without caring for rules and regulations, for construction of chairlift and skiing resort. After closely seeing the NAB flawed investigation in Ashiana case, which is more like a vilification campaign against those arrested, this correspondent approached the KP official sources to ascertain what Azam Khan did in Malam Jabba case. These sources shared the following facts with The News: Hotel and Ski facility was set up in 1970s on 275 acres and given by Wali-e- Swat to the federal government. It remained operational till 1980, restarted in 1990s but was destroyed by the militants in 2005-06. The land was transferred to the KP government in 2013 on the condition that it will be used solely for tourism.

In mid-July 2014, the then Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak chaired a multi-departmental BOIT on 27th Feb 2014 and approved outsourcing the land for 33 years for establishing the ski and hotel facility in the same place it existed previously and approved the TORs of the project. The advertisement for the purpose appeared, accordingly, on March 3, 2014. The main leasing committee, which includes members from different departments under the additional chief secretary was constituted on April 9, 2014. A subcommittee was formed for finalising pre-qualification on April 17, 2014, three firms were shortlisted, the subcommittee submitted detailed report on May 26, 2014, and then on recommendation of the subcommittee, three shortlisted firms were asked to make presentations to the main committee on July 7, 2014.

After these presentations were made, the main committee, under ACS, directed the highest bidder (one crore 20 lacs per year with 10% increase every year) to indicate time lines for completion of the project so that they were incorporated in the lease. After all this happened, Azam Khan took the charge of secretary tourism on 14th July, 2014. On Aug 12th, 2014, the ACS chaired a meeting of the main committee wherein the MD, Tourism Corporation KP was asked to issue offer letter to the highest bidder.

On 18th August, the ACS moved a note to the chief secretary highlighting the entire process. The Law Department opined on the file that the agreement was in order but the lease period of 33 years was not as according to the lease policy which was 15 years + 15 years.

At this, the then secretary tourism and presently principal secretary to the PM wrote on the file that the government, while approving the TORs and giving the advertisement, had mentioned lease period of 33 years. Khan opined that while the entire bidding process could not go back and if done so would shatter private sector’s confidence especially in a militancy devastated area. On Azam Khan’s note, the senior member board of revenue (SMBR), who is custodian of the lease policy, suggested to seek approval of the chief minister to given exemption from the lease policy as the old lease policy never envisaged lease for such a huge investments.

The then additional chief secretary stated on file that the issue was discussed at the time of approval of TORs and the CM had decided for 33 years lease. But the file was sent to the chief minister again for formal approval by the CS. The chief minister gave the approval and allowed the TCKP MD to sign the lease agreement on Sept 4, 2014. A NAB official, who knows the details of the case, rejected the view that it’s a case of “balancing act”. He insisted that the issue was discussed in detail in NAB and is being pursued purely on merit. The Bureau official while referring to NAB’s finding so far into the case, said a gross and blatant illegality was committed in the award of Malam Jabba Resort Project to ineligible M/s Samsons Group of Companies in flagrant violations of the procurement rules.

Moreover, it is said the protected forest land measuring 270 acres was added in the lease in sheer violation of the KP Forest Ordinance 2002. The NAB official added that the lease was given for 33 years in violation of all rules, regulations and policies and that too on a meager and throw away price just to benefit the said company thus causing a colossal loss to public exchequer.

The NAB’s findings of the case are that the project was initiated, from the very beginning with mala fide intent. It added that no feasibility study or cost-benefit was conducted before leasing out the project to a private party. It said that there was no technical, financial and pre-qualification criterion for assessment nor was the mode of bidding process defined. The NAB probe also found that the last date for the submission of proposal was March 31st which was extended up to April 10. The company which was awarded the contract submitted its proposal during the extended period. “The extension was notified on website, which is in contravention of Section 27 of PPRA rules.”

According to the NAB inquiry, the Forest Department expressed serious concerns on the issue because they were not taken on board. It added that the lease period was extended from 15 years to 33 years by the KP CM, who is the main accused in the case, in contravention of the State Land Policy whereas the competent authority for enhancement of the lease period is cabinet.

However, the NAB probe finds the approval from the provincial cabinet regarding the lease agreement and extension in the lease period to 33 years in relaxation to the then lease policy was given on 04-05-218 and that, too, after appearance of the chief minister before the combined investigation team of NAB on April 25th, 2018.

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